arts fest sets the stage at the ampitheatre

by erin thursby
Bring your thirst for live performance to the Florida’s First Coast Arts Festival. The fest is actually a collusion of opera, symphony pops, theatre and musical. Lasting from May 18-24 at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, you can see Grease, the comedy The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, A Night at the Opera, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Americana Pops concerts, plus Pride and Prejudice. Adding to the arts experience will be a large scale sculpture exhibition outside the venue.
The fest is backed by the University of Florida and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, which will be lending talent and support for the professional-level performances. Many of the actors in the productions are grad students that are already equity actors working professionally.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this is to give people the opportunity to experience quality work and see more than one production in a 24-hour period,” explains Kevin Marshall, producer of the Florida’s First Coast Arts Festival. They hope to draw locals from all around the First Coast to see the shows, who will then hopefully stay over in St. Augustine. “The arts are people-magnets. We’re hoping to create interest and excitement,” says Marshall.
Musicals are always a draw, so they expect lots of people to attend the Grease performances. Events will be built around the musical, as a celebration of the 50s.
A Night at the Opera promises to be a great introduction to the world’s greatest opera pieces. The singers will be performing the best-known pieces from famous operas from Verdi, Puccini, Gershwin, Mozart and Delibes. Globally-celebrated artists from UF’s School of Music faculty, the 25-voice concert ensemble from the Gainesville Civic Chorus and Maestro Will Kesling will all be performing. Renowned opera singers Anthony Offerle (bass-baritone), Elizabeth Graham (soprano), and Bryce Westervelt (tenor) will join the ensembles as featured singers.
Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra will have their time in the spotlight on May 24 for their one-night only Americana Pops Concert.
The non-musical performances on the docket are The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged and Pride and Prejudice. The productions are very different.
Pride and Prejudice is a stage adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name, focusing on English countryside matchmaking and romance in the early 1800s.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged is described by fest organizers as “a hilarious, fast-paced, Monty Python-type romp through Shakespeare’s plays. Three male actors take audiences through 37 plays, which are condensed down to a 90-minute free-for-all, making mincemeat of the Bard. Improvisation, audience participation, pop culture and local references are in store, as well as the fastest, funniest, Hamlet you’re likely to see.”
With local support and attendance, it’s hoped that the fest will grow and develop into a national attraction. Founding Director Tony Mata believes that they can “involve the community in First Coast and beyond…eventually we’d like to become an international festival.” While such a leap is a few years in the future, it’s not an impossible one. St. Augustine is a great location for a performing arts festival and because UF will be restoring historical buildings in the city, there will be opportunities to expand to smaller venues throughout the city.
For more information on Florida’s First Coast Arts Festival, go to To buy tickets go to Tickets for the individual shows range from about $20-25. If you buy 10 or more at once, you can receive a discount.

First Coast Arts Festival Schedule

May 18 8 pm Grease
May 19 8 pm The Complete Works of William Shakespeare abridged
May 20 8 pm Pride and Prejudice
May 21 8 pm A Night at the Opera
May 22 7 pm Pride and Prejudice
9 pm Grease
May 23 7 pm Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra – Americana Pops Concert
9 pm Grease
May 24 5 pm Pride and Prejudice
7 pm The Complete Works of William Shakespeare abridged
9 pm Grease