Theater & Arts

Get ready for a packed arts weekend

If weekends on the performance calendar were local intersections, Friday through next Sunday would be the equivalent of Blackstone and Shaw. It's busy.

The crowded arts schedule happens every year. Weekends during the holiday season get piled upon by arts groups for a variety of factors: Everyone wants to avoid Thanksgiving or being too close to Christmas, unless you're "The Nutcracker." Lots of groups have to fit into academic calendars, too.

Which is why it's very possible that if you're at all interested in the local arts scene, this coming weekend could become a marathon.

Here are 10 picks for planning your calendar:

- Looking for a small, intimate play? Fresno City College's production of Kristina Leach's "Grasmere" tells the story of siblings William and Dorothy Wordsworth, who live blissfully isolated in 18th Century England's Lake District until the arrival of two old friends: fellow poet Samuel Coleridge and Mary Hutchinson. Directed by Janine Christl. Opens Friday at the college's Theatre Studio 105. Through Dec. 12.

- More interested in a play that gives you a big, detached dose of Bertolt Brecht? The theater department at California State University, Fresno, tackles the playwright's 1941 work "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," a satirical allegory of Adolf Hitler's rise in Nazi Germany. This production marks the retirement of longtime Fresno State theater professor Edward EmanuEl. Opens Friday at the university's John Wright Theatre. Through Dec. 12.

- Forget the literature or politics. How about a light-hearted musical? Try Good Company Players' "Married Alive," a show about newlyweds and "oldyweds." The production debuted in 2006 at the American Heartland Theater in Kansas City and is receiving its West Coast premiere in Fresno. Opens Wednesday at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater. Through Jan. 17.

- How about a play for kids? Try Playhouse Merced's "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka," a musical version of the classic tale featuring Merced resident Joel Shade playing Willy Wonka with a cast of more than 20 singers and dancers. Opens Friday at Playhouse Merced. Through Dec. 20.

- Looking for a holiday-themed concert? When it comes to sheer spectacle, it'll be hard to beat the Fresno Philharmonic's "Cirque de la Symphonie," which features aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, balancers and strongmen in conjunction with lots of favorite holiday music. Theodore Kuchar conducts. The Phil is aiming for a sell-out on this one-time performance, so if you haven't got your tickets already, fly to the box office. 8 p.m. Friday at the Saroyan Theatre.

- How about a holiday concert especially for kids? The Fresno State Concert Choir and Chamber Singers presents "Home for the Holidays: A Seasonal Concert for Children of All Ages." The program includes sing-along carols and members of the Bach Children's Choir. 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday at the CSUF Concert Hall.

- You say you want tubas? Lots and lots of tubas? You can't miss the annual "Tuba Christmas" at Manchester Center, on the second floor above the carousel. Organizer Larry Huck estimates there will be about 65 players. Noon and 1 p.m. Saturday.

In the mood for women's voices with harp? Now in its second season, the women's chorale Soli Deo Gloria presents a Christmas concert featuring John Rutter's "Dancing Day" accompanied by Fresno harpist Laura Porter. Julie Carter conducts. 4 p.m. Dec. 6 at University Presbyterian Church.

- How about the most massive musical experience in town? Gear up for the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra and the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in a walloping performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 at the Saroyan Theater. Conductor Thomas Loewenheim estimates that 150 talented musicians will take the stage. Mayor Ashley Swearengin has declared it "Musician of Tomorrow Day." 7 p.m. next Sunday, Saroyan Theatre.

- And, finally, perhaps you don't feel like sitting at all and would rather actively participate in the festivities of the season. Instead of driving Christmas Tree Lane, you can walk it 6-11 p.m. Saturday. It's one of those communal (and exhaust-free) experiences you won't want to miss. Now if we could only get the schedule swapped so people drive two nights a year and walk the rest, instead of the other way around.