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TheaterFest offers some of the best of Spokane's performing arts scene on one stage for free 

click to enlarge Improv, ballet and classical music are all part of the first TheaterFest.
  • Improv, ballet and classical music are all part of the first TheaterFest.

In hopes of cultivating excitement for the theater in the Inland Northwest, local groups came together to create TheaterFest, an accessible, community-focused showcase of the region's upcoming performing arts season.

This Sunday's TheaterFest at the Fox Theater is Spokane's first ever preview showcase, and it's free to the public. It offers community members the chance to see a sample of several performances of the upcoming seasons from various local performing arts groups. Audience members can pick and choose their experiences, from show snippets on the main stage and staggered, repeated activities throughout the day in the lobby.

A wide range of performances will be given the spotlight at the Fox, which has donated its space for the afternoon. Everything from the methodic, measured leaps and pirouettes of the Spokane Ballet Company's snippet of The Nutcracker, to the robust, spectacular voices of the Inland Northwest Opera performing excerpts of The Marriage of Figaro will grace the stage.

The Spokane Civic Theatre's cast of upcoming show Mary Poppins, the Blue Door Theatre's improv troupe, Irish band Floating Crowbar and many other groups will also be in attendance for performances and workshops.

The woman at the front of TheaterFest is Melissa Huggins, the executive director of Spokane Arts.

"The main goal is to get people excited about the upcoming performing arts season, and also showcase the incredible range of performing arts that we have. I think some people in Spokane may not realize that we have a really wonderful modern dance company, or they may not realize that we have this world-class opera so close in Coeur d'Alene," Huggins says.

Activities in the lobby throughout the afternoon include an "Instrument Petting Zoo," in which musicians from the symphony will be showing off their tools of choice. You can also get your photo snapped with a ballerina or take a self-guided tour of the Fox.

The idea of accessibility is rooted in the conception of TheaterFest. Besides being totally free, they've intentionally scheduled it on a Sunday so attendees won't be charged for street parking. Organizers hope this will attract community members who may have been excluded from the theater-arts scene due to ticket prices. But Huggins encourages the more seasoned arts aficionados to show their support as well.

"Participating in the arts is part of living a full, vibrant life. These kinds of events and these art forms are part of what makes our city feel culturally vibrant, and part of what makes people want to live here and stay here. So I think it's important to show up," Huggins says. "I think sometimes people are like, 'Oh it's so great that we have a symphony, it's great that we have the Bing, or any other theater,' and it's difficult to remember that in order for those things to continue, we need to show up and support them."

TheaterFest also acts as a "try it before you buy it" for regular theater-goers, says Lynda Sanders, the director of marketing and sales at the Spokane Symphony, who helped conceptualize the festival. If you see a tidbit of a show you enjoy, you might feel more confident buying a ticket to see the entire performance.

Sanders says the idea for TheaterFest came from her experience with the Houston Theater District in Texas. Their well-known yearly open house is extremely popular, and she believed the idea would find similar success in Spokane. The day was organized to bring the community together in front of the stage, but with the performing groups behind the scenes as well.

"The symphony and Civic (Theatre) have collaborated, but as a rule, we all kind of do things separately," Sander says.

For one afternoon, at least, the region's diverse performing arts groups will share a spotlight before the launch of their respective seasons in the coming weeks. ♦

TheaterFest • Sun, Aug. 26 1-4 pm • Free • All ages • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • spokanetheaterfest.com

TheaterFest Main Stage Schedule

  • 1 pm: Chamber works, Spokane String Quartet
  • 1:25 pm: Mary Poppins preview, Spokane Civic Theatre
  • 1:40 pm: The Marriage of Figaro, Inland Northwest Opera
  • 2 pm: Nutcracker Suite, Spokane Ballet School
  • 2:20 pm: Modern dance performance, Vytal Movement Modern Dance
  • 2:40 pm: Mary Poppins preview, Spokane Civic Theatre
  • 3 pm: Improv, Blue Door Theatre
  • 3:15 pm: Nutcracker Suite, Spokane Ballet School
  • 3:35 pm: Excerpt from Marx in Soho, Stage Left Theatre
  • 3:50 pm: Music by Floating Crowbar

The original print version of this article was headlined "Sneak A Peek"

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