Surprise Stay-cation with Lakeside Cultural and Artistic Adventure

Time flies by and nothing seems to happen and then suddenly everything seems to happen at once. Mid-December I received a late afternoon call from a friend asking me to be her guest, that same Friday night, at the opening night of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play at Lakeside Little Theatre. I jumped at the chance. Yes, please!

A Wonderful Life. The radio play was written by Joe Landry and directed with expertise by Rosann Balbontin. It is difficult to present a live radio play, as all actors have numerous parts to play at the drop of a hat. So being in the moment is crucial; there is no time to relax between characters. The cast maintained their energy levels magnificently and changed their voices to suit each character seamlessly. I particularly enjoyed Jeff Kingsbury when he played the nasty character of Mr. Potter. Graham Miller played Clarence, the second-class angel, in a most sympathetic manner. He was the angel whose task it was to show George Bailey that his life was indeed worthwhile, thus earning his longed-for angel wings.

Both ladies of the cast, Barbara Pruitt and Florette Schnelle, were so believable as children, ladies or wives in the little town of Bedford Falls.

Poor George Bailey, played by Greg Custer, went from resenting his little hometown that appeared to prevent him from exploring his youthful dreams of the great wide world to appreciating all the joys of family, friends and community that his Bedford Falls had to offer. Somehow it reminded me of our own Lakeside community.

Never having heard the original play on radio, I could close my eyes and see the wonderful original black-and-white film from 1947, starring James Stewart and directed by Frank Capra. I noticed that between the vitality of the voices and the clever sound effects (created by David Dennis, onstage, and the brilliant J. E. Jack in the sound booth), my imaginary black-and-white film gradually turned to color.

It was such a good way to start off the holiday season.

(Please go to their website for future shows.)

A very grand opening of the cultural center. My surprise stay-cation continued on Saturday, December 17th, at 11:00 AM, as I gratefully accepted an invitation to attend the grand opening of Centro para la Cultura y las Artes de la Ribera. While the renovations and reconstruction of the auditorium and grounds had progressed, over the past two years I had driven past the work in progress. It is on the lake side of the Chapala-Jocotepec highway in La Floresta. Black plastic prevented the general population from seeing what was being done, but more recently a very large wall appeared at the front of the property. I found that a little intimidating.

However, my surprise came on opening day, when all was revealed. Softening the appearance of this large entrance way is an archway, and in front of the wall before the archway are two beautiful and calming reflection pools. Once inside, various walls and water features lend an air of mystery and magic to the area. Andrea Soto and Alejandro Guerrero of Atelier Arts Architectural Firm are the designers of the renovation plan. Magic and excitement was in the air and various circus performers hung from the high rooftops, played with children, suspended articles in space, controlled play balls from place to place in slow motion without touch. In other courtyards a wonderful ladies choir, Coro Redes y Cantos de Chapala, performed, accompanied by guitar players and a young man with a huge zither. Their chorus master and conductor is Moises Real Gomez. In the afternoon, this beautifully dressed group performed in the Auditorium for the Governor of Jalisco Enrique Alfaro and his guests. A huge audience, who had arrived to participate in the inaugural celebration of this modern marvel, the Cultural Centre of Riberas, occupied brand-new auditorium seats. A small but vital improvement to the auditorium itself are the bathroom facilities backstage. There are many, more for ladies than for men, which is a welcome switch from the previous arrangement.

It was good to see so many supporters of the original auditorium at this celebration, Rosemary and John Keeling in particular. Throughout the years this couple, along with many other generous supporters of culture, have helped organize great financial support for the original auditorium and certainly helped put the location itself on the map of cultural Lakeside and Jalisco state.

In the quadrangle beside the auditorium a modern band played. Inside the square of this rectangle a beautiful garden of native plants and flowers had been arranged with a path. Above the quadrangle and as a part of the auditorium, the former dance and music studios had been converted into two bedrooms and two bathrooms, which will allow visiting artists to stay overnight, perhaps to help set up exhibitions in the new gallery space for various artists and craftspeople. Artists will be able to rehearse and perform late into the evenings without having to travel for a place to stay.

Meanwhile, new music and dance studios have been built on the other side of the auditorium. During this entertaining welcome in the new upstairs dance studio the ballet students of Hector and Laura Hernandez, were giving demonstration classes. The Hernandez Lakeside satellite program for young dancers is taught by local resident Ariana Espinosa de los Monteros de la Parra. Below the dance studio is the music studio and we hope to hear CREM  “Centro Regional de Estudios Musicales” rehearsing, and music and dance lessons being taught in these beautiful studios soon.

With so much talent for the performing arts in the area, this marvelous facility will be a magnet and showpiece, not only for the Lakeside area but also for the state of Jalisco, too. It will be the regional headquarters for cultural activities in five different places throughout Jalisco. In anticipation of the amount of work that will be required to keep the building maintained, operational, and for the planning of cultural events, there are now administrative offices within the complex. This important feature is an essential part of any artistic enterprise and tends to be forgotten. In the Cultural Centre administration is given space and consideration.

The opening of the renovated auditorium, the new buildings for music and dance, the entire grounds and complex became a festival of fun, excitement, great expectations, and I felt privileged to attend.

Yet another standing/leaping ovation. After a very quick lunch, my cultural adventures continued with a visit to a church hall. Not just any old church hall, but a beautiful and relatively new church hall at the Lakeside Presbyterian Church. It is a large, versatile and well-designed space. I had attended two musical events held at the hall over the past few years. My first visit was a festive and fun choral Christmas concert by Denning Chambers and her choir.

The second musical event was on August 25th, 2022, as one of the supporters of the Lake Chapala Orchestra, Suzanne Salimbene, kindly invited me to attend “Summer Serenade” played by 12 members of the Lake Chapala Orchestra Chamber Ensemble. This is where I first heard our young, talented, local cellist Areli Mendes.

My third and most recent visit was on December 17th, 2022, once again accompanying my generous friend and LCO sponsor, Suzanne Salimbene.

As I walked into the hall I was thrilled to discover a 40-member semi- professional orchestra. Once again they were under the baton of Maestro Michael Reason. I was sitting at the front right opposite cellist Areli Mendes. A sold-out crowd was there to hear Symphony No. 8 in B minor “unfinished” by Franz Schubert, and then, as a special Christmas treat, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, recognized in so many movies, including the 1945 romantic drama, Brief Encounter.

The sound of such a large orchestra swept the audience away in a blanket of brilliance. A masterful rendition of Shubert’s “Unfinished.”

I particularly enjoy Michael Reason’s little spoken introduction to each piece, he tells us about the composer himself and also about the piece we are to hear. His words are informative and, sometimes, most amusing.

After a short intermission the audience was introduced to a young 21-year-old pianist, Saul Ibarra, who comes from Jocotepec. Mr. Ibarra is a recipient of the prestigious Grodman Scholarship and is currently pursuing a bachelor of music degree at the Manhattan School of Music, studying with Dr. Solomon Mikowsky. In spite of his youth, Saul has competed in more than 20 important piano competitions nationally and internationally. He has played with the Jalisco Philharmonic, and in 2019 debuted in the main hall of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, playing Liszt with the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico.

As he played this most difficult and intense Rachmaninov piece, it was clear that the orchestra players were playing as one, rising to the wonderful talent displayed by Mr. Ibarra. The energy of each musician was so great, I felt that at any moment the entire orchestra would just levitate and float above our heads. I saw many of the audience had been moved to tears by the music played by such an extraordinarily talented young man.

What a marvelous surprise. I felt uplifted and happily exhausted by the end of the concert. We all have to thank Peter St. John, Joan Ward, Caroline Jones and anonymous for generously sponsoring Saul Ibarra’s appearance.

After all three of these happy events I felt as though I had indeed been on a mini vacation without leaving my wonderful little town.

These events were an illustration of our own “wonderful life” here at Lakeside, a cultural and weather paradise.

The Mexican people have a phrase they use for living in paradise:


(This concert can be seen and heard on the Lake Chapala Orchestra’s Facebook page.)

For more information about Lake Chapala visit:

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