In This Week’s California International Theatre Festival, Good Things Are Coming in a Smaller Package

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Terror! That’s the first word that came to mind when Don Shirley asked if I’d write an article about the upcoming California International Theatre Festival. Don also said I’d have to tell the truth as to why this season, our fifth, is to be so much smaller than last year’s undertaking. Why two locations, not three? Why five days rather than 10? The haiku answer to this is “money.”

Linda Purl

Let me back up. The festival was started a handful of years ago with a mission to produce an annual theater festival in California, offering a distinguished array of international presentations, and committed to broadening cultural understanding by means of community outreach, student training and cultural exchange through the performing arts. Lofty, and we didn’t know any better but to think we could pull it off. We all wanted to make a difference in our post­”“9/11 world. What better way, as artists, than to try to get strangers to break bread together, laugh at each other’s jokes, bring international thespians to the U.S. to have an exceptional time and return with an improved understanding of who we are as Americans?

Through the help, labor and passion of many, we have been able to deliver five seasons with representations from 19 countries in all. More than 100 students and interns have been through our classrooms. And we’ve been lucky enough to garner a handful of greatly appreciated awards along the way. We’ve been able to do this because of the remarkable support of our donors. Even in this economy, a stalwart group of individuals has somehow seen fit to make this festival happen.

Ghaffar Pourazar in "Tiao Hua Che"

Art doesn’t get produced without cash support. I know that now. I asked one of our donors why she chooses to give to the arts and not any number of other most worthy causes? She looked at me in utter astonishment and answered, “Honey, don’t you realize that if the arts had been better-supported in prewar Germany, the Holocaust would not have happened?” This is the imperative from which she supports the arts. Stunning. For whatever their reasons, there is a group of individuals, companies and foundations who annually decide to make a gift to their communities. They make the arts possible.

This year’s season is more modest because in this economy we just didn’t raise the funds to responsibly make it any bigger. Perhaps we are up against challenges of a diminishing theatergoing populace. Personally, I’m in denial about that one. If you have an evening and spare change to spend on a night out, an Angeleno’s first choice might not be international theater. You’ll have to answer that one for yourself. Suffice to say, I have great admiration for all surviving theater companies in LA. Behind every one of them is a team of tireless workers and generous donors.

I’m pretty sure Don also said I shouldn’t ramble. So, our season starts tomorrow night, May 17, and runs through Monday, May 21. No reservations are needed, as all events are free to the public. Performances are held at Founder’s Hall, 100 Civic Center Way, in Calabasas. Full details are on our website, Briefly, however, here is our lineup:

Maire Clerkin in "A Bad Arm"

Thursday, May 17, and Friday, May 18, 8 pm: a staged reading of a madcap play by Australian playwright Daniel Lillford, titled The Bear Trap.

Saturday, May 19, 2 pm: performance of The Bad Arm: Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer, an uproarious romp by Máire Clerkin that captures the excitement of Irish dancing amid astounding bursts of rhythm and physical theatre. This ugly-duckling-never-quite-swan recounts her experiences of sex and booze and rock ’n’ roll like only a convent-educated Irish-Catholic girl can.

Saturday, May 19, 8 pm: a staged reading of A Happy End, by Iddo Netanyahu and directed by Ami Dayan. The setting is Berlin 1932, days after the elections. Need I say more? (Additional performance Monday, May 21, 7:30 pm at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., LA.)

Sunday, May 20, 2 pm: In To the Top, mountaineer Dr. Julius J. Budnick takes his audience on a pictographic journey to the top of Mount Everest as he recounts his and his teammates’ successful summit via the treacherous North Face. He talks of his encounters and the life lessons gleaned through his life-changing adventure in Nepal.

Lonny Joseph Gordon

Sunday, May 20, 5 pm: In Ancient Meets Utterly Modern, American Kabuki master Lonny Joseph Gordon and Beijing Opera master Ghaffar Pourazar combine forces to perform in both disciplines, demonstrating the universality of all great theater as it reflects on the human experience.

I hope, really hope, to see each of you who are reading this, at one or more of the events. Good things happen when strangers are brought together through the arts. Conversations start, perspectives shift, visions begin. From that alchemy, who knows what may evolve?

California International Theatre Festival begins tomorrow, May 17. Founder’s Hall, 100 Civic Center Way, Calabasas. Performance times vary. Admission is free.

Linda Purl is the festival founder and director of California International Theatre Festival. She is an accomplished actress and singer who trained internationally. She has appeared onstage on Broadway, regionally, and locally. She has starred in more than 40 television Movies of the Week and currently is seen in the recurring role of Helene Beesley on The Office, as well as a recurring role on True Blood.

Linda Purl

Linda Purl