202Creates Helps District Connect Arts Community

Three years ago, a month became a movement for the DC creative community.

“There were so many things coming to the forefront of the creative community,” says Angie Gates, director of the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME). “It started out with the intent to highlight our diverse and vibrant community. The original [idea] was to have the month of September be the main focus of highlighting our creatives. What we quickly realized after year one was: we can’t stop.”

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser established 202Creates in September 2016 to celebrate the city’s creative economy and culture, with input from the DC’s OCTFME, Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Office of Planning and Economic Development. What began as a designated month of events has since transformed into a relationship between the local government and its luminaries including fellowships, studio space and networking opportunities.

“To know that the mayor and the community are behind the creatives speaks to the climate of where we are and [the community’s] understanding of the arts in the District,” says local musician James Poet of indie group FutureBandDC. “There’s such a melting pot of creatives in the area. There’s so many visual artists and filmmakers and [musicians]. They’re part of the pulse of the community. It makes sense for the city to come in and make sure we have a voice and platform.”

Though the idea rapidly outgrew 30 days, September still holds significance for 202Creates. This year’s kickoff event on August 29 at Eaton DC will promote art installations, musical performances, dance activations and more. Other festivities included in the celebration are Art All Night on September 14, the DC Radio Anniversary event on September 19, and the 202Creates Month closeout event on September 28 featuring Poet and his band.

“I think 202Creates is a staple in DC,” Poet continues. “It’s the go-to for creatives in providing a platform for us to elevate our talents. They’ve created this platform to support the creativity community in all its functions, and we definitely wanted to make sure we support this initiative.”

The 202Creates community has grown because of the city’s willingness to increase support and provide a foundation for people looking to get their foot in the proverbial creative door, Gates says, mentioning the OCTFME television and radio stations.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Gates says. “I fondly refer to DC as the capital of creativity. Not only have [we] had an impact here in the District, but nationally people are [recognizing] what we’re doing here.”

And this form of support isn’t limited to people in the entertainment industry or people who deal in traditional mediums like photography or painting, as the city also considers practices like cosmetology and cooking to be artistic expressions that fall under 202Creates’ purview.

“It wasn’t so much about the government as much as this is how the government can help you find a creative pathway to the middle class,” Gates says. “What it really does is highlight the different resources and platforms that we have as a government that we can provide our creatives. It’s really about the creatives having a seat at the table and showcasing the talents of the city.”

Three years in, she says there are still people just learning about 202Creates and its programs, whether it be artists-in-residence or the coworking office on 200 I St. Through installations and social media, the movement has touched all eight wards of the District, unearthing and shepherding talent in a supportive manner.

“I think it would be a travesty if we didn’t grow each year,” she says. “When you have other artists and other things to spark your creativity around you, you start to expand and grow and develop. That’s the beauty of it all: to look at where we were in 2016 and where we are today.”

So how can locals gain access to these resources? Gates says it’s as easy as sending an email via www.202creates.com, but she’s also fielded pitches in person and over Instagram.

“We’re asking everyone to just come out and meet us,” she continues. “We have an open-door policy at our studios. The goal is to make sure our creatives can work closely with us. The main thing is to get engaged once you’re here and familiar with it.”

For a list of participating 202Creates Month events or for information on the initiative, visit the website at www.202creates.com or www.entertainment.dc.gov. Follow along with the community on Instagram @202Creates.

Erika Rose + Craig Wallace in Fences // Scott Suchman

August Wilson’s “Fences” Tackles Issues of Race, Identity + Family

August Wilson’s Fences offers an enduring look at the everyday struggles of black Americans through the lens of ex-ball player Troy Maxson and his complicated relationship with his family. Though the groundbreaking Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh, the text has resonated with theatregoers since its run in the late 80s on Broadway and will continue to do so at Ford’s Theatre from September 27 to October 27. We spoke with director Timothy Douglas, one of the foremost Wilson interpreters, about why he’s drawn to the playwright’s work and how Fences continues to hold relevance with today’s audiences.

On Tap: Fences is a legendary production. Its Broadway runs featured both Denzel Washington and James Earl Jones as Troy, and Washington recently directed and starred in the Oscar-nominated film adaptation. Why do you think this material is so powerful 34 years after August Wilson penned it?
Timothy Douglas: August Wilson is one of the world’s great playwrights, and the play can speak and reflect [on] the ongoing relevance in and of itself and the world it exists in. It’s a milestone in inviting the intimacy of what it’s like to be black in America, so you can get a sense of that while August unfolds his own story.

OT: How difficult is the balancing act of honoring the source and adding your own personal twist to a story like this?
TD: Any well-written play, and specifically Fences, for me is like dough. I have to knead the dough and let it rest. When I come back, it expands. I can’t bring anything to Fences. I’m the conduit for which the play further expresses itself. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

OT: One of DC’s notable actors who you’ve directed before, Craig Wallace, is set to play Troy. How excited are you for him to be able to take on this role?
TD: One of the reasons Ford’s programmed this play is [because] Craig Wallace is at a point in his career where he’s ready for Troy and Troy is ready to be interpreted through him. I’m the one who holds the reigns of this great union, but I’m just there to make sure they’re speaking for each other.

OT: Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in a number of August Wilson plays. Why do you keep coming back to his works?
TD: These works will never be the definitive production because it’s impossible to encapsulate it all in one production. It’s my sixth time directing Fences, and I am just picking up where I left off and seeing how much deeper I can dig into the basement of it.

OT: This play obviously deals with race and issues around race in America. Does it mean more to you directing this play in the nation’s capital?
TD: It does. In my experience, the majority of audiences in DC are typically white and don’t know the realities of black people in America. For the first time in my life, there are more white people engaged in the curiosity of what it’s like to be black in America, so they can better perceive the material of this play.

August Wilson’s Fences runs from Friday, September 27 through Sunday, October 27. Times vary. Tickets $20-$70.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Cha Wa's J’Wan Boudreaux and Joe Gelini // Photo: Erika Goldring

Cha Wa is Comin’ For Ya

It starts with a needle and thread.

“You have to want to sew to be an Indian – that’s the key rule,” says J’Wan Boudreaux, lead singer of Cha Wa, a Mardi Gras Indian brass band from New Orleans.

To truly join a tribe, one has to sew his own suit adorned with colorful feathers, beads and patches. Each suit represents the soul of its creator, its wearer. That’s why Boudreaux stitched images of dream catchers, Native Americans and the tools with which they hunt on to his own.

“Everybody has their own personal connection to their suit,” he says. “My connection is more spiritual because of all of my patches. We all pick our own patches, and I’m feeling this way.”

Cha Wa, translating to “We’re comin’ for ya” in Indian dialect, digs deep to honor its ancestral roots in their latest album Spyboy, which earned the group a 2018 Grammy nomination in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. The six-piece jazz group is taking the stage at the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest on September 7 to bring a little Mardi Gras magic to the District.

Boudreaux shares that the concept for the Grammy-nominated album came from his own personal growth as a vocalist, but the title of Spyboy itself represents the position he holds in his tribe the Golden Eagles.

“Spyboy is the eyes of the tribe,” he says. “I lead the way along the parades, and I’m the one that makes sure we’re going where we’re supposed to go. At one point throughout this album, I stepped up – it was now or never. Everybody had a hand in the album, but it’s about my personal experience.”

Boudreaux says his grandfather Monk Boudreaux, who is the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles, has been a source of inspiration and guidance to him since he was about two years old. Monk is a musician himself and was once a vocalist and conga player for the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe that heavily influenced Cha Wa.

Joe Gelini, Cha Wa’s drummer and founder, used to play percussion with Big Chief Monk in the Wild Magnolias. But in 2014, he officially decided to break off and create his own group. He pulled J’Wan into the project and Cha Wa was born.

“I was fascinated with the music and the culture and art of Mardi Gras Indians,” Gelini says. “As a drummer, I was particularly intrigued because the rhythms are prominent force in New Orleans music. I was hooked.”

The tradition of Mardi Gras Indians stems back to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when black men first dressed as Native Americans during the Mardi Gras parade to pay homage to the natives who helped so many slaves escape to freedom.

Today, Mardi Gras Indian tribes continue the tradition of honoring both their Native American and enslaved African American ancestors by parading down the streets of New Orleans and performing the music that is unique to this region and group of people.

“It’s [about] informing people about the culture and not just the music,” Boudreaux says. “We talk about slaves trying to escape with the Native American Indians, and from them showing us their ways, that’s where we get our singing, dancing and music. We’re saying, ‘Thank you.’”

Gelini says he’s excited to share the Mardi Gras Indians’ music and culture with the District this fall because of the city’s own unique go-go music scene, which the drummer compares to New Orleans brass bands.

“We’re going to bring the New Orleans street parade to the stage,” he says. “We’re performing songs from Spyboy and some new stuff including a new single, ‘Wild Man,’ which will be released before we perform at Rosslyn Jazz Fest.”

Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, says she’s looking forward to the “diverse and powerful acts” featured at the festival this year – including Cha Wa.

“Year after year, we’ve seen an increasing enthusiasm for New Orleans bands and the great energy they bring, and we believe Cha Wa will continue to build on this tradition,” Burick says. “They’re extraordinary artists who really reflect the spirit of the festival by performing social music that sparks excitement and interactions amongst festival goers.”

On his last words considering Mardi Gras Indians, sewing elaborate suits and performing at the Rosslyn Jazz Fest, Boudreaux had this to say: “Cha Wa means we’re comin’ for ya.”

Don’t miss the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest on Saturday, September 7 from 1-7 p.m. Go to www.rosslynva.org for more information on the festival, and to www.chawaband.com to learn more about Cha Wa.

Rosslyn Jazz Fest at Gateway Park: 1300 Lee Hwy. Arlington, VA; www.rosslynva.org

Still from The Cowfoot Prince // Photo: courtesy of Bex Singelton

DC Shorts Returns With Impeccable Taste and International Flair

“We didn’t want to wait around for other people to let us do it.”

Actor, writer and director Mike Doyle, perhaps best known for his Law & Order: Special Victims Unit appearances, is telling me about his latest short film The Chase. Doyle is no stranger to feature films, adding that he has a romantic comedy making the rounds at festivals at this very moment. But there’s politics to producing a longform theatrical release – you need money, time and a prolonged story.

“The great thing about [short films] is that they’re distilled short stories that live in the span of six to 15 minutes,” Doyle continues. “I love that there’s a place like DC Shorts that promotes that kind of storytelling.”

The DC Shorts tagline is simply, “We champion short filmmaking.” Since 2003, the homegrown festival has proven Doyle’s sentiment correct, showcasing a variety of films in every genre from documentary to comedy to drama to action. This year’s International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is no different, offering more than 156 films from 38 countries on September 19-28 around the city.

“It’s remarkable what you can tell in a short amount of time,” says Bex Singleton, director of short documentary The Cowfoot Prince. “It’s good for people to come away with questions they can explore on their own volition. I don’t think there’s any shame in leaving an audience wanting more.”

Singleton admittedly learned most of what she knows about shorts from film school; The Cowfoot Prince was her final project in college and made its international debut at DC Shorts. The documentary follows Usifu Jalloh, a storyteller from Sierra Leone, and his journey from his adopted home of London to the village where he was born.

The first-time director, who lived in Sierra Leone as a photographer, met Jalloh at a fundraising event. After being knocked sideways by his performance, she approached him with an offer to make him the main subject of her graduation film.

“The story is about the complexity of the relationship with the place you’re from and the place you live,” she says. “Sierra Leone changed the way I saw the U.K., and if you look at the source material that’s easy to access about Sierra Leone, it’s about war or disease. You don’t often see characters. Usifu is such a strong and interesting character.”

The documentary is about 28 minutes long, pushing the boundaries of a short, but Singleton acknowledges the struggles of even getting below 40 minutes. After seven weeks of shooting, both in the U.K. and Sierra Leone, Jalloh’s energy was captivating and worthy of an even longer feature-length documentary.

“He has more energy than anyone else I had ever met,” Singleton says of her film’s subject. “Actually, trying to have an emotional journey through the film and understand what an optimistic person he is – that felt like quite a delicate balancing act. I’m not that used to documentaries where there’s a lot of flipping through happiness to sadness to seriousness to lightness.”

While The Cowfoot Prince marked the first time Singleton and Jalloh had worked together, Doyle’s The Chase marked the latest of several collaborations between the director and scriptwriter Nick Jandl, who based the story on a personal experience where someone snatched his phone off of a restaurant table.

“He was out with his wife one night in Los Angeles and the phone was stolen from the table,” Doyle says. “His wife chased, and he followed. We wanted to fuse that with bigger stakes, more drama. Nick’s character, Tim, is ineffectual. His instinct is not to run after [her]. I wanted to make a road movie on foot.”

Upon reading the synopsis for The Chase, you’ll likely have little faith they can squeeze all it promises in the limited 11-minute runtime. In that short amount of time, the film features “a complex intersection of race, justice and self-discovery.”

“We’re living in a time of division and misconception of the other – from all sides,” Doyle says. “In telling this story about a white guy, a black guy and a mixed-race wife, it speaks to ultimately the good of human nature and how we can cast away some prejudgment and learn something about ourselves in the process.”

Doyle and the rest of the crew filmed the short over two night shoots. With a script of 15 pages, he knew he had to trim about five minutes of content for a better chance on the festival circuit. Luckily, the small-scale nature of the story lent itself to a compact runtime. But editing for tone proved to be the most creatively demanding aspect.

“The film walks a fine line between drama and comedy, and I wanted to make sure the comedic moments sprung from the drama and absurd elements,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we honored those moments.”

The short debuted earlier this year to applause and laughter in Los Angeles. While a premier for a film is always a bit nerve-wracking, the positive reception allowed Doyle to focus on how to market the piece going forward.

“DC Shorts was at the top of the list because I had such a great experience there previously,” Doyle says. “I think it’s a great showcase for stories such as these.”

The festival sticks out to him as a filmmaker because of its integrity and standards, and with films like The Chase and The Cowfoot Prince, this year’s selection is positioned to captivate audiences again and again.

“They just curate really well, so you’re getting the best of the best,” Doyle says. “It’s not just someone who slaps their iPhone out. They have impeccable taste.”

For more information regarding the two films, the entire DC Shorts schedule and ticket prices, visit www.dcshorts.com.

DC Shorts International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition: Various venues in DC; www.dcshorts.com

Welcome Pavilion from South with Sedum Swoop // Photo: Richard Barnes

The Art + Architecture of The REACH

The Kennedy Center’s original building may be a box-like structure in its physical form, but it has truly grown into a space that cannot be boxed in. A monument, performing arts space, educational center and must-see stop on a list of tourist travel plans: these are all roles the space has held since opening in 1971. 

Naturally, as the Center’s roles have shifted, so have the needs of the community it serves. That’s where The REACH comes in. An expansion of the Center, its sprawling, subterranean layout and public art installations are just as integral to the vision of this new endeavor as the programming that will take place in it. 

The care and attention to detail invoked by those involved in designing the building and placing the art within provides another layer to the deep commitment of the Center – not only to the legacy of its namesake who cherished the arts so dearly, but for the community it will serve in the years to come. 

THE ARCHITECTURE

Chris McVoy, senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, says the selection of their firm to design The REACH was a once-in-a-lifetime commission – the kind of project that makes up an architect’s dream. 

With its serene, subterranean layout, exterior slopes made up of glistening white titanium concrete and lush greenery surrounding the grounds, McVoy says The REACH represents more than a stunning arts campus or extension of the institution the Center established with its original building.

“We had a chance to transform a 1970s notion of what a national performing arts center [is] into a 21st century vision,” he says. “It’s an expansion of an existing building that hasn’t really been touched since 1971.”

McVoy notes how the performing arts and the spaces that house them have changed since the Center opened, both in the District and nationally.

“This was a chance to take that 1971 model and completely transform it and open it up. In the original building, [the arts] are really now held within a box – a very large box. This was a chance to break that open, turn it inside out and open it up to the city.”

Although the building is made of the aforementioned white titanium concrete, another material is an essential part of the building: natural light. McVoy says that Holl will always say natural light is his favorite material when asked what he prefers to work with.

That affinity followed Holl, McVoy and their team to The REACH in an especially effective way. The sweeping windows, skylights and frosted glass blur the lines between the natural and the manmade. When walking through The REACH, it’s easy to forget you’re in an urban space as you’re enveloped by sunshine and greenery throughout.

“[Natural light] is essential to your psychological sense of well-being,” McVoy continues. “You feel good when you have a connection to the outdoors. You know what the weather is like outside, you know what time of day it is, you know what season it is. When you put that in a rehearsal space or performance space, it gives the artists or the audience a critical connection to the outdoors. It’s inspiring. Often when you’re rehearsing, you’re there eight hours a day. To have this feeling of relief in the light gives a whole inspiration to the process of making art.”

McVoy and senior associate Garrick Ambrose felt inspired during the process of constructing The REACH, pioneering an internal design element with their team just for the space. Called crinkle concrete, it adorns the walls of the Justice Forum and other rehearsal spaces. And although the Justice Forum is the only room in the space without windows, the fluidity created by the design also emulates the same natural serenity as the rest of the building. Its crisp acoustics are also novel, as concrete is not necessarily known for creating purity of sound.

McVoy notes that his team had the idea to imprint the concrete with a texture that does the acoustical work of diffusing the sound.

“We did many studies of what kind of texture we could put into the form work of the concrete to create this diffusion. [Ambrose] was doing experiments and found this idea of a crinkle concrete, where by taking a sheet of aluminum and bending it and banging it up and then using that as the liner that the concrete is cast against, [it] creates the ideal acoustical texture to mitigate flutter echo and diffuse the sound in the space.”

Once perfected, the team took their creation to the rest of the rehearsal spaces. While they met their goal acoustically, the accomplishment is twofold. The fluidity provided by the crinkle concrete is not only aesthetically appealing but provides a metaphorical distinction of the fluidity in the arts that The REACH itself represents.

“When you see this texture, especially in the Justice Forum, it’s immaterial,” McVoy explains. “On the one hand, it [appears] carved out of solid rock. And then on the other hand, it seems as light as folded paper. And then, especially in the Justice Forum where we’re lighting it right along the surface – we’re just raking it with light – the textures [are] particularly pronounced and immaterial. In fact, it’s a concrete structural wall but it feels like a folded texture of light.”

Though the Center’s original space will always stand as the iconic monument to its namesake’s legacy and commitment to the arts, the fluid and flexible notions brought forth in The REACH – both in structure and ideology – surely show the creative future Kennedy advocated for as the catalyst of change in our modern times. 

THE ART

Longtime DC residents will be greeted by a familiar figure when entering the grounds of The REACH: Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes, on loan from The Hirshhorn. The 1996 sculpture is just one of three outdoor sculptures that, along with many other pieces of art indoors, were selected with the help of Dr. Elizabeth Broun.

“I’ve been a longtime admirer of the Kennedy Center and the role they play – not just in Washington but across the country – to encourage the performing arts,” says Broun, The REACH’s visual arts advisor. “It’s an organization with a deep sense of mission and a real commitment to the idea that the arts can really express American life.”

Broun, who served for many years as the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and retired in 2016, says her involvement in The REACH is a perfect way for her to stay engaged with the arts and work with one of the most prestigious, fabulous arts organizations in America.

She took Kennedy’s legacy as a powerful arts advocate to heart while working with artists, museums and donors to adorn the space. She notes that while a connection to the Kennedy administration was not a necessary requirement for inclusion, there are some beautiful connections to his life that make an appearance at The REACH – namely in the case of painter Sam Gilliam and sculptor Joel Shapiro.

Gilliam’s work, which Broun describes as “lyrical and musical,” drapes across the interior space. Shapiro’s sculpture almost appears to “pirouette” across the lawn, and she envisions it becoming something of an iconic symbol of The REACH due to its visibility from the river, the highway and within the landscape of the building.

“[Gilliam] is really the internationally acclaimed dean of Washington’s artists. He’s long been affiliated with Washington. He came to the city in 1962 during the Kennedy administration, so we liked that reference. We liked that Joel Shapiro was actually in the third cohort of Peace Corps volunteers in India. The Kennedy legacy really does live on and is a very active component in the arts.”

In working to bring this incredible array of American art to The REACH, Broun’s hopes lie in the idea that patrons will see the multidimensional impacts of the arts that harken back to the Kennedy legacy it so gracefully pays tribute to.

“People mostly don’t think of the Kennedy Center as being about art, except for maybe that great big bronze head of Kennedy that’s in the foyer. I hope it makes them sort of reflect a little bit that yes, this is a great center for all of the arts in America. It’s encouraging the arts of every type. It’s comprehensive in the same way that President Kennedy’s vision for the arts was to be a beacon and related to our democracy. It’s about public spaces and public art. I hope they respond to all of that.”

For more on the work of Chris McVoy and Steven Holl Architects, go to www.stevenholl.com. Visit www.reach.kennedy-center.org for continuing announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH. 

Photo: courtesy of Studio Theatre

Unanswered Questions Remain Relevant in “Doubt: A Parable”

Where did society’s curiosity go? What happened to the doubts? These are some of the questions that playwright John Patrick Shanley asks in his 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Doubt: A Parable. Studio Theatre brings the thoughtful play to 14th Street from September 4 to October 6 with associate artistic director Matt Torney at the helm. The story centers on a 1964 Brooklyn Catholic school where a charismatic priest takes an interest in a young boy, leaving the school’s headmaster suspicious of foul play. As Studio prepares to ask the play’s many questions, we talked to Torney about this contemporary masterpiece and its jarring subject matter.

On Tap: Why did you decide this season was the right fit for Doubt?
Matt Torney: The first thing is that it’s one of the plays that seems to be many years ahead of its time. In the preface, the playwright talks about the year he’s living in [as] an age of certainty [where] everyone was very certain about what they believed and what they experienced. He wanted to know what happened to doubt, what happened to curiosity. We’re always looking for contemporary classics, and the political time we’re living in is fraught and certainty is rampant. We thought it was a great time for us to visit the play, and to see how it’s aged and how it can reengage.

OT: What specifically drew you to the play?
MT: I’m from Ireland [and] I went to a Catholic school, and the idea of what it means to be a Catholic and have that history is something personally relevant to me. This play made me feel uncomfortable and scared me a little bit, and that’s always a good sign. It got under my skin, and I had some questions I didn’t have answers to.

OT: What is your approach when directing a play with so much clout and acclaim? Does it make you want to bring your own vision more or less?
MT: My process always begins with the actors. We have to make it feel very alive. Even when you do contemporary classics, you don’t want to treat them as museum pieces. You have to make it feel vivid right now. The thing that drew me to it is that the questions felt very alive to me. The play hadn’t been answered or solved, and the questions it was built on were so relevant and poignant.

OT: One of my favorite aspects of Studio’s productions are the set pieces and the intimacy of the spaces. How are you approaching Doubt from those perspectives?
MT: Just the [set design] alone is perfect for an intimate space. You’re being invited into a private office and a private garden. It’s an enclosed world that’s opened up a crack [and] you’re able to peek into [it]. What happens behind closed doors? What are the conversations about power and faith?

OT: What would you say to people who are unfamiliar with the play? Why do you think it’s not to be missed?
MT: [At] the center of the play is an accusation against a priest. There’s not much evidence to prove it, but there’s a lot of circumstances that cause the accusers to be certain. That mystery of the play is interesting dramatically because who’s right and who’s wrong isn’t clear. There’s a huge gray area of challenging power dynamics and gender dynamics.

Doubt: A Parable runs from Wednesday, September 4 through Sunday, October 6. Times vary. Tickets $60-$80.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

Alysia Lee and Ty Defoe // Photo: Tony Powell

The REACH’s Opening Festival

The inside spaces of the Kennedy Center’s The REACH are spacious and cavernous, like an underground college building with rooms ripe for seminars, classes, performances, films and whatever other kind of programming the Center offers, which is to say almost anything. The outside buildings are equally stunning, standing tall not in an intimidation, but a reassurance.

The facility had yet to open when we walked through the grounds in mid-July, but it was easy to close your eyes and imagine a swath of people congregating in one of the spacious fields for a concert or a movie projected directly on the side of their sloping creations. Soon, there won’t be much left to the imagination as the Center is set to unleash every kind of installation you can think of – big name to small name, hip-hop to opera, dance to painting, sculpture to DJs.

“We’ll achieve a vision in people’s minds,” says Robert van Leer, the Kennedy Center’s senior vice president of artistic planning. “And I mean everyone: artists, staff, visitors, civic leaders. When you open a new building, there’s a process that comes up with that vision, but it’s important to start with what it can be.”

From Saturday, September 7 through Sunday, September 22, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival will feature close to 500 free events inviting people to explore the space, participate in workshops, and see headlining acts such as Robert Glasper, Bootsy Collins, The Second City, Thievery Corporation and so much more.

“It’s a great way to illustrate what The REACH can do,” van Leer continues. “It’s a combination of all of those things and a chance to learn with the artists to see what the future opportunities can be.”

Artists Ty Defoe and Alysia Lee are perfect examples of the diverse range of creative talent participating in the festivities. Both will travel from different East Coast cities – Baltimore and NYC, respectively – to support The REACH and take part in the public’s first invitation to the campus.

“I like the word festival,” Defoe says. “I like the word joy and I like the word connection. I feel like among those words, it reminds me that we’re at a time right now where the arts are a place of healing, celebration and activation. The arts not only change people’s minds, but people’s hearts. I feel like we’re in a time where that is very necessary right now.”

Defoe is an interdisciplinary artist from New York slated to participate in two events: a panel titled “The New Contemporary in Native American Art” and an interactive participatory hoop dance. The latter is only allotted 15 minutes, but despite this expedited runtime, the movement has several different layers all geared toward a unique experience.

“I’ve been working on this since I was 7 years old,” Defoe says. “It gets at a lot of intersections that I like to operate in, which is contemporary indigenous culture, community, spectacle, and utilizing spaces [both] indoors and outdoors. Also, [knowing] this festival will have all these amazing people of culture coming together in that circle, there was no other thing in my mind that came up besides this.”

The dance starts off with a story about finding a way through fighting and warring as a community, but it’s not all spoken. For some, the narrative is better understood through a series of physical steps, hence the hoop dance.

“I’ll weave myself in and out of these hoops to make different shapes – things you’d see in nature like trees, plants, flowers and animals – to pay honor to the equity of all living things,” Defoe continues. “The interactive part breaks down the multigenerational part because as adults, we are sometimes living in our heads and not able to feel. No matter who you are – shape, size, color – you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with your friend or relative.”

While Defoe’s interactive performance welcomes all people in attendance to gather around and dance, Lee’s workshop about protest songs will focus on inspiring middle school children to express themselves in tune. As a Kennedy Center 2019-2020 Citizen Arts Fellow and multifaceted vocalist, Lee is an obvious choice to lead an educational workshop for the opening festival.

“I really want to have something where kids walk away with something they created,” Lee says. “I want collaboration and sharing, and something where there will be high incentive and high reward to move quickly together.”

Lee came up with the activity upon learning that a majority of 60s protest songs were parodies of oldies from the 40s and 50s. The format took form when she thought of using modern pop music to help kids write their own pieces.

“What do we care about and how can we use music as a way to voice our opinions? The accessibility of these protest songs is super cool because you can get kids to take their favorite hits and use them for social change.”

Lee feels confident that the children participating will be up for protesting, whether it be concerns about global warming or requests for more snack machines.

“Kids nowadays are so in tune because of social media,” she says. “They’re so in touch with the world in a way that I wasn’t. Kids really feel very strongly and passionately about things that are beyond them. They feel more connected to the global society.”

The REACH is also slated to feature a number of DC-based artists as part of the festival’s lineup. GIRLAAA Collective Founder Dominique Wells has coordinated a full slate of curation on opening day with a panel of female DJs – including Mane Squeeze, Ayes Cold and Niara Sterling – followed by a performance.

“We want to discuss women in the music industry and how they’re doing more than just following contemporary trends – they’re breaking barriers,” Wells says. “I feel like what they’re doing is important and monumental and necessary.”

The DC native sees The REACH as an opportunity for the Kennedy Center to better serve the underprivileged in the community by introducing them to art by way of free workshops and performances, much like the programming for the festival.

“It’s about what’s happening beyond their main space,” Wells says. “I think The REACH is going to offer a lot of people who otherwise might not come there an opportunity to experience something inclusive and diverse. They have a great team of people who are working really hard, and they’re listening to people.”

From local to national, big to small, contemporary to classical, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival is a multi-dimensional playground for patrons of the arts from any background. Van Leer says there are no plans to make this an annual tentpole event, so you will definitely want to revel in it while you can.

“You see all the cross-pollination that’s occurring,” Lee says of the festival programming. “It’s really inspiring and makes me think about the through-line of creativity and how things can speak. I love that the festival is a place for that. It’s hard to even fathom missing one day of it.”

To peruse the comprehensive list of events at The REACH’s Opening Festival, visit https://cms.kennedy-center.org/festivals/reach. For announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH, go to www.reach.kennedy-center.org.

Production Artwork Courtesy of Signature Theatre

Playwright Dani Stoller Talks World Premiere of “Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes”

DC-by-way-of-Brooklyn playwright Dani Stoller’s original play Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes is a female-forward work coming to Signature Theatre in Shirlington from February 18 to March 29. Stoller’s piece is part of the Heidi Thomas Writer’s Initiative, which presents world premieres by female playwrights with female directors. We chatted with the up-and-coming playwright to get the lowdown on the play directly from the source and to learn more about what it’s like to work with other talented women in theatre.

On Tap: In your own words, what is Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes about?
Dani Stoller: It’s actually a love letter to my mom. I think it’s also about the ways that we go about getting pleasure, the kind of risks we take and the consequences of the routes we take to getting that gratified – either in terms of the attention or the sex we want.

OT: How much of it was informed by your family, relationships or personal experiences?
DS: Originally, a friend of mine wanted an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter and I was like, “I’m going to try and write that.” But it had already been done by some really great writers. So, I decided to try my own version, and we had been talking about affairs. Not that I would ever recommend anyone having an affair, nor do I condone it, but there’s a lot of thoughts that my mother has on sex and intimacy that are very far removed from mine. Specifically, how can you support your child through something that you are so vehemently against [in a] moral space? It initially started as a reconciliation between two lovers, between the husband and wife. It wound up really being about a reconciliation between a mother and her daughter, because they have to understand one another in order for them to fully get healed in that way.

OT: What has it been like working on this play as part of the Heidi Thomas Writer’s Initiative?
DS: It’s so cool. They do one new world premiere work by a woman every year, directed by a woman, which I think is awesome. I feel really, really blessed about the director we got – Stevie Zimmerman. She’s amazing. We interviewed a bunch of women and she just kind of just fit the bill on all levels of what we were looking for. I was just like, “Yeah, I think that this woman will kill it at the helm of this very odd little piece.”

Stoller’s Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes runs at Signature Theatre from February 18 to March 29. Tickets are $66. For more information, visit www.sigtheatre.org. For more on Stoller and her work, visit www.danistoller.com.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org

Matt Jackson and Avery Showell at The LINE DC // Photo: courtesy of ThFctry

ThFctry Brings Retro Flair to Local Radio

I’m on the second floor of H Street’s Maketto sipping a latte when I realize I’m not 100 percent sure what the two people I’m meeting look like. I type their collective name, The Factory (stylized ThFctry), into Instagram and realize both Matt Jackson and Avery Showell aren’t ones to beat their chests. There are few proper selfies of the duo, as the stream of photos consists almost entirely of DC artists the two have interviewed or are celebrating – often both.

Despite this, they aren’t strangers to self-promotion, and have carved out a niche for themselves in the surrounding DMV by dabbling in several mediums to promote local hip-hop. The pair curates monthly playlists of entirely new releases and hosts artists cutting their teeth on their self-titled radio program produced at Full Service Radio inside AdMo’s LINE Hotel.

“We’re like hybrids,” Jackson tells me matter-of-factly after he and Showell arrive. “When we run into people, they don’t know whether to treat us like radio DJs of old or new-age playlisters. It’s like a weird gray area of curation that we’re in. Some people call us podcasters, some people call us radio hosts.”

Before the two climb the stairs of the coffee shop, I’m finally able to find a picture of them from a previous recording session. But it’s one of those Insta slideshows and theirs is the last one, buried underneath candids and posed shots of their interviewee.

Today, they are dressed like they’re coming back from the YMCA after a run of several 5-on-5’s in basketball shorts, thrifted T-shirts and athletic shoes. They’re dressed for the outside heat, so scalding the power cut out as they were ordering their iced coffees. Just as they sit down, the Maketto speakers come back on. It’s a hit from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 collaboration Watch the Throne, before the latter wore Trump’s hat and said flagrant things on TMZ.

“We’re going to do a Kanye interview one day,” Jackson says assuredly. “We’ve got some ideas for Kanye that we got to talk to him about – crazy, crazy ideas.”

Forming ThFctry

At Salisbury University in 2014, the idea that Jackson and Showell would be hosting a radio show in the nation’s capital would have seemed like one of those “crazy ideas.” Showell’s primary goal in college was getting comfortable on a microphone and he wasn’t shy, quickly hosting different shows every year for the school’s radio station. The subject matter was “everything,” but he and his cohost at the time kept music a constant focal point.

“My background was always from the perspective of someone who wanted to get into the journalism side of it,” Showell says about his early on-air experiences. “I grew up in love with music, artists and genres. It was: How do I take this to a new level of engagement? What’s my next level?”

For Jackson, Salisbury marked his fourth college of attendance. Despite a music background, including a stint with a preteen, church-based, gospel hip-hop group, his primary focus for higher education was basketball. He played at three schools before arriving in the small Maryland town, calling himself the “college Rudy Gay.” Upon enrolling and acclimating to a lifestyle less consumed with athletic endeavors, Jackson linked up with Showell and discovered a connection through their backgrounds and the shared desire to highlight local artists.

“Every DJ we saw that was going in [to the college radio station] was using it like some kind of chill period of their day,” Jackson says. “They were going in there to chill with their friends and joke around, but they weren’t focusing on content. We thought, ‘Why don’t we do it like we’re on Radio One or SiriusXM right now?’ Taking that initiative at that time made us stand out.”

Their show was titled “Thank You for Not Snitching,” named after a music blog. In the middle of 2015, the radio show outgrew the small website, which left all parties a little unsettled. After parting ways, the friends were forced to decide on a new platform, name and mission, and thus ThFctry was born.

“We had to start a whole new thing because coming off of working with a blog, you don’t want to go after the same stories or same artists,” Jackson says. “We went back to the drawing board, because even if we were doing a good job finding new artists then, we have to an even better job now and make those new relationships.”

Showell adds, “That was a crucial period. That was the moment that everything fused together into something that more resembles now.”

Life at the LINE

Both Jackson and Showell graduated college in 2016, leaving behind the familiarity of the university radio booth in favor of returning to DC. Though the two were able to cobble up funds for bills by doing odd jobs around the city, they were also laying a foundation for their next radio endeavor.

“It was a year of due diligence,” Showell says. “It was us interacting with everyone we’d need to call upon once we got set up. Down the road, it’s like, hey, they know who ThFctry is.”

Eventually, people did start to take notice of the curating dynamos as they began introducing themselves to all of the artists they promoted via social media, forming relationships and cementing a foundation for a robust guest list. As everything lined up perfectly for ThFctry’s on-air return, the LINE Hotel announced its plans to host an Internet radio station.

“Timing is everything,” Jackson says. “It was divine timing. I sat on the idea for a few months, afraid to hit send on the email [to ask for an audition]. We went to the hotel on New Year’s Eve [for] some random party. I was stalking Jack Inslee’s page. I know what he looks like. We were about to leave because we couldn’t get in, and the one guy we came to see walks out to smoke a cigarette.”

Inslee, Full Service Radio’s founder and creative director, told them to send an email. Jackson did. He sent two more over the course of the next five months, before Inslee finally gave them an audition in the summer.

“We thought it wasn’t going to happen,” Jackson says candidly. “We went in there and bodied it the first time – one take Drake.”

The formula of the show was simple, a call back to hip-hop radio in the 90s. Interviews with artists would be interspersed with music from their latest mixtapes, bringing a nostalgic, retro feel to the program and a personal connection to the local talent.

“I want an artist to [be able to] drop locally, because they can’t go to [93.9] WKYS to play their whole album,” Jackson says. “[The station] is just not going to do it, or at least they haven’t been doing it. I felt like that model was the most effective. [On] the first couple of episodes, we just played all of our favorite music that you don’t know about, but we needed to add that personal touch.”

Local Lists + Future Forays

In-between radio booths, Jackson and Showell became Internet investigators in search of new local music. SoundCloud became a useful tool as the website operates as a stomping ground for up-and-coming artists. However, the limitless supply of songs can be difficult to sift through. That’s where ThFctry came through with their monthly “Sounds and Smoke Daylists,” available on SoundCloud.

“That’s a great part of it,” Showell says. “There’s definitely something to mastering how to navigate SoundCloud or making stations [based on] music you like. It’s that combined with submissions [and] word of mouth.”

“[Follow] the trail of quality,” Jackson adds. “Most quality artists work with other quality artists. We canvas the platforms pretty well and we’re super active on social media. I always knew there were artists here.”

ThFctry’s own trail of quality doesn’t end at playlists and podcasts, as the duo has a score of ideas for future multimedia projects including an upcoming radio tour consisting of stops at the LINE’s sister hotels.

“We’re going to be kicking it with artists for like a week, so we can have a good amount of content,” Jackson says. “[And] just really shine a light on something not only we can use, but they can use while they go along. We’re just going to be doing dope shit.”

Check out ThFctry’s dope shit, including playlists and full episodes of their radio show, at www.soundcloud.com/thfctry. For information regarding their upcoming schedule and future projects, follow them on social media @thfctry. Learn more about Full Service Radio at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio.

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Matt Jackson as Matt Jones. We regret this error. 

Photo: Nic Lehoux

I Spy a New Building: International Spy Museum Moves to L’Enfant Plaza

Spies are constantly in search of upgrades. The enhancements enable them to gather more data, intelligence and information, which in turn help them do their job more effectively. In this sense, DC’s International Spy Museum isn’t unlike the topics it covers. The establishment recently underwent its own upgrade, ferrying its collection, staff and visitors across town from their original downtown location into a sparkling, almost transparent building in L’Enfant Plaza.

The 140,000-square-foot space opened on May 12 and immediately doubled the museum’s size while providing more opportunities for interactive, spacious exhibits. With bright red accents, columns and a pleated glass veil, this architectural addition sticks out next to its Brutalist counterparts, making it easy for scouts to identify the city’s new addition “hiding in plain sight.”

“It had always been a dream to [move to a bigger space],” says Aliza Bran, the museum’s PR and marketing coordinator. “We had so many things we wanted to share with the public and there were only so many things that we could do in the building that we had. It was a fabulous building, but it had some limitations in that it was a historic building – you can’t change that. The subject matter we wanted to cover was far broader than what we could cover in that space.”

The concept of a new, larger space for the museum began five years ago, according to Bran. Before worrying about size, design and other physical attributes, the braintrust went about deciding what new artifacts, exhibits and displays they could bring to light if not for certain limitations. This included more in-depth looks at international stories and tactical collections, and how to make intelligence analysis digestible for visitors.

“We really tried to find a number of people so when we were putting this together, everything looked absolutely right,” Bran says. “It’s going through a lot of individuals and brains, and that was the most important thing while we were doing this because it was covering a lot of areas we had not before.”

Along with more room for their permanent collection, the building also features a lecture hall/theater, a multifunction event space and an area designated for a rotating collection. Though the temporary programs won’t roll out until next year at the earliest, the existing materials have experienced new life.

“We built this from the ground up,” Bran continues. “We got to choose where the walls went up, how big the theater is, how big the event space is and what we can do in each of the spaces. It really is beyond our wildest dreams.”
With this new lease, materials that once veered toward a reading-centric display are now more accessible to those more inclined toward an interactive experience – for instance, analysis.

“How can you make analysis interesting in a museum? Analysts laughed and said, ‘What? Are you going to have a coffee cup and a bunch of papers [and] have people sift through them?’ Fortunately, it turned out really well, but we really needed the input from people who worked in that space.”

These enhancements include games and impeccable displays in a breathable way that couldn’t be accomplished at the old location. And though the floor is set for now, Bran says the museum is still making tweaks to perfect that visitor experience.

“This is the first time doing it this way,” Bran says. “We’re figuring out how the flow works. We have been focused on that 100 percent since we opened. We want to be dynamic within that permanent space, but the first step is making sure everything is exactly how it should be and then seeing how we can adjust and update.”

Though the new space has sparked the imagination of new and old visitors alike, the next big event on the docket is sure to be of interest to those looking for a reason to check out DC’s upgraded place of everything espionage. On August 9, the museum is partnering with Brightest Young Things for Mission Impossible: Party Protocol.

“We’re excited to open up our space to [BYT] and the public for a rare look at the museum afterhours,” Bran says. “Whether it’s people who want to come to a cocktail event or people who want to see an author, we try to look at all of our different audiences.”

Whether you’re an espionage neophyte or a walking encyclopedia of all things top secret, the Spy Museum is likely to surprise and wow you in their facility. And you don’t even have to sneak your way in.

Go to www.eventbrite.com for tickets to BYT and Spy Museum’s Mission Impossible: Party Protocol on Friday, August 9. Tickets are $65-$80. For more information about the Spy Museum’s new location and upcoming programming, visit www.spymuseum.org.

International Spy Museum: 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, DC; 202-393-7798; www.spymuseum.org