In a celebration of prose and rhythm, teams of the West Coast’s best poetry slam artists will be gathering in the small enclave of Big Sur to compete on an open-air stage surrounded by redwood trees and a crowd of hundreds.
It’s just one of the performances that draw tourists and locals to out-of-the-way venues in Monterey County.
“Unless you are completely dull, you are going to be touched by the performance,” promises Magnus Toren, executive director of the nonprofit Henry Miller Memorial Library, which hosts the annual event. Poets competing for top honors travel from as far away as Seattle and San Diego, he says.
Mr. Toren is overseeing an expansion of the library this year. “The West Coast Poetry Slam is the most exciting event of the year for the library; it’s just getting better and better every year,” he says.
Launched in 1981 by Emil White, a longtime friend of author Henry Miller, the “library” is really more of a cultural center and gallery. It’s a bookstore, a performance center and home to one of the most extensive archives of the author’s manuscripts and original letters.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library is just one of the literary jewels tucked into Monterey County, home to numerous literary performance events such as the 23rd Annual Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, honoring homegrown talent, author John Steinbeck.
Another annual literary event includes the Jeffers Tor House Garden Party in October in Carmel, which includes re-enactments and special readings, as well as theater and music in celebration of the poet Robinson Jeffers, who used to live there.
The economy seems to have hit the arts hardest in the areas of grants and donations rather than ticket sales, says Elsa Con, executive director, artistic director and founder of the 60-seat Magic Circle Theater.
Carmel Valley-based Magic Circle specializes in offbeat shows such as “The Laramie Project” and “Wit” that have drawn sold-out performances in the last year. It focuses on live theater for the general public, theater arts and music education for youth, a concert series, and special performances for seniors and the disabled. This year’s season includes: “Over the River and Through the Woods,” “The Housekeeper,” and “Blood Sugar.”
“It’s been a fantastic season,” says Ms. Con. “For the most part we don’t have enough seats.”
For a more mainstream production, the older Bruce Arris Wharf Theater, on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, is presenting the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical, “Oklahoma!” through August. Monterey Peninsula College, meanwhile, is hosting a season of fun performances beginning in October, including: “The Glass Menagerie” and “Inspecting Carol.”
In Salinas, the Western Stage has a full season of shows, including Jane Martin’s biting satire “Anton in Show Business,” the world premiere of Victor Vilasenor’s “Rain of Gold,” the dance musical “Cabaret,” Henrik Ibsen’s drama “A Doll’s House,” and the musical comedy “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Oscar and Tony-award winner Joel Grey, of the original “Cabaret,” will be helping The Western Stage and Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley to raise funds by hosting an evening of conversation and music at a sit-down dinner and silent auction Sept. 6 at Hartnell College in Salinas.
Shall we dance?
“I think the arts are thriving because they have to,” says Fran Spector Atkins, artistic director of SpectorDance in Marina. “But, I think it’s requiring more sacrifice.”
At Ms. Spector Atkins’ 200-seat, 7,500-square-foot studio located at California State University at Monterey Bay, top Bay Area dancers perform at her annual Central Coast Summer Fest, a five-week dance workshop and performance series beginning July 19. The company, Ms. Spector Atkins says, “aims to foster exposure to cutting-edge ideas.”
The Saturday series includes the Chaddick Dance Co., a Limon-based modern company; the Savage Dance Co., a jazz company; Moving Arts Dance Co., a contemporary dance company; and Stacey Printz Dance, a hip-hop, jazz, modern fusion performance.
Back at the Henry Miller library, the Aditi Foundation arrives July 20 for its third annual multicultural dance program, “Danzas Aditi in Big Sur.” Directed by dancer-choreographer Alicia Morena-di Palma, the program features local artists performing a variety of ethnic and traditional dances.
JENNIFER PITTMAN is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.
This article published here.