Sasha's ARTS FIRST Picks

AFARTS FIRST is a great way to take a break from studying -- and to see more arts than you can imagine in a four-day period. Our blogger has suggestions about what to see and how to spend your time at the festival that runs May 2-5 at Harvard. 

By Sasha Barish '20

ARTS FIRST is always a nice end to the school year for me. Sure, it’s in the beginning of reading period, when I’m starting to study for finals and write papers, but going to see high-quality student performances and play a little music myself is one of the most fulfilling ways I can imagine to take a break from coursework. There’s art everywhere in the spaces I pass by every day, the weather finally becomes amenable to spending time outside, and it’s a fun way to wrap up a year of student-driven creativity before everyone disperses for the summer. Now that the official schedule is up, here are a few ARTS FIRST events that I’m excited about.

1 pm, Saturday, May 4 | Sever Quad, Harvard Yard
I actually probably won’t go to this one during its ARTS FIRST showing, but that’s because I already saw the production a few weeks ago when it was in the Adams Pool Theater, and I can assure you that I really enjoyed it. As a lover of theater history and ancient Mediterranean theater myself, I’m always interested to see the different ways that modern directors and performers transmit ancient plays. Electra is one of the ancient tragedies that I struggle most to engage with morally, mostly because I have little empathy for the plight of AFanyone who thinks that murder is best avenged by murdering the murderer. Director Isaiah Michalski’s version obviously doesn’t eliminate that fundamental moral disconnect from the script, but to me it has a powerful effect anyway. Without aiming to replicate the performance context of Sophocles’ original, it at many points delivers the same feelings, the same horror, the same characters. Emotionally I was shocked and disturbed, philosophically I was shaken up, and theatrically I was impressed. I’m a bit curious about the change in location; I saw the production indoors in Adams House, but at ARTS FIRST it will be staged in Harvard yard. I imagine that this show could take on a very different tone when performed outdoors in broad daylight.

Performance Fair
1–5 pm, Saturday, May 4 | Science Center Plaza Tent, Smith Campus Center and around Harvard Yard
The great tragedy of ARTS FIRST is that many Harvard student performers do not get to see each other’s performances because they all happen simultaneously. This tragedy, however, is great for audiences, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the Performance Fair, where different short performances happen at eleven locations simultaneously, all close enough to each other that a curious audience member can wander from the grand orchestral symphonies to Asian-fusion a capella on a whim. One performance fair event that I’m excited to see is the Turkish Classical Music Ensemble, especially since this year during Wintersession I had the opportunity to learn about Turkish and Ottoman history in Istanbul with the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Music is abundant in Turkish cities; I hope that listening to the ARTS FIRST performance will remind me of the folk singers on the ferry and of the dozen different musical sounds that fill the air on Istiklal Street in the evenings. Additionally, I’ll be in the Performance Fair for the first time this year, playing a 20-century trio by Alan Hovhaness with some friends.

3 pm, Sunday May 5 | Science Center Plaza Tent
I wasn’t aware that doing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with kazoos was a Harvard tradition, but the concept alone is fantastic enough that it might be my new favorite Harvard tradition. I expect it to be nothing like what Tchaikovsky intended but every bit as much fun.