Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Farewell Spoleto…See you next year

Posted 6/16/2011 1:46:00 PM

Sunday marked the end of the Spoleto Festival 2011, but the festival went out with a bang – literally. As always, a fantastic fireworks display at the Festival Finale celebrated the close of the festival.

But that wasn’t the only pyrotechnics in Charleston on Sunday. The festival might have been wrapping up, but artists were still giving fiery performances around town.

At the Memminger Auditorium, the Australian circus company, Circa, was thrilling crowds with its unique and modern twist on traditional circus acrobatics. At the Dock Street Theatre, the Druid Theatre Company moved audiences with Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy, The Cripple of Inishman.

Uptown, I joined hundreds of other spectators for the final performance of The Gospel at Colonus, a theatrical event that left me speechless.

The Gospel at Colonus is a perfect example of what makes the Spoleto Festival so special; it is an undefinable, almost indescribable theatrical event. Original, daring, moving and just plain fun, The Gospel at Colonus takes a dry, 2,000+ year old Greek tragedy and transfers the story to the contemporary Black Church. Based on Sophocles’ play Oedipus at Colonus, the story is a sequel of sorts to the more famous Oedipus Rex. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus realizes that he has, inadvertently, killed his own father and fathered children with his mother. This revelation causes his wife/mother, Jocaste, to kill herself, and the sight of her body, coupled with his own horror, causes him to blind himself. At the end of the play Oedipus is exiled from Thebes, left to wander sightless, led by his daughter/sisters.

Oedipus at Colonus picks up the story of Oedipus at the end of his life. He has grown old and wise, wandering the country, and is seeking a place of rest and respite. It is far less gruesome than the previous play. And although Oedipus dies, his passing is “without pain.”

Gospel at Colonus was born by the desire to re-imagine the religious basis of Greek drama in a more modern context. Told by a stage full of truly gifted gospel singers (including a 30+ member choir,) the ancient story takes on a moving and life-affirming dimension. The famed Blind Boys of Alabama take on the role of the blind, doomed Oedipus and the legendary Soul Stirrers also are featured. By the end of the play, the entire theater was on its feet, clapping along, and there was a warmth that pervaded the whole auditorium after this secular “church service.”

The Festival Finale was held, as always, at Middleton Place, where people spread blankets and lawn chairs for picnics in the afternoon and then stayed to hear Bluegrass legend Del McCoury sing the festival to a celebratory close.

Now all there is to do is wait to see what the Spoleto Festival will roll out for next year. I for one can’t wait to see the 2012 lineup!

If you can’t wait either, sign up for the festival’s newsletter here.