January's best bets in the arts and entertainment.
The Continuing Story of Zora Neale Hurston
The annual Eatonville festival throws a spotlight on the author’s life and work.
Popular writers like Harry Potter’s J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer of the Twilight series have no trouble drawing big crowds. But an annual event celebrating a more serious writer from Central Florida is a major draw, too, attracting more than 200,000 people last year.
The author in question is Zora Neale Hurston, who grew up in Eatonville in the early years of the 20th century and is arguably the most distinguished literary figure ever to emerge from the Orlando area.
“Like [William] Faulkner and [Eudora] Welty, she’s one of the top five Southern regional authors,” says N.Y. Nathiri, executive director of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community. Nathiri is also the general manager of Zora!, the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, a nine-day event, presented by the association, that celebrates its 21st edition this month.
This year’s festival, which marks the 50th anniversary of the author’s death, is wide-ranging, reflecting her varied interests. Nathiri points out that although Hurston is mainly known as the author of such novels as Their Eyes Were Watching God and of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she was also a trailblazing figure in the fields of folklore and anthropology.
Festival programs range from academic discussions to a celebration at the church where Hurston’s father once preached to a bus tour of Central Florida locations mentioned in Hurston’s writings to a play, From Sun to Sun: A Day in the Life of a Railroad Camp, co-written by Nathiri and adapted from Hurston’s research. The Outdoor Festival of the Arts, a three-day festival within the festival, is expected to feature an appearance by Kem, an R&B soul singer.
The goal of all these activities is to spotlight Hurston’s life and work, which continues to attract new readers.
“She was a fantastic storyteller,” Nathiri offers. “Her stories resonate.”
January 23 through 31. Most events are free and locations vary. 407-647-3307. zoranealehurstonfestival.com.
Fiddler at the Phil
JANUARY 10 Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman takes the stage with the Orlando Philharmonic to perform a program of works by von Weber, Schubert and Beethoven. 4 p.m. $15-75. At press time, sold out. Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. orlandophil.org
Send in the Clowns, Elephants, etc.
JANUARY 14-17 The 140th edition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus rolls its rings into town for seven performances complete with tigers, elephants, horses, clowns, aerialists and more. To celebrate the life of showman P.T. Barnum, the circus brings Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth back to life as Barnum’s FUNundrum.
Thursday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Sunday 1 and 5 p.m. $16-$85. Amway Arena. 407-849-2020. ringling.com
Opening JANUARY 9 To examine the role of the environment in the American experience, the Orlando Museum of Art is collaborating with 20 arts, cultural, scientific and educational organizations to focus on the changing landscape and issues of conservation. The museum’s ambitious multi-part exhibition, Changing Landscapes, Changing Visions, begins this month with two related shows featuring such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles E. Burchfield, Carey Maxon, George Inness, John James Audubon and Louis Comfort Tiffany. “Nature and Spirit: American Art of the 19th and 20th Centuries” offers 25 paintings, pieces of sculpture, ceramics and decorative arts illustrating the way leading American artists engaged with the landscape. “Without a Trace,” inspired by Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us, features works by innovative contemporary artists who imagine a world without humans. Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 12-4 p.m. $8. 2416 N. Mills Ave. 407-896-4231. omart.org.
Hamlet & Friends
OPENING JANUARY 27 On one stage Prince Hamlet struts and frets about whether ’tis better to be or not. On another, his childhood pals “do onstage things that are supposed to happen off,” while the dark prince is relegated mostly to the wings. Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s Hamlet and Mad Cow Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s absurdist tragicomedy, Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, give theatergoers the chance to experience these two masterpieces back to back. Hamlet: January 27-March 13. Wednesday-Thursday 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. $14-$38. Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St. 407-447-1700, ext. 1. orlandoshakes.org
Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead: January 27-February 28. Monday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2:30 p.m. $24-$26. 105 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando. 407-297-8788. madcowtheatre.com