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Foxing, Ratboys and Kississippi at Union Stage

Foxing, Ratboys and Kississippi rocked out at Union Stage on September 6, filling the arena with heavy riffs, emotional lyrics and unusual sounds. Touring on the new album, Nearer My God, Foxing brought their post-rock and electronic sound to DC. Photos/write-up: Mike Kim

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Mac Demarco and Juan Wauters at The Anthem

It was just another usual crazy chaotic night with Mac Demarco and the boys at The Anthem on September 5. Opener Juan Wauters, from Queens, NY,  began the evening with an acoustic cover of the song “James Brown,” by Nancy Dupree, to which he repeated the chorus for 15 minutes while goofing around stage and teasing the audience with nonstop repetition. Attendees weren’t hyped by the song, but rather Wauters’ bright and goofy personality.

In the headline slot, everybody’s favorite old dog, Mac Demarco, came out swinging with hits “On the Level” and “Salad Days.” Touring for his latest album This Old Dog, Demarco brought fun and chaos to DC. Upon completing his set with 40 minutes of stage time remaining, the band filled the dead air with covers of artists such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Radiohead and Misfits; they even played Sixpence None the Richer one-hit wonder “Kiss Me,” inciting a sing along. The indie stalwart closed the show with “Still Together,” including a Black Sabbath solo intermission. Photos/write-up: Mike Kim

Artwork: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Artwork: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

STC Opens 2018 Season with Slapstick Farce The Comedy of Errors

The gang is back together may not be the first phrase that comes to mind when describing a collective of esteemed players teeming with talent who’ve reassembled for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s season opener. But when speaking with director Alan Paul about his casting decisions for The Comedy of Errors, it sounds more like a family reunion than a formal process.

“It feels like a family of people,” he says. “I think the secret of the show is that when you get people that know each other, as well as this group knows each other and has that level of comfort and trust, it’s so much easier to be funny and collaborate.”

STC’s associate artistic director saw the remounting of this early Shakespeare comedy, also part of the company’s 2005-2006 season, as “a joyful way to bring back a lot of people that I have loved and that have been important to the audience.” Paul is particularly sentimental about the start of this season as it marks artistic director Michael Kahn’s last one with the company after 32 years. To him, it only seemed fitting to bring together some of the actors Kahn handpicked over the years to celebrate his storied career.

Paul’s production of The Comedy of Errors, at Lansburgh Theatre from September 25 to October 28, is a madcap comedy about identical twin brothers who have been separated. One brother goes on a seven-year journey to find the other, and ultimately all hell breaks loose in some absurd cases of mistaken identity. While meant to make you laugh, the director says the premise of the play is actually not funny.

“If you think about the need to find your other half, it’s an extraordinary way to begin the play,” he says. “There’s such a depth to it. I hope I capture something that is deep and real about what happens to these people, because I think the end of the play should make you cry. I just feel that underneath the comedy of this play is something really real that motivates it.”

Paul’s connection to the play goes one level deeper, as he too is a twin. He says the remarkable thing about twins is you’re always at the exact same level of development as another person. Even now as adults, he and his sister understand each other in a way that’s completely foreign to the outside world.

“It’s such an interesting play, and I think I understand it on a deep level because I’m a twin. The dramaturg [Dr. Drew Lichtenberg] who helped me put the script together is also a twin. So we have two sets of twins working on the show.”

Beyond the twin coincidences, another unique element of this remounting is Paul’s desire to make everyone in the play “a little bit more mature” than the last time around. He’s also drawing from his experience directing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for STC several years ago, as both plays are based on works by ancient Roman playwright Plautus and include elements of slapstick and even vaudevillian humor.

In Paul’s version of The Comedy of Errors, the players will navigate chaos in 1960s Greece. He’s asked composer and lyricist Michael Dansicker to write a half-dozen songs for the show; in the past month, they’ve been collaborating on a song for both the opening scene and the courtesan, as well as a big number for the different policemen in the show.

Perhaps the only part of the Bard’s comedy he’s not changing is his lead, Gregory Wooddell. The seasoned actor and STC-affiliated artist played the same role of Antipholus of Syracuse for the company more than a decade ago, but he says his approach this time around will be fresh.

“One of the reasons I’m drawn to doing the role again after 13 years is that I feel like I’ve grown as an actor,” Wooddell says. “I’m personally excited to attack it with a lot more experience and wisdom under my belt. I think I’ve got new ideas, and I think I can bring a greater clarity to the role and the language.”

He describes the play as a classic comedy, with a straightforward plotline that’s very accessible to an audience that might normally shy away from Shakespeare. The actor also loves the fact that he’s getting paid to tap into his silly side on a daily basis.

“It’s a treat to be able to work on a play like this where you get to show up for work and try to get people to laugh. But as wacky and madcap as it can get, we have a really accomplished cast that I can’t wait to work with.”

Wooddell and Paul both mention the bad rap the comedy sometimes gets, often disregarded as a lesser play for being one of Shakespeare’s earlier works.

“There’s a sensibility about the play that it’s unsophisticated, and I disagree with that,” Wooddell says.

Paul agrees, saying that the fifth act of The Comedy of Errors is just as perfect, whole and deep as the fifth act of Twelfth Night or The Tempest.

“I hope what I can evoke in the show besides the humor, which will be there, is that the play has elements of what you see later on in [Shakespeare’s] plays about families coming back together,” the director says. “It is about the need to belong to a family and what length you will go to make yourself whole by finding your family. That’s the whole thing and the whole satisfaction of it. It’s a theme that Shakespeare came back to all the time.”

From universal themes to a 90-minute, no-intermission run time, Paul is crafting a production to engage millennial theatergoers as much as any other audience. Most importantly, though, he’s hoping to give us a much-needed break from the outside world.

“For all of us that go home and turn the news on every night and have to grapple with the chaos of this modern world, I want to give the audience 90 minutes of just pure joy to forget about all the nonsense going on today and just have a good time.”

The Comedy of Errors runs from September 25 to October 28 at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre. Tickets are $44-$118.

Check www.shakespearetheatre.org for details about special nights and discounts.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Anna Moneymaker
Photo: Anna Moneymaker

Post Shift Theatre Shines Light on Service Industry Artists

When a group of workers in the service and hospitality industries gathered in the back of a Northeast DC distillery to perform a series of 10-minute plays the evening of August 27, it was with every intention of playing on the actor-waiter cliché.

Post Shift Theatre held their annual A Night of New Works at Republic Restoratives. Tickets sold for $10 each and the back of the bar was packed with viewers for both showings. This year’s theme for the plays was temperature – an idea chosen for its multiple meanings to different kinds of service workers.

“We spent a lot of time thinking of important words in the service industry and were really interested in ‘temperature’ because of all of the things that it could mean in a kitchen,” said artistic director Clancey Yovanovich.

“That kind of customization was something we wanted to hone in on and explore the entire spectrum of heat, from very cold to very hot, and what that means to people.”

The event included six 10-minute performances, ranging from comedic to serious in tone and dialogue. Some plays used the theme literally while others explored the idea of temperature in relationships both familial and romantic.

Each play was an interesting take on the idea of temperature and its multitude of meanings but the night could have used a little more cohesion, especially with the transitions from comedy to more serious and back again.

Despite that, actors were able to transform the large room, dominated by heavy machinery and a unique smell, into whichever setting their performance required – be it a hip bar, a cluttered home of recently divorced parents or an emergency room. Each performance managed to establish a setting with a clever, minimal use of props.

According to Yovanovich, Post Shift Theatre’s goal is to continue performing in more nontraditional spaces that emphasize the theatre company’s deliberate connection to the service industry.

“There’s so, so many artists secretly hiding in aprons in restaurants and we want to explore that too,” Yovanovich said.

These spaces do provide their own challenges, however. The performance would have benefited from some sort of microphone usage to amplify the actors’ voices above both the occasional intrusive sounds of distillery machinery and even above the lively and engaged audience members themselves. While most actors were able to project, some of the quieter moments were lost in a vast room that was probably not designed with performance in mind.

Regardless of the kinks, Post Shift provides entertainment for both fans of local theatre and supporters of those in the service industry, as well as representation for the artists who inhabit both worlds.

Keep up with the theatre company’s events and news on Post Shift Theatre’s Facebook page

Photo: Doug Hamilton
Photo: Doug Hamilton

Give In to The Temptations

The latest in the line of anthology musicals, Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations opened its month-long stint at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night. Written by Kennedy Prize winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, Motown’s most legendary act is once again thrilling a packed house.

Morisseau’s Detroit roots are on display as she frames Motown’s rise alongside that of the auto industry, as African-Americans from the South arrived in Motor City in search of work, bringing music with them. Through The Temptations, Morisseau tells the story of the musical revolution accompanying this migration; a uniquely African-American chapter of the great American story.

Guided by the earnest narration of Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), the group’s level-headed but extraordinarily driven leader, the audience is taken on a journey from the Temptations’ origins on the streets of Detroit all the way to the top, featuring 31 songs throughout the two-and-a-half hour show.

Instead of settling for being a good-time singalong, Ain’t Too Proud also plumbs the dark depths that accompanied The Temptations’ meteoric rise and classic sound. Between showstoppers like “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “Just My Imagination” and the titular “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Morisseau explores the tension of a group trying to navigate personal strife and turbulent times.

While much of the conflict centers around the internal, personal tension between the steadfast Williams trying to maintain an egalitarian group dynamic (and his own family) over the protests of spotlight-hungry showman David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes), the show also examines how The Temptations were viewed by the country at large, and the irony of their status as a crossover hit. In particular, the calculated business decision by Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) that the group avoid overt political messaging drove home the idea that appreciation from white audiences did not necessarily mean acceptance from white society. This added complexity elevates Ain’t Too Proud above otherwise similar jukebox musicals.

While the Williams, Ruffin rivalry takes center stage, each Temptation shines in his own right. Jawan M. Jackson’s Melvin Franklin, Jeremy Pope’s Eddie Kendricks, and James Harkness’ Paul Williams are each given an opportunity to lay their characters bare and fully capture the Temptations’ spirit, all while pulling off dance routines well worthy of the Classic Five.

Through their sterling catalog and Trujillo’s exquisite recreation of their iconic steps, Ain’t Too Proud both delights audiences and highlights the immense legacy the group has left for acts that followed. To borrow from one of Baskin’s monologues, the Temptations have always been greater than the sum of their parts, and DC (and soon Broadway) would do well to witness their legacy firsthand.

Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations runs through Sunday, July 22 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets start at $79; purchase them here.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Fareeha Rehman
Photo: Fareeha Rehman

ARTECHOUSE’S NAKED EYES Exhibit More Than Meets The Eye

Immersion through the NAKED EYES exhibit relies less on sight than anticipated. Instead, the experience is heavy on sound, often leaving you in the dark with uneasy, rhythmic beats echoing for multiple seconds as the blue-toned white lights reappear again in their linear form.

Minimal lines and white lights (or lack thereof) are signature features of installations by the artist-musician-architect duo comprising NONOTAK studio. At ARTECHOUSE, visitors can step into four of their installations, all stylistically melding from room to room, but each an entirely unique experience.

“Base Line” was grounded in the largest room, with ten rows of flashing LED lights stretched like oversized guitar strings. With bass-heavy audio, walking between the lights felt like stepping into a Guitar Hero game, the lights alternating in coordination with the music.

The significantly smaller installation, “Ocean,” was like a meditative space. While you can still hear the sounds coming in from Baseline (there is no door to separate the two) the melodic audio by Takami Nakamoto, the musician in the NONOTAK team, was more calming as it synced with the circular light shapes appearing on the wall through horizontal rows of LEDs.

The most disturbing of the installations was aptly-named “Coma.” The kinetic light installation entranced you with a synchronized “dance” and ominous sounds. Then, the one true total immersion came through with the “Zero Point One” installation. Through the doors leads you to a pitch black space appearing to be infinite. The lights (using fiber optic and lasers) are contained in a central boxy grid shape, that opens and closes as the lasers zoom vertically, horizontally, and cross each other.

The magic about Noemi Schipfer and Takami Nakamoto’s pieces are that they captivate through minimalism. There are no bright, firework-like displays. You enter a world that is black and white, but hard to look away from. Though it’s meant to be seen through “naked eyes,” the exhibit depends on music to set the tone throughout each installation. Without soundproof divisions, the music for each space even interacts at times and alters the immersion.

I’d recommend going during non-peak times so as to not disrupt the lights and sounds with other visitors crowding around. After walking through, you can take a seat at the bar with a view of Base Line behind you and try an augmented reality cocktail. Bringing the NONOTAK aesthetic to another dimension, the cocktails will appear to have lasers and shapes when using the ARTECHOUSE app.

NAKED EYES by NONOTAK studio runs through June 30. Tickets are $15, with a student and child discount available.

ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, DC; www.artechouse.com

Photo: Anna Gaca
Photo: Anna Gaca

Japanese Breakfast Brings Her “Soft Sounds” to 9:30 Club

Michelle Zauner, better known as Japanese Breakfast, took the stage at the 9:30 Club in light-up sneakers that slightly resembled moon boots, jumped along to her song “Machinist” off her most recent release Soft Sounds from Another Planet, and told the sold-out crowd with an unwavering degree of cheer, “This is about being in love with a robot!”

Throughout the night, Zauner continues to tell the crowd what each song is about, letting her audience in on her creative world she’s now cultivated across two albums. Even on tracks from Psychopomp, her first record, which deals with the loss of her mother, you can feel the healing energy that comes from expressing those experiences through music.

Her band matches her energy and talent throughout the night. Adding to the unique onstage energy is her husband Peter Bradley on bass. When Zauner and company begin to play “Til Death,” she looks to Bradley and quips, “This song is about marriage.” She’s quick to add “Gross,” getting a good laugh out of the already smiling crowd.

Her conversational tone in both her comments and her lyrics adds to her relatability, something that has earned her well deserved critical acclaim. Coupled with her onstage enthusiasm and wildly good cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” Japanese Breakfast is a live act not to be missed.

Learn more about Japanese Breakfast here.

Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brethauer
Photo: Courtesy of Erin Brethauer

Pop-Up Magazine’s Interactive Stories, From Politics to Karaoke

We’ve written before about the draw of performative storytelling here in the District, but the desire for people to connect with storytellers in a physical space beyond the page or screen also extends outside the boundaries of the DMV. In addition to locally sourced and produced shows, many live storytelling events (i.e. The Moth Story Hour, Mortified, A Prairie Home Companion to name a few) travel from city to city, engaging regularly with new audiences eager to participate in the experience. There is undeniable power and draw to live interaction, made even more precious in the digital age. Indeed, the increasing popularity of the “story told live” trend points to an attempt to reconnect with our human past, deeply rooted in oral histories. 

Founded in San Francisco in 2009, Pop-Up Magazine occupies a unique niche in this realm of live and interactive storytelling.  Drawing heavily on a journalistic tradition, its shows are crafted around reported stories. Like many others, Pop-Up Magazine’s shows are produced for the stage with a live audience, but Pop-Up Magazine’s multimedia approach – incorporating the work of print journalists, radio producers, illustrators, animators, filmmakers and others – also sets it apart.

Senior Producer Tina Antolini says the magazine was born from an idea to draw communities of diverse media makers together, as well as “creating or fleshing out a new medium for telling stories” that incorporate aspects of different kinds of media.

Antolini, who spent the majority of her career in radio journalism prior to joining the Pop-Up Magazine team, speaks to the difference in processes for both creators and consumers of media between working in-studio and experiencing a story remotely (perhaps while jogging, or commuting, or otherwise not fully immersed), respectively, versus the collaborative and immersive Pop-Up Magazine model.

“The dynamic of telling a story live to an audience and having them receive it is a world of difference from recording your tracks in the studio. I think that the audience has a totally different experience, too, receiving nonfiction stories this way. So often we’re consuming stories now as an individual, and to have a collective experience of a story, I think the emotional pull of that is different – for example, the funnier things are funnier when everyone else around you is laughing,” said Antolini.

Pop-Up Magazine’s shows are not themed, but instead depend on the collaboration of a cast of writers, producers, artists and media-makers of all kinds to bring reported stories to life. Some of the stories included may ultimately be destined for other media forms, like documentary work, and so, says Antolini, “it’s a collaboration from the earliest stages in terms of thinking about the story idea that might work for the show and helping to shape it specifically for the stage.”

Some shows involve Choose Your Own Adventure style participation, while others engage in more emotional or artistic ways. This spring’s tour, for example, includes the communal viewing (and subsequent communal experience of interpreting) of a photo essay from a photographer who has been documenting the response to mass shootings over the past eight years. A story like this is relevant and moving and perhaps crucial for us as a society to see together, and Pop-Up Magazine provides the outlet for us to do so.

Another important aspect of Pop-Up Magazine is that it shows not all nonfiction is inherently heavy, or difficult to approach. On the lighter side, for example, a past iteration included a story about the top five most dangerous karaoke songs that led to conflict in karaoke bars, which culminated with the whole audience singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

As with any live performance, the tone and experience of each showing varies depending on who is present, and what is happening in the lives of the presenters and audience members alike – something that is also true but often overlooked and underestimated in the case of traditional media consumption – but the goal is for each one to be both enjoyable and challenging.

“I think this show in particular manages to have some stories that are really relevant to the present moment of not just politics, but issues that people are really thinking and caring about that are approached in Pop-Up Magazine’s signature very beautiful, thoughtful way,” says Antolini.

Pop-Up Magazine will conclude its spring 2018 Tour at The Warner Theatre in DC on Wednesday, May 23. Additional highlights include a moment of live visual art, co-writing by a robot, and an acting performance from a character in one of the reported stories. Tickets and information can be found here.

 

Photo: Shantel Mitchell Breen
Photo: Shantel Mitchell Breen

Fleet Foxes Float Through The Anthem

Fleet Foxes’ stage presence can be summed up in two words: beautiful and clinical. While these aren’t words you would necessarily pair together, the band’s show at The Anthem was initially a reserved display of their obvious talent that transformed into more as the night continued.

As a unit, the band is excellent at recreating their expansive sound in large venues such as The Anthem. They also chose a diverse mix of songs, spanning all three of their albums. This came as a surprise to me as their most recent release, Crack-Up, was widely lauded by critics as their best album yet. I expected the night to be heavy on the latest release, but was thrilled to hear the deep cuts.

The band found more passion when they dove into these songs, too. A trifecta of songs from their self titled debut – the crowd pleasing “White Winter Hymnal,” jangly “Ragged Wood” and my personal favorite track, “Your Protector” – saw an energy that wasn’t evident from the get go. Luckily for the audience, Pecknold and company sustained this passion through the rest of the 22 song set.

Not to detract from the band’s skills, as they are a very talented bunch, but frontman Robin Pecknold’s solo performances of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Oliver James” encapsulated the magic of the band’s ethereal, nature inspired sounds.

Like all good things, the lead up to the band’s eventual triumphant close was worth it. For the encore, Pecknold was reunited with his bandmates for the anthemic “Helplessness Blues,” a song whose chorus begs, “I’ll get back to you someday, soon you will see.” One thing is clear to see, Fleet Foxes slow burn of a live show is well worth seeing.

Learn more about Fleet Foxes here.