Every year, Spoleto Festival infuses the Holy City with the same frenetic, creative energy. Talent descends on Charleston from all over the world, and for three weeks, our city becomes an internationally recognized hub of the arts. Concerts, plays, and parties fill our calendars, and the city brims with performers, visitors, and locals drunk on the festival and on the city itself.

And while this same excitement takes over like clockwork, every year it has a completely different flavor. What will Spoleto 2010 be remembered for?

The Dock Street Theatre’s artistic debut after years of renovations is an easy guess. Festival organizers are touting the historical ballad opera Flora — which has direct ties to the original 1735 theater — as the must-see show of the season. Geoff Nuttall’s first year as director of the Chamber Music Series is another big story; will he bring a much-needed freshness to the staid series, or will fans send an S.O.S. to Wadsworth?

Or maybe it will be one show that stays in our memories. Lord knows, the image of burly men prancing around in tutus and toe shoes is already burned in our retinas — and we haven’t even seen a performance yet. Some potential sleeper hits include one-man shows like Daniel MacIvor’s autobiographical This Is What Happens Next and Erik Friedlander’s haunting, nostalgic Block Ice and Propane. Or maybe it’ll be a talented musical act, like New York’s Ebony Hillbillies or Brazilian vocalist Fabiana Cozza, singing in the evening in the beautiful Cistern Yard. And we haven’t even mentioned the hundreds of Piccolo Spoleto performances.

Years from now, it might even be just one image that brings Spoleto 2010 back to us: Maya Lin’s atlas-inspired poster,
which has already caused a mild uproar among Spoletians for its vague simplicity.

One thing’s for sure: If you don’t get out and partake of this year’s offerings, you’ll never get that chance again.
Because Spoleto 2011 will be an entirely different festival.

Spoleto 101

1. Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto aren’t the same thing. Spoleto Festival USA is its own production entity with more of a focus on international-level artists and shows. Things like the German opera Proserpina, Dublin’s Gate Theatre, and Malian band Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba. Piccolo Spoleto is an outgrowth of Spoleto USA, produced by the City of Charleston’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Piccolo fills out the schedule with tons of theater, comedy, music, and more from local and national acts — often at much more affordable prices. Together, these sister festivals are the powerhouse that is Spoleto.

2. The Buzz-O-Meters are our concise and critical previews of this year’s best events, chock-full of inside information and random details you can use to impress your friends. You can get all the goodies in our comprehensive online schedule.

3. Avoid service charges by buying your Spoleto USA tickets at the Gaillard box office at 77 Calhoun St. You can also purchase by phone (843-579-3100) or online. The Piccolo box offices are at the Charleston Visitor Center (375 Meeting St.) and the Office of Cultural Affairs (180 Meeting St.). You can also buy tickets online or call (843) 724-7295, and a $1 surcharge will be added to all ticket prices.

4. In our print version, we include a handy-dandy pull-out schedule in all three of our Spoleto issues — you’ll definitely want to keep this with you anytime you head downtown. It has times, prices, and locations for every event. Nearly all of the shows are on the peninsula, and we also offer a map to help you find your way around our very walkable city.

5. Make charlestoncitypaper.com your homepage during Spoleto, and check it frequently. We’ll update it throughout the day, every day, with reviews, gossip, pictures, and general buzz about the festival. Arts & Scene Editor Erica Jackson and overview critic Nick Smith will blog about their experiences and interview festival artists. Critics Lindsay Koob, Jason A. Zwiker, Maggie Winterfeldt, Kinsey Gidick, T. Ballard Lesemann, and more will weigh in with their take on just about every show, event, and party.

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