On May 14, the McCallum Theatre hosted East Valley Voices Out Loud. The show was the culmination of the two-year Crisalida Community Arts Project, led by the McCallum and storyteller David Gonzalez. Of course, readers of the Independent already knew that, because we did a big story on the project in advance of the show.
I was fortunate enough to attend the first 75 minutes of the show. (I left early because I’d committed to being at a fundraiser in Palm Springs later that night.) At times, the show was a bit rough. The talented hosts, Arturo and Erika Castellanos, talked over each other at certain points. After playing their first song, Lomeli Mariachi started a second piece, it seemed, only to be ushered off the stage by the hosts. Some of the performers were visibly nervous, shaken by being on the large McCallum stage, a place were countless legends have performed over the years.
These elements were the focus of Bruce Fessier, the veteran arts scribe for The Desert Sun, in a scathing piece published on May 17. Fessier ripped East Valley Voices Out Loud to shreds, comparing the show to a different event that was, in his eyes, far more successful.
“… The company spent just four hours rehearsing in the theater. McCallum president and CEO Mitch Gershenfeld said the project was meant to be measured by the work it did in the East Valley more than what was presented on stage. So he considers it a success,” Fessier wrote. “But the people who paid $9-$22 to see the show could only conclude that the East Valley performers Gonzalez selected were amateurish and the main reason for that was their lack of direction.”
I’ve been in journalism now for two decades, and I’ve never seen a veteran journalist miss the point of something so badly.
There’s a lot about the East Valley Voices Out Loud show that Fessier didn’t mention. Like the moment when at least half of the audience members raised their hands after being asked whether it was their first time at the McCallum. Or the look of sheer joy on some of the young performers’ faces when the audience cheered loudly. Or the fact that the showcase featured a new piece by a brand-new East Valley theater company created, in part, because of the Crisalida Community Arts Project.
Instead, Fessier sneered that the show was not compelling “even though its producer-director-curator, New Yorker David Gonzalez, spent two years searching for talent and staging over 300 workshops and writing eight books with a $600,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation.”
Perhaps if Fessier had covered the works of the Crisalida Community Arts Project before attending the show, he would have gotten the point: East Valley Voices Out Loud, while rough around the edges, was a triumphant showcase of art and artists from an oft-ignored, disadvantaged part of the valley we call home. The Crisalida Community Arts Project was meant to develop stronger community ties—and East Valley Voices Out Loud proved that the project was a rousing success.
The fact that Fessier missed all of this is baffling—and appalling.