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Summertime epicenter of Alaska arts and culture? Look no further than Fairbanks.

Suzanna Caldwell
Courtesy Todd Paris

Summer in Fairbanks is known for many things: warm summer days, almost 24 hours of daylight and sometimes smoky forest fires. One thing it might not be known for: A vibrant arts scene.

Throw those misconceptions out for the month of July with the start of the 20th annual Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre outdoor production, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival and Golden Days festivities.

Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre

Director Graham Watts has returned from England to direct his ninth production with the theater company, which held it's first outdoor performance – “Twelfth Night” – on the banks of the Chena River 20 summers ago.

The group has grown from a group of rag-tag actors practicing in shacks on the backside of Birch Hill, to a legitimate theater company (Alaska's only true Shakespeare theater), touring the state and the world with their creative and innovative takes on Shakespeare and other classic works.

The company will perform “King Henry IV Part I,” one of Shakespeare's most popular plays and one that is often performed in celebration, Watts said.

The play, filled with its many vibrant characters, was perfect given the depth of the company's performers. Many members are returning, some after long hiatuses. Fairbanks actor Steve Mitchell is returning to role of Falstaff, the fat, cowardly knight, 17 years after playing the same character in the Fairbanks Theatre's third outdoor production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Bruce Rogers, co-founder of the theater, will play King Henry IV.

Watts staged the production in a circular setting, meaning the audience will view the play from four separate sides, giving them a fuller view of the action as it literally goes on around them. The play has also been updated to a current setting, with characters in modern dress and some carrying guns instead of swords during battle scenes.

With the play's accessible language, plot involving a strained father-son relationship and the beginnings of a rebellion, Watts said theatergoers get a full experience from a theater company that has taken Shakespeare very seriously for 20 years.

“We're hoping the play itself will be a celebration,” he said.

“Henry IV Part I” opens Friday. Performances are 7:30 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through July 29. Admission is free to those under 18 on Thursdays and Sundays. Tickets are available online.

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival

For two weeks, about 1,000 people will attend dozens of workshops on a variety of art forms –performing arts, visual arts, healing arts and even culinary arts – as part of the annual Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

But even if you aren't participating in workshop, there are plenty of other arts happenings around town connected to the festival. Small concerts, large concerts and art forums are all open to the public. Where those are could be anywhere from the University of Alaska Fairbanks great hall to grocery stores around Fairbanks.

“If you're coming to Fairbanks you don't know where you'll run into art happening,” said festival director Terese Kaptur.

With so many different types of art being practiced, the festival is focusing on collaborations. A workshop focused on preparing Italian appetizers will be book-ended by opera students performing. Members of Parsons Dance, a New York City-based modern dance company, will perform with the orchestra to close out the festival.

“All these art forms and people here are mixing them up and coming up with some very creative things,” Kaptur said.

The festival is even reaching out to smaller communities in Interior Alaska. Musical groups Sweet Plantain and Redshift will offer workshops and mini-concerts in Denali, Healy, Nenana, Delta Junction and Black Rapids Lodge.

Visitors to Denali National Park will experience a special treat Saturday, July 21 when the festival's 16-piece string orchestra travels to the Denali Visitor Center to perform a specially created piece by composer Stephen Lias about Denali. The concert, which begins at 7 p.m., will include several other compositions.

Registration for the festival begins Sunday, July 15. More information about the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival can be found online here.

Golden Days

 In celebration of Fairbanks gold-mining past, the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce hosts Golden Days, a five-day-long celebration that includes comedy shows, barbecues, parades and a street fair.

Festivities start Wednesday, July 18 with a kickoff party at Pioneer Park from 5-8 p.m.

The “Kinross Fort Knox Mine's Grande Parade” starts at 10 a.m. Saturday in downtown Fairbanks, the same day as the street fair. Revelers are always encouraged to dress in “olden days” attire.

Sunday, July 22, wraps up the week with the KUAC Red Green Regatta at Graehl Park Landing on the Chena River. Groups can enter homemade vessels to see who can survive a float down the river. There are few rules pertaining to vessel construction.  Perhaps the most important one: At least one roll of duct tape must be used.

Special awards will be given to the most creative use of duct tape, best ability to stay afloat and best integration of the theme. Comedian Red Green, of “The Red Green Show” will be on hand to judge the entries.

A full list of the week's events are available online.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna@alaskadispatch.com

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