Mindy Lucas

5 things to know about Spoleto

Crowds gather for opening ceremonies for Spoleto Festival USA on May 22, 2015 in Charleston.
Crowds gather for opening ceremonies for Spoleto Festival USA on May 22, 2015 in Charleston. Photo by Julia Lynn

Thinking of attending Charleston’s Spoleto? Then you’ll be delighted to learn, this year’s festival offers even more to choose from.

“It’s our 40th season, so we have a lot going on,” said Jessie Bagley, marketing and public relations manager for Spoleto Festival USA.

The 17-day event kicks off Friday May 27 and offers literally hundreds of events to choose from.

“Everyone feels like it’s just a little bit bigger than it ever has been in the past,” Bagley said.

To get the most out of your Spoleto experience, here are five things you’ll want to know before heading up the road.

It’s actually two festivals in one.

You may see events offered as part of Piccolo Spoleto and you may see those offered as Spoleto Festival USA. That’s because these are actually two separate festivals running in tandem.

While Piccolo Spoleto focuses on regional and local artists, Spoleto Festival USA focuses on national and international artists and events.

It’s manageable.

With more than 500 local and regional events offered through Piccolo Spoleto and another 150 international and national offered through Spoleto Festival USA, it may sound like a lot to bite off but organizers say it’s quite manageable — especially if you’re planning a quick visit.

“You can certainly cram a lot into 24 hours if you’re committed to doing that,” Bagley said. “It’s a great way to experience the arts.”

Interested festival-goers can search either festival’s website by calendar date or by category.

“Our website has a pretty great filtering system,” Bagley said. So participants can search by genre and click on individual events to check for ticket availability.

“Or if dates are more of your driving force you can also filter by date,” she said.

And don’t forget, Spoleto kicks off over Memorial Day weekend so make sure you have your accommodations booked in advance if staying over night.

It’s affordable.

After the festival’s schedule was announced in January, “Porgy and Bess” — inspired by Charleston’s own “Catfish Row” — sold out in two weeks.

But opera fans are in luck. The performance will be simulcast for free at 7:30 p.m. Monday May 30, in Marion Square. Participants can bring picnics, blankets and chairs and watch the performance on a large jumbo screen.

The performance also will be made available for free during a broadcast at 7:30 p.m. the following day, May 31, at West Ashley High School.

Another fun and informative freebie is a lecture series called “Conservations With.”

Hosted by CBS correspondent Martha Teichner, these one-hour conversations with festival artists about the creative process will take place in the Main Reading Room of the Charleston Library Society and the Emmett Robinson Theatre at College of Charleston throughout the festival.

In addition, several theatrical performances such as “Golem,” being called “Frankenstein for the 21st century,” start at $22-$25, while some dance performances, such as breakdancing, hip-hop sensation “Opposing Forces,” can still be purchased for $25.

Other relatively inexpensive performances include “Music for 18 Musicians,” featuring the minimalist compositions of American composer Steve Reich, and “Choral Fantasy,” both with tickets starting at $22.50.

But don’t wait. Tickets are going fast, organizers say, so you may want to purchase yours before leaving home.

There really is something for everyone.

It may sound like a cliche, but there really is something for everyone from theater and dance, to music and visual arts. And, there’s a wide variety within each genre to choose from.

A Prince tribute show, for example, is at 8 p.m. on June 10, at the Charleston Music Hall. “Nothing Compares 2 U” will feature area musicians and vocalists Charlton Singleton and Friends, Quiana Parler and Marcus Amaker.

And those looking for something a little more cerebral can check out any number of events in the “Literary and Ideas” category, such as the festival’s longest running fiction event.

“Piccolo Fiction” will feature local authors presenting brief short stories in which each reading will begin with the words, “I ducked into the alley…” The event takes place at 5 p.m. June 4, at the Charleston Music Hall.

You’ll enjoy yourself if you don’t plan too much.

Finally, while you’ll want to take some time and do a little advance planning to get the most out of your festival experience, it’s important to remember just to get out and have fun.

Charleston is a walkable city and stumbling upon a new exhibit or eatery while out exploring is part of the experience.

“Charleston is just such a special city,” Bagley said, adding that her own favorite thing to do is check out the performances at the College of Charleston’s Sistern Yard.

“It’s just a beautiful venue where we do lots of jazz performances in the evening,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.”

If You Go

For more information on Spoleto Festival USA events, call 843-579-3100 or visit www.spoletousa.org.

For Piccolo Spoleto events, call 866-811-4111 visit www.piccolospoleto.com.