What if, in a great burst of largesse and pride, you decide to invite everyone in your address book to a big open house? But suppose you dispense with that pesky RSVP business, and then -- gulp! -- they all show up?
Where some of us might pale at the prospect of an oncoming stampede, Cal Performances director Matias Tarnopolsky, entering his first full season on the UC Berkeley campus, is ecstatic. "We hope we are inundated!" he exclaims. "It's going to be a fabulous day!"
Tarnopolsky is bolting out of the starting gate Sept. 26 as de facto ringmaster of the Fall Free for All, a daylong celebration that will bring 14 performing acts in dance, theater, opera, jazz, choral, orchestral and instrumental music to four campus venues for free.
From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. that Sunday, the campus will swarm with 200-plus volunteers and nobody knows how many arts-happy festivalgoers.
Bobbing balloons in coded colors will lead the way to Zellerbach Hall (blue), Lower Sproul Plaza (green), Wheeler Auditorium (yellow) and Hertz Hall (orange). Food concessions run by nearby Adagia restaurant will set up on Sproul Plaza and on the Zellerbach Hall mezzanine, and the Bear's Lair student union nosh spots will be open.
A large contingent from the Cal Band will blast things off with a preperformance fanfare at 10:30 a.m.; the Men's Octet and the Golden Overtones, both UC Berkeley vocal ensembles, will stroll and serenade throughout the day and a family-friendly instrument petting zoo, staffed by many of the performing ensembles, will hold court on the Zellerbach mezzanine from noon to 5 p.m.
But the primo attractions are the artists' 45-minute performances in the fixed venues, many long-term members of the Cal Performances inner circle. Chief among those is the Mark Morris Dance Group, the acclaimed ensemble from Brooklyn that, after a continuous 23-year relationship with the campus, considers Berkeley its West Coast home.
MMDG, appearing at 3 p.m. in Zellerbach, will solicit audience members' participation in a coached rehearsal and performance of "Looky," one of three works featured in the ensemble's Sept. 30-Oct. 3 appearances on the Cal Performances season schedule. It's a wacko, tongue-in-cheek work dating to 2007 and set to eclectic, chink-a-dink music of a disklavier -- a big digital player piano -- that will be right up there on stage with the impromptu performers.
MMDG spokeswoman Christy Bolingbroke says they hope to coax "parents, kids, grandparents, pre-professional dancers -- everyone!" up on stage. The work is appropriate, she adds, because "'Looky' is a fun work with choreography that can be done by a wide range of ages and technical experience -- or even those without a lot of dance technique -- and there is some room for improvisation."
Also hoping to rope an enthusiastic audience into her act is Melanie DeMore, an Oakland-based singer and children's choral conductor who teaches "a cappella singing and body percussion" at St. Paul's School in Oakland and "power of song" workshops in schools as a Cal Performances in the Classroom artist. Armed with 55 pounding sticks to pass out, all fashioned in the tradition of the Gullah slave peoples of the Sea Islands off coastal South Carolina and Georgia, DeMore will lead a community sing- and pound-along in a giant tent on Sproul Plaza at noon.
She has led many a pounding workshop (and has a documentary on YouTube) and says that "what I like to do is get as many people as possible pounding, because the energy is amazing."
It's also all-inclusive, regardless of your skill set. "People who are massive drummers are going to enjoy it, people who have never pounded a stick in their life are going to have a great time, people who are in wheelchairs -- it doesn't matter!" she promises.
One act that is brand new to Cal Performances is Word for Word, the San Francisco-based theatrical troupe that has made a name for itself turning literature, verbatim, into vibrant live performances. Now in the middle of an extended run with Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning short-story collection, "Olive Kitteridge" at Theater Artaud in San Francisco, Word for Word will bring seven members of the group to Wheeler Auditorium at 2 p.m. for a semi-staged rendition of children's author Gary Soto's "Frankie the Rooster."
JoAnne Winter, artistic director of Word for Word, calls it a "really sweet story that's fun to perform.
"It's a story about a little boy, Jose Luis, who's doing a favor for his cousin, taking a love note to his cousin's girlfriend. And along the way, he's befriended by a rooster -- and the rooster won't leave him alone. He learns a lot of lessons, about friendship, family and responsibility."
Word for Word is participating in the Fall Free for All "to get kids and families excited about going to see a live performance," Winter says. "And also to let people know we bring this into their schools. If they want to get in touch with us and have us come to their school, that's a really great bonus."
Other performers scheduled include classical guitarist Marc Teicholz, an International Guitar Foundation of America competition grand prizewinner; the celebrated Kronos Quartet, champions of contemporary music for the past 30 years; Teslim, the Turkish-Greek-Sephardic duo Kaila Flexer and Gari Hegedus; the UC Jazz Ensemble; the Linda Tillery Cultural Heritage Choir; the brilliantly colorful Diamano Coura West African Dance Company; percussionist John Santos and his Sextet; Chinese classical, folk and contemporary ensemble Melody of China; the Pacific Mozart Ensemble; players from the internationally recognized Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra; and San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Leah Crocetto and Sara Gartland, sopranos, tenor Brian Jagde and coach-accompanist Tamara Sanikdize.
Although no venue is more than a brisk five-minute walk from the others, it will be first-come, first-serve at each venue, and those who want to maximize their intake would be wise to consult the campus map, posted schedule and complete program descriptions (available at www.calperformances.org) ahead of time. If you are already finding conflicts, ringmaster Tarnopolsky feels your pain:
"It's going to be a complicated start for me," he confesses. "I want to be at both the Kronos Quartet and the guitar recital. ... I should actually measure how much I will be walking that day."
The Fall for Free for All will be an annual event. "It's a chance for us to introduce our season," Tarnopolsky acknowledges. "But we really just want to show how accessible and how wonderful the performing arts are, especially at Cal Performances. It's a huge, open-arm embrace, to our existing audiences and the whole community."