Behind a large white tent in front of the Science Center, Harvard University Dining Services staff members worked over sizzling grills, cooking hot dogs and hamburgers to feed a large crowd of staff, students, and Greater Cambridge residents. It was early, but a few stragglers streamed from the tent carrying plates of grilled chicken, pasta salad, and corn on the cob, and cups of lemonade. The smell of charcoal and smoke wafted through the air. It could only mean one thing: Arts First weekend.
While the weather appeared dicey, sunshine ultimately reigned for this year’s Arts First festival, held April 30-May 3 across the Harvard and Radcliffe campuses.
Over by Johnston Gate, Harvard University Band member Jay Pritchett ’11 slept in the grass while others looked over sheet music. Minutes later, he was marching into the Yard with the band, singing Harvard fight songs, intermittently clapping and whooping: Ten thousand men of Harvard want victory today.
Max Meyer ’12 sang along. “This is our first year attending Arts First,” he said of himself and cohort Meng Li ’12. “We’re freshmen.”
“I’m just wondering where all the students are,” he said of a crowded Yard, filled mostly with families, tots in tow.
The colorful, dancing Harvard Bhangra followed the University Band. As the band marched off into the distance, the Bhangra members, wearing traditional Indian garb, danced barefoot in the green grass as onlookers clapped their hands and nodded to the music.
Blocks away at the Radcliffe Institute’s Sunken Garden, members of the Sunken Garden Children’s Theatre applied wigs and tied on colorful scarves for their next performance. To warm up, they gathered in a circle and jumped up and down, singing the classic “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Then, hollering and waving their hands, they ran into the garden, much to the delight of dozens of children. “The whole world’s on fire!” they yelled in unison.
The premise of the play was simple. “The Story of Phil Apollo” centered on Phil, the son of Apollo, who accidentally sets the world on fire. Bullied by his peers for being “un-cool,” Phil eventually learns that being true to one’s self is the coolest thing of all.
Wearing a bow tie and curly brown wig, Ryan Halprin ’12 played protagonist Phil who, at one point, in an attempt to seem more hip to his friends, turns into the rapper “Schmil Schmapollo.” Kids squealed, adults laughed, a toddler rolled through the lawn. Fun was being had by all.
Somerville resident and Arts First-goer Kate Fanger laughed along with her 6-year-old daughter Natalie. “This is our first year,” said Fanger. What other activities were on the agenda? “Mariachi, the jazz lunch, juggling,” she answered.
Under the crystal chandeliers of Dudley House, pianist Emil Pitkin ’09 played the works of Chopin, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff; meanwhile, the Harvard Irish American Society and Celtic Club dazzled onlookers at Phillips Brooks House, thanks to the fiddling prowess of Sally Joyce Kiebdaj ’10, with flutist Sam Brotherton ’12 and hand-drummer Adam Hallowell ’09.
Inside Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in Memorial Hall, Nelson Greaves ’10 and Alex Petri ’10 looked over their notes, scribbling last-minute jokes. Behind them, a dim stage with a lone microphone and an audience waiting.
“We’re the Harvard College Stand-up Comic Society,” said Greaves. “Or SUCS,” he joked.
Comics Dave Rhein ’09 and Greg Kestin of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences successfully garnered laughs, while Greaves said he felt compelled to tell some jokes about his family, pointing out his mother in attendance. “A guy walks into a bar,” said Greaves of his father, “and stays there my entire childhood.”