The Santa Barbara French Festival will be back in full swing this year with young dancers performing the can-can, vocalists singing classic French songs, face painting, mask-making, and a poodle parade.
Organizationally, this year’s festival is different, but the experience will be the same as people have come to expect over the last 20 years. “This year we will have the same great food, wonderful entertainment, and fabulous fun,” said Teri Ball, the new director of the festival and the executive director of Center Stage Theatre, which has partnered this year with the local nonprofit Speaking of Stories to put on the event.
Last year’s celebration was cancelled due to a glitch in management. After many years of running the festival as a solo operation, the event’s founder Steve Hoegerman decided to transfer the operation to new management, but the transition did not go well and the 2011 festival was aborted. Speaking of Stories has been involved with the festival for several years, running a beverage booth as a fundraising project, and the organization took a big financial hit from the lack of the festival. So, after the cancellation, the idea came up to team with Center Stage to try to revive the event.
“The event is such a great tradition in the community,” explained Ball, “and like Speaking of Stories, there were other nonprofits and artisans who were hurt financially by the festival not happening. In this very challenging economy, it is important to be creative in your fundraising efforts, and so Center Stage and Speaking of Stories thought this was a great opportunity to bring back a great event, help raise money and exposure for both organizations, and help the other community members who had benefited from the festival.”
Center Stage and Speaking Stories have been working closely with Hoegerman to make sure the transition is smooth and successful. Ball said that while there will be the return of food and craft vendors, and entertainers that have contributed to the festival in the past, they hope to attract some new vendors, too.
“The things that have made the French Festival wonderful and unique will continue — the great food, continuous entertainment on three stages, and a magical transformation of Oak Park into a celebration of all things French,” said Ball. “France has had a long history of colonization and has influenced many cultures, and we hope to embrace all of those cultures.”
Festival attractions will include French folk dancing (with instruction and participation from the audience), costumed characters entertaining throughout the park, and food offerings from crepes to pastries to the infamous Le Hot Dog. The Guilde of Sainte Marie will be in attendance with costumed actors as the Court of Henri III performing period music and dance and interacting with festival-goers.
The festival’s annual poodle parade will take place on Sunday, July 15, at 5:30 p.m. “Santa Barbara is such a dog-friendly community, and this is a chance to really show that off,” said Ball. “You have big poodles, and small poodles, and poodle wannabes with creative poodle costumes. It is a wonderful way to wrap up the weekend.”
The French Festival on Bastille Day weekend, Saturday, July 14 and Sunday, July, 15. For more information, visit http://www.frenchfestival.com.