Project [BLANK] Returns to St. Paul’s Cathedral for Another Avant-garde ‘Working Title’ Festival

In medieval times, cathedrals served as centers of commerce, with shops and stalls selling goods clustered along the cathedrals’ exterior walls. The cathedrals’ interior spaces—in addition to facilitating worship—offered Mystery Plays and Miracle Plays to entertain and edify the faithful. Most historians credit these Mystery Plays as the birthplace of western theater, and these dramatic presentations flourished until the 16th century, when a grumpy pope outlawed them.

Performance Artist Jun!yi Min at St.Paul’s Cathedral in 2023. Photo courtesy of Project [BLANK]

Last year at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral—right around the traditional Twelfth Night celebration—San Diego’s Project [BLANK] brought back this ancient custom with Working Title, a three-day festival of art and performance that filled every section of the stately Bankers Hill cathedral. Based on the success of this event, Working Title will return to the cathedral complex from January 11 to 13.

Leslie Ann Leytham [Photo courtesy of Project [BLANK]

In 2020, Project [BLANK] founders Leslie Ann Leytham and Brendan Nguyen bravely experimented with an edgy arts festival at La Jolla’s St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, where Project [BLANK] had already staged some performances.

“But we wanted a venue that was centrally located and could house more events,”Leytham explained. “So a close friend of mine connected me with Kathleen Burgess, who is the Facilities Director at St. Paul’s Cathedral, about hosting Working Title there.” Fortunately, Burgess gave Project [BLANK] a green light.

“From the brilliant hues of the stained glass windows, the high soaring walls, and the room’s resonant acoustics for sound installations, the cathedral spoke to our artists. Even the obscure cubbyholes intrigued them,” Leytham added.

Conscious that San Diego is a border town, Leytham wanted to make this festival truly binational, so she partnered with artist

Diana Benavidez [Photo courtesy of Project [BLANK]

Diana Benavidez.

“I grew up in Tijuana,” Benavidez said, “so I know the ropes and have ties with artist colleagues in Ensenada and Tecate as well.”

“Diana makes the most amazing piñatas,” Leytham noted. “I was particularly impressed by her 17-foot long sculpture of rosary beads, and I was not surprised when it was purchased by San Diego’s Mingei International Museum.”

This year’s festival, which Leytham describes as a ritualistic mélange of paintings, sculpture, multimedia art, as well as live performances, will involve some fifty artists. It will include new works, world premieres, and thought-provoking performances featuring some of the most exciting creative voices in Southern California, Tijuana, and Baja California.

“This is only our third festival, but I was overwhelmed by the number of responses we received from individuals who wished to participate,” said Leytham. “And this is the first time we had so many applicants that we actually had to reject some!”

Kosuke Matsuda [Photo courtesy of Project [BLANK]

To give an idea of the creativity expressed by these artists, I asked for a couple of examples of what to expected this year.

“India Thompson is a ceramicist who is building an unusual labyrinth,” explained Benavidez. “She is making small-scaled tiles that she will arrange in a large circular formation, and people will take off their shoes and walk on them experiencing these textures in their bare feet.”

Leytham described percussion maestro Kosuke Matsuda’s installation: a work by composer Peter Ablinger that mixes the amplified tones of water dripping from pitched glass tubes. “It is a very contemplative piece,” she noted; “it’s visual aspect reminds me of someone hanging laundry on the line.”

Musical performances on Thursday evening will include violinist  Akari Komura, video improvisor Joseph Bourdeau, and the duo of flutist Teresa Diaz de Cossio and violinist Ilana Waniuk. Friday’s offerings will be provided by trumpeter David Aguila, vocalist Natalia Merlano Gomez, the digital duo of Myles Ortiz-Green and Valerie Jackson, and vocalist Zane Shrem-Besnoy. Saturday’s musical lineup: violinist Jesus Cervantes with dancer Odessa Uno, percussionist Kosuke Matsuda, vocalist Leslie Ann Leytham, and the a cappella choral ensemble San Diego New Verbal Workshop.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Engel on January 17, 2024 at 11:04 pm

    Friday night heard the music in the main space of the cathedrals nave. Sounded lively and lovely!
    Was able to wander around during the sonic experience. Additional color light projections crisscrossed the space.
    Keep it up!

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