Chapel Hill Keeps Festifall 2015 Alive

Every fall, Chapel Hill is treated to the Festifall Arts Festival.

But, earlier in October, the 43rd annual Festifall Arts Festival was cancelled due to the threat of severe weather.  It was the first time that Festifall has been cancelled.  Up until 1995, the Town of Chapel Hill reserved a rain date for the event each year for the following Sunday.  But, the event grew in size and complexity.  This made the logistics and expense of a rain date not feasible for the Town, artists, entertainers, and contractors.

But, despite Festifall’s cancellation, the Town of Chapel Hill has found a way to bring the popular event back.

Immerse yourself in the arts with the Festifall virtual artist market.  You can browse and shop with the unique vendors of Festifall online until Friday, October 23.

This one of a kind event will feature over 30 artisans from all over the South representing the finest in painting, photography, jewelry, glass, ceramics, wood, metal, fiber and mixed media artworks.

Amanda Fletcher, Supervisor of Festivals and Community Celebrations with the Town of Chapel Hill says:

“Festifall may have been cancelled, but the fun isn’t over! We wanted to give our talented artists from our juried show the opportunity to showcase their work and promote their business with our online community. Artists have been very receptive to the idea and have created some great discounts and products for our patrons!”

Debi L. Drew, a participating artist stated:

“After the considerate cancellation of Festifall, due to inclement weather and safety concerns for the public and artists, Chapel Hill’s Festifall team has come up with a superb opportunity for all involved. The Online Market gives us a new venue to showcase our uniquely handcrafted items to the community. What a wonderful solution!”

Follow Festifall on Facebook and Twitter to receive notifications regarding the special discounts and sales.

But, that is not all.

Mark your calendars.  Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation will promote a Festival in the Park event on Saturday, November 14, from 12pm-4pm, featuring Live Entertainment, Food Trucks and some of your favorite community arts organizations.

festival in the parkAbout the park take over, Amanda says, ”

“Hundreds of park patrons and soccer leagues players are already scheduled to be at the park on this date, and we plan to build on that momentum, to invite the community to join us for a park take over and community event.”

See list of vendors and performers here.

Presented by Food Lion, the Food Lion Better Bus will make a stop in the park too, with shopping cart races and free park survival kits full of great foods and snacks for everyone. Don’t miss all the fun, and join us for a Festival in the Park at Southern Community Park!

Master Class: “Seminar” At PlayMakers

It’s a play about four young writers who sign up for a master class taught by a legendary novelist, as performed by four young actors who are currently studying under the man playing the writer. Hold on to your hats.

PlayMakers Repertory Company‘s 2015-16 mainstage season continues with “Seminar,” an acclaimed 2011 comedy by Theresa Rebeck. (Rebeck is the creator of the NBC show “Smash” and a former writer/producer for “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order,” among many other credits; her plays have been compared favorably with Neil Simon’s.) It stars PlayMakers vet Ray Dooley as the aforementioned legendary novelist; Dooley is also the head of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program, so he’s very familiar with the mentor role. (Though he says he doesn’t perform it in quite the same way as his character.)

The show opens on Wednesday, October 14, and runs through November 1 in the Paul Green Theatre on Country Club Road. It’s directed by Michael Dove, a Helen Hayes Award winner who serves as artistic director at the Forum Theatre in Washington, DC.

Ray Dooley spoke about “Seminar” with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


For ticket information and a schedule of related special events, visit this page on

UNC To Host NC’s First National Veterans’ Arts Festival

Sunday, October 18, UNC will play host to the 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, featuring an art exhibition and performances by military veterans from around the country.

The annual festival got its start in 1981 and travels to a different city each year – but this will be its first-ever stop in North Carolina. It’s a project of the Veterans Affairs Department: VA hospitals nationwide hold local arts events, with the top performers being invited to appear in the national festival.

More than 120 vets will be in Chapel Hill for this year’s festival. It begins at noon with an art exhibit in Gerrard Hall, followed by a show at 2 pm on the stage at Memorial Hall.

NVCAF Host-Site Coordinator Jillian Thompson and veteran performer Dolores Day (a singer-guitarist) joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week to talk about the festival.


Tickets to the Memorial Hall show are free. To order them in advance, call 919-286-0411, extension 6070.

For more information on the NVCAF in general, visit this page.

PlayMakers Opens Mainstage Season With “Disgraced”

Theater season has begun in Chapel Hill!

PlayMakers Repertory Company kicks off its mainstage season on Wednesday with “Disgraced,” a Pulitzer-winning comedy-drama by Ayad Akhtar about an upwardly mobile Pakistani-American lawyer who finds himself confronted with his Muslim heritage. “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013; it’s also won an Obie Award and a Tony nomination.

Shishir Kurup is directing PlayMakers’ production at the invite of former artistic director Joseph Haj. A member of Los Angeles’ Cornerstone Theatre Company, Kurup is a veteran of numerous films and TV shows and he’s performed and directed at theaters across the country, from New York to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Describing the play as a “roller coaster,” Kurup says it’s particularly timely for Chapel Hill, in the wake of the recent murders of three Muslim students earlier this year. Theater, he says – and especially comedy – offers a way for people and communities to confront deep-seated and difficult issues they otherwise might not be willing to engage.

Shishir Kurup spoke on Monday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


The show runs through Sunday, October 4, with special events scheduled throughout the run. Visit for more details and ticket info.

The ArtsCenter Features Theatrical ‘Mixed-Tape’

The ArtsCenter in Carrboro is holding its 14th annual “10 By 10 in the Triangle” program. Each performance features 10 different 10-minute plays performed back-to-back.

Director Jules James told “The Art Spot’s” Jeri Lynn Schulke the program is almost like a mixed-tape.

“It’s got to have some sort of sense of organization, as well as some sort of larger story that you want to tell the audience,” James said. “Not that every play means something immediately next to one another, but they’re going to mean something because they’re put next to one another.”

This year’s “10 By 10″ features a whole new set.

Performances are at 3 p.m. Sunday, and Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.

Heroism, Quiet And Loud, At Deep Dish And PlayMakers

There are many kinds of heroes. There are the ones who make the news, who emerge in a crisis and do something extraordinary; there are the ones who stand up and cry out against injustice, even at the risk of their livelihoods and lives…and then there are the quiet heroes, the ones who go about their business, the ones you never really see. They face their adversities, sometimes with courage, sometimes with resignation, sometimes with anguish and bitterness and rage – but they face them, always, and the world turns on, just a little easier, just a little better.

I’m thinking about heroes this week. On Sunday WCHL hosted our big annual luncheon for all the folks we’ve recognized as Hometown Heroes throughout the year; outgoing fire chief Dan Jones delivered a terrific speech about the heroism he sees every day and the value of “paying it forward.” We recognize all kinds of heroes – sometimes the special ones who come through in a crisis, but more often than not the everyday heroes, the quiet heroes, the firefighters and police officers and community builders and teachers and volunteers.

Down in Alabama, it’s not so quiet. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches, and there are thousands of people there now – including many from our own community – remembering the stand those marchers took in 1965, the risks they assumed, the sacrifices they made, the lives they gave, calling for justice even as the blows rained down around them. Heroism.

So it’s fitting that both of our local theater companies, PlayMakers at UNC and Deep Dish at University Mall, are running plays about heroism this month: the World War I classic “Journey’s End” at Deep Dish and the Henrik Ibsen/Arthur Miller collab “An Enemy of the People” at PlayMakers. Both shows are essential: challenging, troubling, disturbing, and difficult, but essential nonetheless. Check them out.

“Enemy of the People” is about a loud hero, albeit one who maybe didn’t intend to be. Thomas Stockmann (Broadway vet Michael Bryan French) is the official physician of a small town whose economy hinges on a single tourist attraction – a public health spa with water from a local spring. But the water is contaminated, Stockmann discovers, with germs from a tannery upstream. The town must know! But the mayor (fellow Broadway vet Anthony Newfield) cares more about the economy – the local muckraking newspaperman (Benjamin Curns) is a sellout – the business leader (Jeffrey Blair Cornell) refuses to upset the established order – and the nameless rabble of townsfolk are easily convinced that Stockmann’s just a malicious agitator. He’ll stand alone – the sole voice for justice and truth in a vicious and misguided world. Henrik Ibsen wrote the play as a critique of mob rule in a democracy; Arthur Miller adapted it into English as an allegory of those heroes who stood up to Joe McCarthy in the 1940s and 50s. (And its cultural reach extends even further: the struggle between the corrupt mayor and the sole-voice-of-reason scientist reminded me of “Jaws,” and indeed “Jaws” was reportedly inspired by this play.)

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Thomas Stockmann in "Enemy of the People." (Photo by Jon Gardiner via

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Thomas Stockmann in “Enemy of the People.” (Photo by Jon Gardiner via

Meanwhile across town, “Journey’s End” takes us to the trenches of World War I, where six British officers are barracked just before a major German assault. Osborne (Eric Carl) is the “uncle” of the group, who keeps the rest sane – especially Stanhope (Gus Allen), a brilliant officer who’s having trouble keeping it together. Osborne and Stanhope are quiet heroes, caring for others before themselves, doing their best to soldier through, put on brave faces, and not let on that they too are afraid, anxious, bitter. In contrast to Stockmann of “Enemy,” who stands alone, Osborne and Stanhope and their fellow officers stand together – knowing that if one falters, the rest will fall. (Like “Enemy,” “Journey’s End” is historically significant: along with “All Quiet on the Western Front,” it’s one of the first pieces of literature to depict war realistically, without all the glorious/patriotic overtones you so often see. Playwright R.C. Sherriff was himself a WWI vet; he said he simply wanted to show the war as it was.)

Eric Carl as Osborne and Gus Allen as Stanhope in "Journey's End." Photo via

Eric Carl as Osborne and Gus Allen as Stanhope in “Journey’s End.” Photo via

You’ll want to see both before their runs are up. At Deep Dish, scenic designer Michael Allen has created a stunning recreation of a WWI barracks; you can smell the wood as you enter the theater. Carl’s stellar performance as the kindly Osborne holds the show together, bolstered by terrific supporting turns from Carl Martin as the unflappable Trotter and David Hudson (also great in DD’s “Life Is A Dream”) as Mason the cook. At PlayMakers, director Tom Quaintance makes full use of the versatile stage (the dark ending is particularly spectacular) and French and Newfield anchor the show as the main antagonists. (Did I mention their characters are also brothers?)

But it’s the celebration of heroism that stands out. It’s easier to cheer for Stockmann, the loud hero of “Enemy” who stands up to injustice – on opening night, the woman sitting next to me kept nodding her head and saying “Yes!” when the character was delivering his choicest lines. He’s a whistleblower, a crusader for truth, and we all like unfairly maligned whistleblowers and crusaders for truth. Then again, Stockmann is also a deeply flawed character in a way that “Journey’s” heroes are not: he’s prideful, stubborn, a blowhard, a hard-head, willing to throw his family into the line of fire even when offered an easy way to withdraw quietly and let the truth come out on its own. We sympathize with him, we might pity him, but we probably don’t like him. The heroes of “Journey” are more pristine: Osborne is fiercely other-regarding and quietly self-sacrificing; Stanhope is less sympathetic – given to drinking and angry outbursts – but we know it’s only the strain of war that’s made him that way. They’re not the sort of rah-rah heroes you stand up and shout for, like Stockmann is – but their quiet bravery is every bit as heroic as Stockmann’s brash stand. Maybe more so.

In the end, though, it’s not the fictional heroes on stage that matter so much as the real ones in the audience. “Journey” and “Enemy” both hold up a mirror to us as spectators and force us to examine ourselves: how heroic are we? In “Journey’s End” we see all kinds of soldiers, from the gung-ho and brave to the cowardly. (“Coward” here is a relative term: all the soldiers are terrified of war; it’s merely a question of how they handle it.) Where on the spectrum would we fall? In “Enemy” the mirror rises in an even more dramatic way: partway through the second act, the actors very purposefully look the audience in the eyes and give them the chance to speak out against the injustices they’re seeing on stage. (You’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a palpable moment.) In that moment, the fate of the characters is in our hands: we could stand up, we could raise our fists, we could shout. It would alter the rest of the show, of course, but we could do it! But of course we don’t. We’re angered by the injustice, but we don’t speak. We’re just the audience. We’re there to observe. It’s not our place. It would upset the order of things. And we’d never upset the order of things. It’s a nice, respectable theater, after all. This isn’t Rocky Horror

And so the moment passes, and the injustice proceeds.

And when the lights go up we stand and give a rousing, rah-rah ovation to the cast.

“Journey’s End” runs at Deep Dish from now through March 21; visit for showtimes and ticket info. “Enemy of the People” runs at PlayMakers through March 15; visit for showtimes and ticket info.

Americana Legends Robin And Linda Williams Play ArtsCenter Friday

They’ve been together for more than 40 years, they’ve been regular guests on “A Prairie Home Companion,” they’ve been covered by Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris and more – and on Friday at 8:00 pm, the singer/songwriters Robin and Linda Williams will take the stage at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Robin and Linda on “Aaron in the Afternoon” Wednesday – and played the song “On and On” from their latest album, “Back 40.”


Ticket information for Friday’s show is available at For more on Robin and Linda Williams, click here.

Brainstorm “Creative Carrboro” On Saturday

Carrboro is known for a quaint, quirky vibe that inspires artists of all stripes. Now, a group called Creative Carrboro is exploring if the town should formalize the way it supports the arts.

“Is an arts district something that we want to do? Obviously Carrboro has a very rich and full arts culture, but do we need to put some organization around that, some structure? Do we need to take it to the next level? So that has been our mission, to investigate that,” says Carrboro Economic Development Director Annette Stone.

Town officials are partnering with the ArtsCenter and other stakeholders figure out the best ways to nurture the creative community. Art Menuis says that support is vital because while arts are proving a huge draw for the town, increased demand is driving up real estate prices, and some fear that could drive out the working artists and small business owners.

“How do we keep creative businesses, the creative community and creative economy strong in Carrboro given all the pressures? Carrboro is such an incredibly desirable place to live, so how do we keep it affordable instead of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?”

This Saturday, the organizers of Creative Carrboro want to hear your ideas.

They’re hosting an information gathering and sharing event from 10 a.m. until noon at Carrboro Town Hall.

“What’s exciting about Saturday morning is it’s a much more informal opportunity for citizens and residents to interact with the committee members, check out the information we’ve been gathering first-hand and give us their feedback on key questions,” says Menius.

To find out more:

DSI Comedy Takes Root On Franklin Street

In May, the DSI Comedy Theater – a fixture of the Carrboro arts scene for nearly a decade – became a fixture of the Chapel Hill arts scene when it moved from Carr Mill Mall to a new, larger location on West Franklin Street.

The move was initially prompted by a crisis (Carr Mill Mall elected not to renew DSI’s lease), but theater owner Zach Ward chose to see it as an opportunity – and now, just a few months later, he says the company is thriving in its new spot.

In those few months, DSI completely renovated the old Mansion 462 club at 462 W. Franklin, rebuilding it on the inside from the ground up. Now, the theater occupies about four times the space it had in Carrboro, including an expanded bar and (for the first time) its own separate rehearsal facility. In the process, the theater has added to the burgeoning cultural/commercial scene on West Franklin Street – which now includes newcomers like Al’s Burger Shack and the soon-to-arrive Carolina Ale House alongside older establishments like Local 506, the Cave, Carolina Brewery, and West End Wine Bar.

Zach Ward and DSI company members Ashley Melzer and Vinny Valdivia joined Aaron Keck (who’s also a DSI company member) on the WCHL Afternoon News.

As part of the move, DSI is inviting special guests to perform from around the country. This Friday and Saturday, the theater is welcoming Junior Varsity, an improv team from New York’s renowned Magnet Theater – and next month, the theater is hosting the hip-hop-based improv team North Coast as well as a one-night-only performance by nationally-acclaimed standups Myq Kaplan (a veteran of the TV show “Last Comic Standing”) and Zach Sherwin (a writer and performer on the popular YouTube series “Epic Rap Battles of History”).

Visit DSI’s calendar page for show dates and times.

“Life Is A Dream” At Deep Dish: Redemption, Just In Time

Last Thursday, at my friends’ insistence, I finally saw the movie “Thor.” It’s a big-budget action spectacle, with lots of lights and noise and CGI, but the basic premise is Shakespearean: cast out of his family by the machinations of his scheming half-brother, left broken and penniless in an alien land, our brash, headstrong hero prince (read: he’s a jerk) must regain his status as favored son and heir by proving his moral worth to his aged, tough-but-kindly father.

So you’ll understand why I was feeling a bit of déjà vu the following evening, sitting in Deep Dish Theater for their production of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s “Life Is A Dream” – a classic Spanish play (often likened to Shakespeare) that follows pretty much exactly the same plot.

Eat your heart out, Joseph Campbell.

Written in 1635 during the Golden Age of Spanish literature, “Life Is A Dream” is the story of Segismundo, a prince who’s been imprisoned literally from birth by his father the king. Seems he was born under a dark cloud—the stars have decreed he’ll grow up to be a tyrant—and so for the good of the country, his father has kept him locked away, ignorant of his rightful status as heir to the throne. (Why the king doesn’t just kill him outright is never entirely explained.) But as the king grows old—and his other would-be heirs begin sparring over succession—he relents: okay, he says, we’ll take Segismundo out of his cell, reinstall him as prince, and see how he handles it. If he behaves, terrific. But if he acts like a tyrant—we’ll simply drug him, lock him back up, and tell him the whole adventure was all a dream.

Meanwhile, subplots abound: a woman named Rosaura disguises herself as a man (seriously, have I mentioned Shakespeare?) to infiltrate the kingdom and take revenge on the prince Astolfo, who’s stolen her honor; the king’s closest aide discovers her secret and realizes he’s duty-bound to her too; and meanwhile Astolfo schemes to marry his cousin, the princess Estrella, to lay claim to the throne, but he may or may not still be pining for Rosaura. It’s not easy to keep up with it all: the plot is about as complex as “Hamlet,” but while that narrative unfolds slowly over three-plus hours, Calderón crams all his plot points into an hour and 45 minutes. (“I have no idea what is going on,” I overheard one audience member say during intermission.)

But as with Shakespeare, the plot isn’t as important as the underlying philosophy. Are we free to chart the course of our own lives, or are we fated to turn out a certain way? How can we tell the difference between dream and reality? Is there a difference, really? Is life itself not just as temporary and fleeting and inscrutable as a dream? And what does that tell us about how to live our lives? The intrigues of kings and princes and spurned lovers abound—there’s even a swordfight!—but the real heart of “Life Is A Dream” is in its philosophical musings, and those are handled primarily by two characters: Segismundo himself, and Rosaura’s companion Clarin, a stereotypically wise fool reminiscent of the one in “King Lear.”

Deep Dish Life Is A Dream

Alphonse Nicholson as Segismundo and Amber Wood as Rosaura, in “Life Is A Dream.” Photo by Jonathan Young via

So that’s “Life Is A Dream.”

But more importantly: how good is it?

By the time I took my seat, I was already excited about the potential. In the few minutes before the house opened, as all the playgoers milled around in the lobby, we could hear passionate shouts and the clinking of blades on the other side of the wall—just one more last-minute rehearsal, I guess, but it sounded so cool. And the set design (by Lex van Blommestein) grabs your eye as soon as you walk in: angles and windows and disheveled shelves and an ethereal backdrop that evokes mountains, oceans—attractive and forbidding and foreboding, all at once.

But the play itself takes a long time to find its footing. I still remember a production of Craig Lucas’s “Reckless” I saw in college, in which the first act was so bad I almost left at intermission but the second act was some of the best theater I’d ever seen—and I got a similar vibe from “Life Is A Dream.” It wasn’t quite that extreme this time around—the first act had its good moments, the second act had its flaws—but the difference was definitely there. The first act feels like community theater, with all that that entails: nice costumes, fine production value, and performers going through the motions of acting without really finding the emotional connection to their characters. This is not really the actors’ fault, incidentally: “Life Is A Dream” is a fine play, but some of the characters’ motivations are simply baffling, especially early on. Why, for instance, does the king choose to imprison Segismundo for life instead of simply killing him? Having chosen to imprison him, why does he then choose to give him a classical education? Having done that, why does he then choose to free him, and why does he go about it in a way that’s all but guaranteed to elicit the worst possible reaction? John Boni’s performance as Basilio the king is actually quite good (notwithstanding his New York accent), but the character himself is impossible to believe. Same goes for Amber Wood as Rosaura, Anne-Caitlin Donohue as Estrella, and Peter Battis as Clotaldo the king’s aide—all of whom deliver fine performances despite having characters who make a number of brow-furrowing life decisions.

But the second act ultimately redeems the first, and it’s all thanks to the play’s two philosophers, the wronged prince Segismundo and the wise fool Clarin—the two richest and most sympathetic characters, and (as luck or fate would have it) in Deep Dish’s production the two best acted as well. As characters, Segismundo and Clarin actually don’t figure too much in the first act—but they dominate the second, as Segismundo gets swept up in the royal intrigue and Clarin is left alone with his thoughts. And what thoughts! As Clarin, David Hudson is simultaneously hilarious and insightful and touching and tragic; unburdened by all the mounting plot points, he’s free to deliver a memorable performance.

But it’s Alphonse Nicholson’s dazzling turn as Segismundo that truly makes “Life Is A Dream” worthwhile. Sticking with the Shakespeare theme, Segismundo’s journey is a bit like Ophelia’s in reverse: he starts the play half-mad, muttering wild things to himself while life goes on around him, and the plot turns on his gradually reconnecting with sanity and society. It’s a tough part to play, and Nicholson nails it. Intense, fierce, passionate and sympathetic, he commands the stage from the moment the spotlight first falls on him—and it’s his intensity, plus Hudson’s, that finally win over the audience in the end, though it takes a while to get there. During intermission, I overheard an audience member in my row cracking jokes about the play; by the end, I heard the same person gasping (with real emotion) during Segismundo’s final speech. I felt roughly the same way.

(It’s also worth noting, as a side point, that Nicholson is the only black actor in the cast—including Boni, who plays his father. This passes without comment in the play itself—and it’s obvious from the get-go that Nicholson was simply the best actor for the part—but casting a black actor in that role also adds an additional dimension to a story about a man who begins his life in bondage, is freed in a callous and capricious manner by a king who doesn’t particularly care whether he succeeds, is cast back into bondage and is forced to regain his freedom all over again. But the play is seventeenth-century Spanish, not twentieth-century American—so the audience is left to ruminate on that for itself.)

In the end, if “Life Is A Dream” doesn’t quite reach the heights of Deep Dish’s last production, the quietly stunning “Arcadia,” it’s still worthwhile (stick around, it’ll win you over) on the strength of Nicholson’s performance as Segismundo—who never quite reaches a conclusion on whether life really is a dream, but resolves to make the best of it nonetheless. How that’s to be defined is up to you.

“Life Is A Dream” runs through May 31 at Deep Dish Theater in University Mall.