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Celebrating the power of the arts

The first time Greg Frederick heard of the Celebration of the Human Spirit, he thought, "What a nightmare. " The idea was to get dozens and dozens of musicians, poets, dancers and others on and off the stage in just two hours with no dead time.

When the rock band The Rogue Suspects, in which Frederick plays bass, performed at the event, he saw how it worked.

"The spirit is wonderful," he says. "The backstage is best."

The theme of this year's Evening in Celebration of the Human Spirit, which is slated for Saturday, is "Art Matters." The annual tribute to the arts in Ashland will feature more than 100 singers, dancers, poets, musicians and actors.

This year's edition will range from dance and poetry to classical music including an opera aria, scenes from plays, modern and classical dance, tap, scenes from Broadway musicals, folk songs and more. Performers are amateurs and professionals from around the Rogue Valley, including singer Sarah Jane Nelson, actor René Millán, dancer Suzee Grilley and many more.

A companion visual arts show will happen from the art event First Friday, Nov. 2, through Wednesday, Nov. 21, at Hanson Howard Gallery, 82 N. Main St., Ashland. The exhibit will feature paintings, sculpture and photography related to the celebration of the human spirit and this year's theme. Call 488-2562.

The event was first held in 2001 in response to the events of 9/11. The Horizon Institute, which was founded by Arts and Entertainment Editor Richard Moeschl a year earlier, approached members of the arts community to ask them to take part in an evening that would celebrate our common humanity rather than focus on the political and religious beliefs that separate us.

Many artists and entertainers have since volunteered to support the intent of the evening, a celebration of the transformative power of art and the human spirit.

To keep the evening on track to finish in two hours, participants are limited to four minutes or less. There is no master of ceremonies, and there are no introductions to interrupt the flow of the evening.

"The logistics are extraordinary," Frederick says. "I've never seen that many acts that close together."

For the evening, the Bowmer's house lights are up just enough so people can read their programs. The lighting may also work to blur the separation between those on the stage and those in the seats.

The audience has a chance to perform by reading a poem together before intermission. In some years the audience has even joined in singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" at the end of the show.

Horizon explores what it means to be human, focusing on ways in which science, spirituality and the arts shape our views of reality. The institute has hosted lectures, workshops, TV shows and various events with scientists, philosophers, spiritual leaders and others. It sponsors an April poetry reading at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland as part of National Poetry Month.

"There's so much competitiveness and jealousy today," Frederick says. "You'll never see it there. The message is peace and harmony."

The event is supposed to be a politics-free zone, but Frederick says the Suspects will play Stephen Stills' old protest song, "For What It's Worth." Among the artists and entertainers expected to perform for the event are Barbara Zollinger, Peace Choir Ensemble, Suzanne Seiber and Jim Giancarlo, Voix Capella, Ryan Foster, William Eckart, John Fisher-Smith, Ananda Natya Dance Company, Cindy Patterson and David Goodwin.

Also Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon, Moment in Time Dance Company, Laura Derocher and David Gabriel, Dancing People Dance Company, Sound Waves String Quartet, Judson Hyatt, Michael Mish, Irene Kai, Tomaseen Foley, Liz Finnegan, Camelot Theatre Company, Pauline Sullivan, HeartDance Repertory Dance Company, Jessica Price, Larry Lewis and Pamela Joy.

Tickets are $15, $10 for students and $5 for children 12 and under, at Paddington Station, Ashland and at the door. Call 482-4132.

The Rogue Suspects, left to right with guitars, Jeff Pevar, Greg Frederick, Dirk Price, in back Dean Angermeier and Dave Bolen - Photo by Fred Stockwell