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Breezing into town some four seasons ago from a job at Penn State, the ebullient Ken Foster has turned the moribund Centennial Hall performing arts schedule into a thing of eclectic beauty. The Foster program, re-named "UApresents," judiciously mixes mainstream crowd pleasers--Broadway chestnuts, ethnic music, classical music and dance--with on-the-edge art, especially modern dance and challenging theatre of the likes of Angels in America. Last season, the staid Broadway musical State Fair bumped elbows with gay performance artist Tim Miller; and Houston Ballet's Swan Lake followed up Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co. modernist We Set Out Early...Visibility Was Poor. This fall, the groundbreaking show Rent will be on the same stage that offers up The King and I.
TW: WHAT IS IT ABOUT TUCSON THAT ALLOWS FOR SUCH DIVERSE PROGRAMMING?
One of the things I love about Tucson is that there's a broad spectrum of interests. Our program reaches that broad spectrum. It matches what I'm interested in, from chamber music to performance art. The thing that makes us different is that a lot of (university) programs tend to lop off the ends and fall into the middle, doing Broadway, classical music and world music. I try to push us to be out there. We're a state institution, so we have an obligation to reflect the whole community, which includes gays and lesbians. We're about academic freedom, inquiry, research and exploring the unknown. We would be abdicating our responsibility otherwise.
TW: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TUCSON AUDIENCES?
They tend to be adventurous. They're interested in the new. In comparison to Phoenix, the Midwest or Pennsylvania, they're more open, more willing to let themselves be surprised. I think it's a very Western thing. This is an immigrant city; hardly anyone was born here. It's very Arizona: "I want to do my thing, you do your own thing." The flip side is that there's a lack of permanence, a lack of care. People throw away culture, throw away the desert.
TW: WHAT OTHER ARTS SCENES IN TUCSON IMPRESS YOU?
I think Tucson International Airport is amazing. I travel a lot, see a lot of airports. Most of them are like eyewash. I'm stopped in my tracks at the Tucson airport (which exhibits local art). George Howard had these huge photographs--great, intensely colored (pictures) of Apache rituals. The airport gets its flavor from the city.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST HIKING TRAIL?
My favorite hike is Ventana Canyon, once you get past the first mile of yellow tape. What's cool about the Catalinas is that you drive 10 minutes and you're away from everything.
TW: WHERE DO YOU LIKE TO EAT?
My favorite cheap place is Karuna's Thai Plate (1911 E. Grant Road). The food is amazing and it's inexpensive. For a big night out, I like Café Terra Cotta. (4310 N. Campbell Ave.). My favorite Mexican is El Charro (311 N. Court Ave.) Every time I have company from out of town, I take them there.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST NEIGHBORHOOD?
I live in the barrio, around Ninth Avenue and 17th Street. I moved there on the first of May. What's so great is that it's a fantastic collection of families, singles, gays and lesbians, lots of kids, old people--many cultures and lifestyles living together. There's a very neighborly feeling. I know my neighbors. I wanted to be close to work. When I lived in the foothills, it was a 20-minute commute. I like that I can live in the inner city, and I can get to everything.
TW: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BOOKSTORE?
Antigone Books (411 N. Fourth Avenue).
TW: WHERE DO YOU STAND ON MOVIE THEATRES?
I love the Loft--it's big and funky. But I'm at the Catalina more than any other theatre.
TW: ANY ODDBALL TUCSON HAUNTS WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
I'm a bicyclist. I ride the Santa Cruz bikeway every morning. You're riding along and it's all deserty. Then suddenly there's the Garden of Gethsemane (a life-size religious sculpture). It's very Tucson.