A couple of years ago, William Boughton was chatting with a guy named Dan, while Dan was waiting for his son to finish up a violin lesson with Boughton’s wife.
“He mentioned Guilford could do with a good performing arts festival,” recalls Boughton, who lives in Guilford. “At the time, whilst I thought it was a good idea, I didn’t have the time to embark on such a project.”
Now, he does. And Dan was talking with the right guy.
Boughton, the music director of the New Haven Symphony who has had a long and illustrious career in the international music scene, is winding down his career with the NHSO and is looking for a new challenge.
He’s decided it will be a performing arts festival in Guilford, with a debut this year, from Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 12 to 15, with a long weekend of performances at venues throughout Guilford, free and open to anyone who would like to attend. The offerings, which are still being finalized, range from traditional Bach quartets on street corners to a play that evolves in real time with the help of audience members, who will be weighing in on cell phones (yes, keep them on!) via tweets on the social media platform Twitter.
He is teaming up with singer and actress Carly Callahan of Madison, who has performed and helped support a wide range of artistic endeavors on the shoreline, including, most recently, working as a director and performer in the Ivoryton Playhouse’s Playhouse on the Shore at Water’s Edge in Westbrook.
She says she and Boughton have big plans for the festival.
An Epicenter for Great Culture
“William comes from that European tradition of arts festivals that is alive and well here, too, in the tradition of Tanglewood,” she says, referring to a summer festival in western Massachusetts that draws more than 350,000 people every year. “His vision is really to highlight this area geographically as an epicenter for really great cultural things going on.”
She says she recently arrived home from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a three-week celebration in the capital of Scotland, that bills itself as the biggest celebration of arts and culture “on the planet.”
“I was blown away by how that city transformed itself. Every nook and cranny was a venue. Every coffee shop. Every church,” she says. With the right kind of planning and a little luck, she says, the Guilford Performing Arts Festival, many decades from now, could be the same kind of thing.
The venues for the upcoming performances include Christ Episcopal Church; The First Church of Christ, Scientist; the First Congregational Church; Guilford Parks and Recreation facilities; The Marketplace; Arthur Murray Dance Studio; Boughton’s barn; the Dudley Farm; Evergreen Woods; and random street corners.
“Guilford is the perfect place for this to happen,” she says.
A Wealth of Talent, Generosity
Donita Aruny, one of the board members of the arts festival, says the generosity of funders combined with the number of talented performers on the Connecticut shoreline and nearby, some of whom are also donating their appearances, will help make the first festival a success.
“William has had this idea in his head for quite a while. He believe in the incredible amount of talent sprouting from this region. This festival is really focused on much of the local talent,” she says. The goal—to offer a wide range of different musical and performance styles—at no cost—is designed to get people to try something they otherwise might not have considered trying, she says.
“The arts are a universal language, able to broaden people’s perspectives and awareness. There are so many different art forms out there,” she says. “Our goal is to present a wide range of those.”
“There really is something for everyone. What’s exciting to me is that, because there is no admission charge, it allows people to explore different genres, different performance styles, in a way that is very accessible,” she says.
The organization is training docents to help guide people to new experiences, based on attendees’ current interests.
“When people check in, the docents can say, ‘We also have at two o’clock today something else going on you might be interested in,’” she says. “It’s a wonderful way to develop new audiences in a way that traditional ticket sales might not.
“It’s our hope that it widens horizons for everyone who participates and attends,” she says. “We have so much talent around here, it’s incredible.”
Something for Everyone
Callahan says she hopes it will be a great experience for the performers as well as for attendees. The festival organizers have set up a “green room” for performers, the traditional term for a waiting room and lounge where performers can hang out, socialize, and, if they’re so inclined, learn more about resources that could help them with their career. The Shoreline Arts Alliance, a nonprofit cultural organization, is helping sponsor the green room.
“The artists can meet one another and learn more about the resources that the Shoreline Arts Alliance has to offer,” she says. “It will improve their exposure to one another and help them connect with a wider audience base.”
Callahan, while planning for the festival was underway, says she sometimes gets a little panicky when she thinks about how much there is to be done to pull off such a festival for the first time. But she’s mostly excited about what the festival has to offer.
Boughton says the eclectic offerings reflect the diversity of the area’s performing arts community.
“We decided we would really make it as broad and as catholic a church as we possibly could,” he says. “We want to reach a broad cross section of Guilford people and visitors from all over. We are doing folk music, jazz, rock, classical, ballroom dance, hip hop, workshops for adults who may not have taken the trumpet out of the attic since high school.”
He says the offerings are, if anything, classically American.
“So what is it to be an American, an American in the 21st century? What are the challenges of understanding each other’s cultures, and respect for other cultures,” he says. “It is really through the arts that we can enliven and enrich our lives.”
He says it is a “pilot festival,” one that he hopes will be offered every other year. The plan is to grow it as it goes.
“We’re not going to hit all of the buttons in this first festival. But if we reach a good majority of Guilford citizens, and visitors from the shoreline, we will have achieved part of our mission,” he says.
His work helping to develop the festival is his way of “giving back to the community in which we live.”