Outside the Box Returns with Guster, Gin Blossoms, and a River of Puppets

Boston's free performing arts festival will bring more than 70 performances to the Boston Common.

Image via YouTube

Image via YouTube

Boston is home to world-class museums, renowned orchestras, and cutting-edge art schools. The area runneth over with priceless treasures, so much so that our library simply can’t seem to keep track of them all, and Harvard once thought it wise to place original Rothkos in a sunny dining hall.

Philanthropist Ted Cutler realizes how enriching this all can be at a young age, and he’s hellbent on knocking down any economic barrier standing between the arts and the children of Boston. His Outside the Box Festival, returning to Boston Common July 14-19 and free to attend, seeks to open a world replete with whimsy and wonder to all, regardless of the depth of your pockets.

“We can’t lose those people. We have to bring those people in, because their kids are just as important as anybody else’s kids,” Cutler says. “The only way it can be successful is if it’s free and open to the public.”

This year’s festival boasts a long, diverse list of performers spanning various disciplines, backgrounds, and tongues. “Our city has 142 languages, and we want everybody to understand everybody else’s culture,” Cutler says. Artistic director Georgia Lyman has worked tirelessly cobbling together a lineup of one-of-a-kind installations and experiences.

“I hate to say that, but I could give you about 50 right now,” Lyman laughs when asked to name a favorite. There’s “Inuksuit,” a percussion piece by composer John Luther Adams designed for nine to 99 people. At Outside the Box, 50 people will scatter across the Boston Common playing bells, triangle, drum kits, and other assorted noisemakers to create an immersive soundscape. “The audience is encouraged to meander through it so that every audience member comes away with a different experience,” says Lyman.

Then there’s the 100-person parade down Capitol Hill led by 18-foot puppets, creating a “river effect,” effectively bringing the Charles River back to Charles Street, as Lyman describes it. The Fort Point Channel Theatre will also contribute three illuminated sculptures made of wire mesh and metal, with which 60 performers will interact. “It’s a really immersive piece that you just have to be there to see,” Lyman says.

Eight local dance companies will collaborate with Ahmet Luleci, artistic director at Collage Dance Studio, for a 40-minute piece showcasing each individual genre and culminating in piece-weaving them together. According to Lyman, “It’s a microcosm of what the festival is aiming to do as a whole. We have so many artists of so many genres, but we’re all performing as a front of Boston artistic culture.”

And that’s just the first night.

“Events like Outside the Box spark the city’s imagination and make art accessible to all of Boston’s residents,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a release. “Boston has a thriving arts community and it’s part of what makes our city a great place to live. We welcome the opportunity to showcase our local organizations, be inspired from artists around the globe, and look forward to the return of Outside the Box.”

“First of all, I love the city. I do a lot in the city. I live in the city. And I found there was a big hole as far as the perfuming arts was concerned,” Cutler says. “These organizations are terrific, but they’re playing in the basements of churches. I want to get them out in front of people, so they can show everyone how good they are.”

This year, Outside the Box will also host Radio 92.9’s EarthFest, with performances by Guster, The Gin Blossoms, New Politics, Atlas Genius, and American Idol finalist Alex Preston. In addition, Country 102.5 will present performances by Grammy award winner Kacey Musgraves, Austin Webb, and Cam. For a full list of performers, check out Outside the Box’s website.

“Everything we bring in is something you’ve never seen before,” Cutler says. “Something new, something different, and we handle it in a different way. But it’s first-class. First-class. And we bring something for everybody.”