SIUE performing arts festival is rated X -- for X-perimental
Four days of performing arts including puppets, masked actors and something called Squonk Opera is coming to our area. But it’s not the St. Lou Fringe -- that’s a couple of weeks away -- it’s the June 6-9 Xfest 3.0 at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
The X stands for X-perimental. Only one of its offerings -- a solo comedy called “Violators Will Be Violated” by Los Angeles’ Circle X Theater -- isn’t family fare. As the name suggests, it’s year three for the Xfest, the brainchild of SIUE theater and dance chair Peter Cocuzza, which was right up the alley of associate professor Chuck Harper, Xfest's artistic director.
“One of my research interests is experimental theater and I said, ‘Yes,’ and the two of us decided to give it a go,” Harper said.
Squonk if you love opera
Opening the Xfest is an opera composed especially for the city of Edwardsville -- sort of. “Edwardsville: The Opera” is a production of the 20-year-old Squonk Opera -- named for a disfigured, four-legged mythological creature -- which folds local details into a template about exploring a city.
“They were here for four days in April to shoot video of the city of Edwardsville,” Harper said. “They did like 30 interviews, from the mayor to university students to the librarian.”
The idea to present hometown-themed shows came from Squonk Opera’s fast-paced touring schedule which earmarked little time for appreciating the many cities they visited.
“Friends would ask them, ‘Wow, what was Houston like?’ or, ‘You just got back from Miami -- what was that like?’” and they realized they never had an answer because when they toured, they rolled into town, went into a theater for three days and then left.”
Where: Dunham Hall and Metcalf Student Experimental Theater, SIUE campus
When: 7:30 p.m. June 6-June 9
How much: $12-$25 a show; $60 full festival
Described by reviewers as “Rust Belt dada” and “Debussy meets Godzilla,” Squonk Opera puts on a show of concert performance art.
“They do this car chase through the streets of Edwardsville while they play music and sing, and there’s a videotape playing behind that,” Harper said. “It’s very visual and very musical, but not really a story.”
Wonderheads and X-hibitions
Further Xfest acts include “Grim and Fischer,” a masked showdown with death by The Wonderheads of Portland, Ore.; “Would You Still Be You,” a puppet theater piece by New Yorker Luis Tintendo, which explores our relationship with cherished objects; and “X-hibitions,” a collection of short works by the SIUE’s 310b ensemble.
Performances are followed by a Talkback event; Friday’s and Saturday’s schedules include workshops, panel discussions and a keynote speaker.
Xfest is different from a Fringe Festival in several ways including the manner in which acts are selected, according to Harper. Fringe performers apply for the festival, pay a fee if selected and may earn money through ticket sales. Xfest organizers solicit specific acts to be part of their event and pay them to perform.
The first year was a “steep learning curve,” according to Harper. But every year brings more experience and more acts. Xfest’s core audience is SIUE students and Edwardsville residents, some of whom will attend through an arts and issues series of performances that includes Wednesday night’s Squonk Opera.
“We’re trying to reach out to those people and say, ‘If you like Squonk Opera, here’s what else is going on the next couple of nights,’” Harper said.
Xfest is also hoping to lure more St. Louisans to make their way across the river to sample experimental theater.
“It’s going to be quite an event,” Harper said. “And it’s just a 25-minute drive.”