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Photograph by r.r. jones
Don't Be Afraid: Even Marin Alsop's Cabrillo Music Festival is comprehensible with a little help from Cabrillo instructor Phil Collins.

All's Well That Learns Well

A Cabrillo short course provides a road map to the summer's most popular stage performances.

By Matthew Craggs

Out there in Willits, they don't call them skillets. They call them a frying pan," sang blues player Earl Oliver as he plucked a banjo in an Italian restaurant up north in Mendocino County. And as I struggled over an opening to this article meant to explore the virtues of a Cabrillo College course designed to make Santa Cruz music and theater festivals more accessible to the public, I couldn't help but think of these simple and straightforward lyrics about a small-town diner. Why? Because they're accessible--and there you have it.

Designed to be a preparatory class, "Performance Arts Attendance/Appreciation" will feature lectures and multimedia presentations to prepare students for the Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Cabrillo Stage and Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music performances on offer throughout the summer.

"We really have a rich arts community in Santa Cruz with these festivals, and it is surprising what a small portion of our citizens know about them," says course instructor and Cabrillo College professor Phil Collins. Instead of a line-by-line dissection of Shakespeare, Collins prefers to show previous performances on film. For the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, which can be intimidating because of its often challenging contemporary classical content, students may listen to the piece in class before hearing it performed live. "I like to talk about each composition's individual aesthetics," says Collins, himself a composer and conductor. "They're like a flower arrangement. Each concert has a dynamic feeling to it. Some are showboating and some are intimate."

Throughout the class, students will be invited to attend all four of the Shakespeare Santa Cruz plays, Forever Plaid and Jesus Christ Superstar at Cabrillo Stage and a concert of their choice through the Cabrillo Music Festival. The class doesn't carry any additional fees beyond the regular course fee. Add this to the series of guest lecturers from the various productions, and summer school never looked so good.

Unfortunately, despite the positive reaction to last year's class, the course is in danger of being canceled due to low enrollment. "Last year we had 17 people. That's near margin; we need about 20," explained Collins, adding that this year about half that figure have signed up. Stressing that newcomers to the arts and veterans alike will find something to take from the class, Collins says he hopes the class gets off the ground.

"This is the way people should see art. A personal interaction and an enjoyable time."

Who knows? Maybe after the class, Shakespeare's Elizabethan English will sound like "skillets from Willits" and contemporary classical will be no more threatening than a banjo in an Italian restaurant.

PERFORMANCE ART ATTENDANCE/APPRECIATION July 15-Aug. 5 on Tuesday evenings. For information call 831.479.6343.

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