The Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Jan. 13 will kick off its first-ever Off Center Festival, an eclectic nine-day program showcasing cutting-edge theater, music and dance, hip-hop, mash poetry and performance art.
Aimed at drawing audiences that reflect Orange County's cultural and generational diversity, as well as offering the public wide access to a new wave of creativity in performing arts through moderately-priced tickets, the festival will run through Jan. 21.
The extensive lineup will comprise eight different acts rarely seen by audiences in O.C.: Chautauqua, Reggie Watts, The Car Plays, "ReEntry," "The Word Begins," "Ten Tiny Dances," and indie bands Lord Huron and Mexican Institute of Sound.
"What's exciting to me is not just individual pieces, but the amazing, eclectic range of experiences," center President Terry Dwyer said in an interview. "Truly, we are asking our audience to expect the unexpected and take some chances on an adventurous ride."
The festival, which partly is a collaboration with neighboring South Coast Repertory, will build on the center's Off Center series, which has been around for years and has featured free events, shows by independent bands playing outdoors in the center's plaza, and dance festivals. Now, a full festival expands on the Off Center idea, and is finally taking shape after a year of preparation.
Dwyer said enhancing the Off Center offerings would "bring in concentrated bursts of activity, a high-quality eclectic range of performances."
He added that the programs would help attract younger and more diverse audiences to the center, as well as first-timers.
Toward that end, the center is pricing tickets to shows across the board at $20 for single tickets, or a package of four or more shows for $10 each ticket.
"This is some of the best contemporary performance music, dance, comedy, hip hop street theater and alternative performances," Dwyer said. "It's really about the best anywhere, and for just 10 or 20 dollars. We really wanted to remove economic barriers and encourage people to just take a chance and just let us know what they think."
The Off Center Festival opens Jan. 13 with separately billed performances by the indie band Lord Huron and Chautauqua, a site-adapted, Vaudeville-influenced variety show packed with music, comedy Broadway-style song-and-dance numbers, feats of strength and short informative lectures by local guests.
Special guests will be OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano; Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the UC Irvine School of Law; Shelley Hoss, president of the Orange County Community Foundation; and Jim Washburn, arts and music writer and historian.
Lord Huron, a band that fuses Calypso-inspired harmonies with folk music, will perform for one night in Founders Hall, while Chautauqua will perform four shows through Jan. 15 in the Samueli Theater.
Next up, on Jan. 14 in Founders Hall, comedian and musician Reggie Watts will perform a one-night gig of improvised musical sets, using only his voice and a looping machine. During his 2010 tour, he opened for Conan O'Brien and played Bonnaroo.
Out on the Arts Plaza, The Car Plays, conceived by Paul Stein, will perform a series of shows on Jan. 14-15 and Jan. 20-21.
The production brings actors and audiences together in parked cars. Fifteen short plays, including two pieces commissioned by South Coast Repertory, will be performed inside the cars, while audiences of two move from vehicle to vehicle, experiencing works by various playwrights.
Audiences will experience five plays in one hour. There will be three different tracks of five plays, with each play lasting approximately nine minutes.
From Jan. 18 through Jan. 20, "ReEntry," a play conceived by sisters of veterans Emily Ackerman and KJ Sanchez, will be performed in Founders Hall.
The drama sifts through politics to uncover the raw veracity of a Marine's homecoming and how American families, culture and society can help these servicemen and women readjust to life back home. All dialogue in the play was taken directly from interviews with combat veterans and their families.
Then, from Jan. 19 through Jan. 21 in the Nicholas Studio at South Coast Repertory, "The Word Begins," nominated for three Helen Hayes Awards, follows the journey of two men as they discover the power of words to define love, faith, race and humanity in America.
The production is a hodgepodge of theater, the spoken word, comedy and hip-hop combined to make a new satire that examines the current cultural landscape.
"'The Word Begins' is a wonderful, hilarious, but very political, very topical and at times quite provocative piece," said Dwyer.
The eighth act in the lineup, "Ten Tiny Dances," will follow on Jan. 20-21 in the Samueli Theater. This production will be a series of dances performed within the confines of a 4-by-4-foot stage.
Included among the dance pieces will be new works created especially for the Off Center Festival by local choreographers Melanie Rios of The Wooden Floor, Jennifer Backhaus of Backhausdance and Los Angeles-based Meg Wolfe.
The Mexican Institute of Sound will close out the festival with a show in Founders Hall. The performance will feature Mexico City-based artist Camilo Lara mixing traditional mariachi and cumbia music with hip-hop, rock and electronica.
IF YOU GO
What: Off Center Festival
When: Jan. 13 through Jan. 21
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; and South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
For tickets and more information: Call the SCFTA box office at (714) 556-2787, or go to http://www.scfta.org