The town of Guilford was bursting with arts and entertainment from September 17 to 22nd as the GreenStage Guilford festival returned in a big way to the Guilford Green and locations around the town. According to Peter Hawes, executive director of programming, the goal has been to “create a diverse festival of the performing arts that primarily celebrated the depth and breadth of American culture.”
The festival made its debut in 2017, and it was the vision of William Boughton, former music director of the New Haven Symphony with the goal of bringing diverse entertainment to Guilford and the Shoreline region. In 2019, there were 73 different events, and then COVID hit. Still, they were able to mount a significantly downsized event to keep going. This year, Hawes says, they were “building back,” and for 2023, approximately 25 different events encompassing dance, theater, and music took over the town.
As noted, COVID had a severe impact on the festival, but Hawes says that the interest and passion of the all-volunteer organization helped keep the vision alive, and that this year, the extensive program showcased everything from traditional ballet to expressive movement to African and Puerto Rican genres. Theater included spoken word, poetry, stand-up comedy, and traditional drama. All of this was complemented by workshops and master classes to engage and entertain the community.
The festival also continued a program it launched in conjunction with Guilford High School, which involved students in more formalized educational programs to expose and engage students in the arts.
One of the other key features of the festival is that it provides grants to Connecticut-based artists, particularly in the shoreline region. This year, they commissioned three works, which premiered during the festival. While everyone was shut down during the pandemic, Hawes said they were able to provide six grants, which created an essential lifeline to artists who, like so many, were trying to get by in an uncertain and stressful time.
The joy and excitement was back in a big way this year, and Hawes says the focus was on celebrating and promoting diversity in all areas of the arts. “I think it’s created buzz and a kind of ‘wow’ we’ve never seen in Guilford,” he says. “We’ve brought a lot of people from different communities together to celebrate the diversity of arts and artists.” Hawes and his team have sought to involve all communities in helping develop content for the festival to achieve that diversity and include as broad a representation of cultures, genres, and sub-genres as possible. That, of course, includes the LGBTQ+ communities, and Hawes notes Guildford-based Schuyler Beeman (previously profiled in CT Voice) performed his cabaret and lesbian playwright Emily Breeze presented a staged reading of her play about coming out.
Hawes added that with the current fractious nature of American culture today, in many respects, the ability to bring together a wide variety of cultures representing age, gender, gender expression, and culture has been one of the many great achievements of the festival.
“The festival has had tremendous energy, brought people out, and shown how much people value diversity in their hearts and in humanity,” he says.
The festival has had a major financial impact on the community as well. Hawes says that it’s estimated that the festival has contributed about $1.3 million to the community over the previous three events.
To find out more about Guilford Greenstage and to learn about past programs and grant opportunities, visit greenstageguilford.org.