Arts & Culture

Stage set for theater festival

3 min read

A.R.T. leads effort to spotlight local theater efforts

Artists are taking to the streets.

As part of the Emerging America festival — a new collaboration by the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), Huntington Theatre Company (HTC), and the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) — artists will create a “moving party” leading from the A.R.T. theatrical club space Oberon to Harvard Square on May 2 during the Harvard Square Business Association’s annual MayFair. Once there, the artists will perform in sideshows and dance parties throughout the day.

Conceived by A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus ’88, the idea for Emerging America took shape last year when Paulus arrived in Cambridge to begin her new role. Eager to celebrate new American artists and art forms happening locally, as well as around the country, Paulus sought to connect with the HTC and ICA, two of the most vibrant performance institutions in the area.

The inaugural festival is a weekend blast of live entertainment and socializing that runs May 14-16, but the May 2 weekend will kick things into high gear with MayFair celebrations, as well as new media ventures, such as podcasts and narrated walking tours, all downloadable from the Emerging America Web site.

Podcasts include stories about or sparked by famous personalities who lived, loved, or worked in Boston and Cambridge, original “radio plays” created by the HTC’s playwriting fellows, and walking tours that celebrate the neighborhoods and artists of each organization’s community, past and present.

The festival’s opening night sets off a smorgasbord of dramatic productions and late-night entertainment.

The ICA takes center stage with “Disfarmer,” a haunting and original work of puppet theater by award-winning director Dan Hurlin that explores the world of eccentric and reclusive photographer Mike Disfarmer. The festival kickoff party follows with music, performance, dancing, and poetry on the American experience.

Saturday’s daylong events include comedy. “Mrs. Smith Presents … A Benefit for the Carlyle Foundation Empowerment School for People and Cats with Persistent and Severe Challenges” introduces a wealthy, eccentric socialite who channels her grief and rage over the disappearance of her cat Carlyle into a laugh-out-loud theater happening that teeters on the edge of comedy and pathos. There’s also a bar and live music. There are other plays to choose from, including “Live from the Edge” and “Particularly in the Heartland,” and the night is capped with a midnight showing of the A.R.T.’s critically acclaimed “The Donkey Show,” and a subsequent celebration.

Sunday promises a brunch at the Boston Center for the Arts, with more plays to ensue. The festival ends with a party at Oberon.

“Theater is more than simply a play on the stage: It’s a ritual, a social occasion for people to come together and experience community,” said Paulus. “My hope for Emerging America is that the audience will be able to give feedback to the artists through conversations provoked by the social gatherings that will be at the heart of the festival.”

For a complete schedule, podcast information, and ticketing, visit