The Cal State San Bernardino theatre arts department is celebrating a remarkable achievement as their musical, "Anansi's Carnival Adventure," received a prestigious invitation from Region 8 of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival program. Selected as one of only four productions, the play will be featured at the regional Festival 56, named in honor of its 56th year. This is a significant milestone for the theatre arts department, marking their first invitation to participate in Festival 56 since 2006. The festival is scheduled to take place Feb. 11-17 at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Calif.

In the play, a Caribbean town witnesses the abrupt sale of its adjacent forest to developers. What ensues is an adventure involving a boy named Felipe, an Afro-Latina spider called Anansi and a group of wild animal companions. This motley group endeavors to find Hurracan, the God of Wind, and convince him to expel the developers and save the forest.

"When I read the description of the play, I thought, 'Oh, this would be fantastic!' It’s for young audiences, perfectly suited to the actors,” said Kathryn Ervin, director of the production and professor of theatre arts. “It’s a delightful play, and we have a great cast of students."

The journey to securing the rights to perform the production involved communication with the playwright, Alberto Justiniano, and the composer, Gary Rue, who graciously agreed to allow CSUSB to perform the production.

Interestingly, the backdrop against which the play is set aligns with a year-long investigation by the department of anthropology into the Afro-Latino connection. Moreover, Andre Harrington, chair of the theatre department, specializes in masks – aligning perfectly with the play’s costume needs. Ervin emphasized the fortunate alignment of these and other elements, underscoring how seamlessly they came together to set the stage for this production.

Reflecting on the preparation for the festival, Ervin spoke about the joy experienced by the actors and crew during rehearsals. "With such a zany, silly play, it’s a great opportunity to be really inventive," she said, describing the actors’ portrayal of animals, such as foxes, turtles and bats.

The production’s impact on the audience, especially the younger viewers, has been heartwarming. Ervin recounted a touching moment involving a young audience member who came back several times with his parents. According to his mother, he told her he wished he could watch the play every night, which delighted the cast and crew.  

As the spotlight shines on the theatre arts program as they prepare to present “Anansi’s Carnival Adventure” at Festival 56, the anticipation for their performance is met with a blend of enthusiasm, pride and a shared love for the art of theater.