Off Center Festival Exposes OC To Culture From All Angles

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts routinely showcases first-rate classical, pop, and children’s programming, and while it also occasionally hosts some eclectic performance groups, avant garde theater is not something that most OC residents regularly associate with the prestigious institution, which is why the Off Center Festival was created. Now in its fifth year, the Off Center Festival is a way for Segerstrom Center President Terry Dwyer and partners Mark Russell and Judy Morr to present a collection of creative, modern, and sometimes risque shows in one tidy bundle.

Dwyer recalled to the Weekly why Segerstrom started experimenting with its programming. “A few years back, we had begun a variety of initiatives to reach out to audiences that we didn’t have that much of a relationship with,” he says. “And one of the groups we wanted to reach was younger people, and also we wanted to reach all community members that might be interested in more adventurous and contemporary performance.” Initially, Dwyer’s team would present some of this kind of work sporadically until finally deciding to consolidate it into a festival in 2012. The hope was that it would give the work more attention and be easier for our audiences to sample a variety of different kinds of performances.

Since the festival’s beginning, one of Dwyer’s partners in this endeavor has been Mark Russell, the founding artistic director of New York’s Under the Radar Festival, a festival which showcases cutting edge theater pieces from around the world. Dwyer is quite proud of this partnership.“He’s nationally known as one of the premiere curators and programmers of contemporary performance, Dwyer says. “And he’s a dream to work with; he’s one of the very special programmers this country has.”

This year the festival’s line up consists of nine events and performances, which are just as unique in their designs as they are in their respective narrative content. Off Center begins on Jan. 15 with an off-site show; the film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut will screen twice at the Frida Cinema, in Santa Ana, with an accompanying sing-along. On Jan. 16, Allah-Las (a fusion of West Coast garage rock, Latin percussion, and electric folk) will perform a free concert in the center’s Arts Plaza. On Jan. 19-20, a multimedia show called ADA/AVA will perform in Samueli Theater; this show incorporates puppets, actors, screen projections, and actors to explore the universal themes of mourning and melancholy as the character Ada experiences the death of her twin, Ava.

Samedi Détente is a musical, spoken word, and dance piece, created and performed by Dorothée Munyaneza and based on her reflections as a young girl who escaped Rwanda. This show will run from Jan. 21-23 in the Judy Morr Theater. Nufonia Must Fall features puppets, live video editing, and the live music of producer Kid Koala and the Afiara Quartet (using piano, strings, and turntables) to enact the story of a second rate robot and its infatuation with an office worker. This show, based on Kid Koala’s graphic novel, will be performed on Jan. 23 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely, along with an impressive list of fellow musicians, will perform Sacred Music for Sacred Times in the Samueli Theater on Jan. 22-23. This all-star band’s music includes elements of rock, blues, folk, country, and spiritual music. Milo Greene’s self-described “cinematic-pop” brings the party back to the Arts Plaza for another free show on Jan. 23. Writer, performer, and activist Sarah Jones then uses a variety of characters to provide humanity and humor to her play Sell/Buy/Date, which is about the commercial sex industry. The play was inspired by real-life experiences by people affected by the industry, and it will run from Jan. 28-30 at the Studio Performance Space. Finally, the Martha Redbone Roots Project will showcase blues and soul singer Martha Redbone’s exploration of traditional and modern variations of folk, roots, blues, tribal, and soul music. Redbone will be backed by an all-star band in the Samueli Theater on Jan. 28-30.

For more information on the shows and events of the Off Center Festival, please visit the event’s page at the site of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

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