PRINCETON — This year’s summer season of Festival 56 will be a big year for comedy, but comedy that still brings a lot of depth with it, according to Festival 56 Executive Artistic Director Dexter Brigham.
While last year’s summer focus was on the big tragedies, this year’s season will be different and will include a lot of fun, but also great warmth, sensitivity and depth, Brigham said.
In deciding this year’s plays, the Festival 56 group talked with a lot of patrons who said how much they enjoy the big musicals. So instead of just one big Broadway musical this year, the actors will perform three, “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Oliver!” and “Into the Woods.” The other fun and captivating plays selected for this season are a story about a dog named Sylvia, a man with three fiancees, and a Shakespeare play in which a young woman disguises herself as a boy and then meets the love of her life.
Festival 56 will present its 100th play this summer season and will have performed more than 800 performances in the last 11 years. Of those, there were more than 100 free Shakespeare performances given. Fifty thousand tickets have been sold in those 11 years.
Looking back on Festival 56’s 11 year history, Brigham said it took about three seasons before the festival’s board of directors realized Festival 56 could truly be a permanent part of the Princeton community.
“The only reason Festival 56 is still here is because we have people who want it to be here, and they work hard to make it happen, “ Brigham said. “That goes for our board members, who have been superhuman in their commitment to this idea of arts and having the arts be an important and large part of Princeton’s identity.”
Brigham also thanked Princeton’s city officials and community leaders, the patrons and the Festival 56 business partners and sponsors who not only donate and support Festival 56 financially, but also attend the plays. Ticket sales account for about 60 percent of the festival’s total budget each year, which means a lot of money has to be raised each year, he said.
One of the best part of Festival 56 for the past 11 years has been the growing relationships between the theater staff and the host families who provide homes for them each year, Brigham said. For eight out of the 11 years, Princeton’s host families have provided space for 100 percent of the Festival 56 visiting actors and staff. That’s a huge part of the experience of Festival 56, which continues throughout the year, he added.
Looking ahead to the next decade of Festival 56, Brigham said he wants to explore more ways to weave Festival 56 into Princeton’s daily life.
Of course, he also wants to look for ways to develop more financial security for the future of Festival 56. Festival 56 is not a typical business but is a not-profit organization established to improve the lives of those who live in Princeton, to help stimulate tourism, to funnel tourism dollars back into area businesses, and to celebrate the community, he said.
For those who might be exploring Festival 56 for the first time this summer, Brigham said it’s going to be a great time. Some people might still have the idea that theater is a high brow thing, stuffy and formal, but that’s so far from the reality. Theater can be fun and raucous, even naughty and revolutionary at times, he said.
“That just might be Festival 56’s task for the next 10 years, to show everybody that there is no such thing as theater that is too high brow, to give people the chance to experience fun when they come to the theater,” Brigham said. “So I say, just come, kick back a bit, relax and enjoy the fun. Think a little bit. And, if you like it, you can clap your hands.”
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Summer season plays for Festival 56
• “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee;” June 20-28 at the Grace Performing Arts Center. A hilarious tale of six adolescent misfits vying for the spelling championship, who learn that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. This Tony Award winning hit musical is about the unlikeliest of heroes.
• “Sylvia” July 3-8, Grace Performing Arts Center. Greg and Kate have recently moved to Manhattan when Greg brings home a dog named Sylvia, who becomes a major bone of contention between husband and wife.
• “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare; July 6-27 at Soldiers and Sailors Park; free admission. All the world’s a stage for Rosalind and her friend, Celia, who run away into the Forest of Arden when Rosalind’s uncle overthrows her father, the Duke. Disguised as a young shepherd, Ganymede, Rosalind meets and falls in love with the exiled Orlando.
• “Oliver!” July 11-25 at Princeton High School Council Auditorium. The beloved musical adaptation of Dickens’ Oliver Twist will steal your heart like a pickpocket! Featuring well known songs such as “Consider Yourself” and “Oom-pah-pah,” this classic piece of Broadway will warm your belly like a bowl of porridge.
• “Boeing Boeing” July 15-19 at Grace Performing Arts Center. This hilarious, fast-paced farce features self-styled Parisian lothario Bernard, who has Italian, German and American fiancees: each a beautiful airline hostess with frequent “layovers.”
• “Into the Woods;” July 26-Aug. 3 at Grace Performing Arts Center. Worlds collide when everyone’s favorite storybook characters come together for a timeless and relevant musical fairy tale. The baker and his wife wish to have a child; Cinderella wishes to attend the King’s Festival; and Jack wishes his cow would give milk. When the baker and his wife learn they cannot have a child because of a witch’s curse, they set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone’s wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them.
Source: Festival 56’s website.