At the Atlas Performing Art Center’s four-year-old Intersections Festival, named to reflect that Northeast neighborhood’s role as a cultural crossroads, organizers want audiences to hang around after the show, sip a glass of wine in the lobby and sink into conversation.
When designing the festival, “we put a stage at the intersection of two wings of the lobby,” said Mary Hall Surface, artistic director. “It became a literal meeting place. People were coming out of an opera performance and going into a hip-hop, spoken-word collaboration. And everybody stopped and talked and listened and had a drink. People didn’t want to leave.”
At Intersections, Surface said, “everybody is invited to the table. Everyone’s voice is important and is heard. We work hard on making sure there is something rich to share. That is a key to the festival — that people stay, participate in a post-show [discussion], meet artists in the lobby. It is designed to be more than the ‘come-and-consume’ art. It’s ‘come and really partake and engage and exchange and connect and linger.’ ”
This year, the festival will spotlight more than 800 established and emerging artists in 100 performances of music, dance, theater and spoken word over three weekends, from Feb. 23 to March 10. The shows are scheduled so that audience members can see more than one a day.
Attendance has doubled since 6,000 people attended the festival in its first year.
“Clearly, it is answering a need of both artists and audiences looking for a place to come and truly connect with one another,” Surface said. “And it’s fun. It’s not just fun as in you go out and see a show and have a drink. It’s fun in the sense that they leave with new understandings.”
Artistic events that look at social issues can feel “good for you, but not necessarily be fun,” Surface said. But, she said, Intersections is spirited.
“People truly enjoy themselves in unexpected ways by talking to people they might not have talked to or hearing music they might not have heard by stepping across boundaries. It can be remarkably fun to step across a boundary and discover something new about yourself, somebody else and art.”
This year’s offerings include “Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales,” written by Surface and David Maddox. The play opened in 2000 at Theater of the First Amendment, the professional theater based at George Mason University.
The family-friendly play looks into the importance of story in people’s lives. “All the stories in ‘Sing Down the Moon,’ are adventures where a young person has to discover who they want to be in the world,” Surface said. “While the stories are told through a particular lens, an Appalachian perspective, they are stories that exist in all cultures and cross boundaries of culture.”