Photo: John Hogg

Gregory Maqoma’s Vuyani Dance Theatre Creates International Empathy At The Kennedy Center

As dancing bodies twist and move across stages, cultures intertwine and churn to create bitter-sweet pieces of art. While speaking with Nhlanhla Mahlangu, musical director for Gregory Maqoma’s Vuyani Dance Theatre in South Africa, Mahlangu commented on the complicity of speaking through a colonized culture.

“We are constantly evolving every day. My big thing at the moment is [that] I’m interested in the music that started as our colonial response but became our heritage.” 

South Africa has a long and troubled history with Dutch and British colonial forces, and creating art through a tampered history is undoubtedly challenging. However, the Vuyani Dance Theatre has beautifully crafted Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro, a poetic performance that will soon be shared with DC audiences at the Kennedy Center on January 24-25

Mahlangu concerns himself with the potentially problematic art of building upon this culture as he questions whether South African music communicates the cultural tragedy of colonization or reaffirms the practice by preserving protest songs. 

“I’m not sure,” he says. “They are beautiful, and they have given birth to a lot of sounds that I use today, but I’m more interested in interrogating them.”

Regardless of origin, the performers of the Vuyani Dance Theatre share beautiful interpretations of a culture that continues to evolve with grace. And although audience members might not understand the deeper messages hidden in the South African lyrics, Mahlangu believes, “It’s much better if you can’t get the words.”

“We do want the audience to evoke their own personal stories and histories and the words for me… They kill the imagination of the audience,” he says. “So I’m even happier when the audience can hear the music.”

Although the Vuyani Dance Theatre is based in South Africa and the localized subject matter, Mahlangu is a firm believer that citizens of the world are interconnected.

“The world has become very much smaller. We’re in the same ball rotating and revolving and floating in the middle of nowhere. We are all trying to figure out this life thing the same way.”

When stated in such simple terms, South Africa doesn’t seem so far away, nor do its politics and current issues. Some issues hit closer to home than DC audience members might expect. For example, Mahlangu drew inspiration for upcoming performances of Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro from South African author Zakes Mda’s novel, Cion

“Zakes Mda, who spent a lot of time in America, writes Cion. You see it all the time – he draws the parallel between American slavery and South African apartheid.”

The Vuyani Dance Theatre’s upcoming performances at the Kennedy Center will be the first time Mahlangu’s compositions have been shared in the nation’s capital, which he views as a thrilling opportunity. Audience members can expect a riveting and original show meant to connect their personal lives to a larger global story.

“The story of Cion is very important. I think it belongs to the world. It belongs to global audiences.” 

 Mahlangu’s favorite aspect of his group of performers is their generosity in bringing their own backgrounds to the stage.

“They have been generous in bringing forth their personal stories into the narrative of the work,” he says. “For me, a performance that is only about return is empty.”

His knowledge and passion for the art he creates echoed through our phone conversation from South Africa to the United States. Viewers of Gregory Maqoma’s Vuyani Dance Theatre will participate in a global event that relates stories transcontinentally. Not only does the Vuyani Dance Theatre attempt to encourage international empathy, but they succeed in making it entertaining. 

Gregory Maqoma’s Vuyani Dance Theatre will perform Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro on January 24 and 25 at the Kennedy Center. Both performances start at 8 p.m. Tickets can be found here

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

Photo: John Canery

Cupid’s Undie Run Returns To Continue Fight Against NF

It all started with a crazy idea…

That’s how Cupid’s Charity, the group behind DC’s Cupid’s Undie Run on February 8, opens their story on the website. The idea of a mile(ish) run through a DC street in the winter came from co-founders Brendan Hanrahan, Chad Leathers and Bobby Gill. The trio dropped their pants in solidarity and frolicked for charity to help end neurofibromatosis (NF), a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body.

The inaugural event kicked off in 2010, and has grown since. With different sister events offered all over the country, the fundraisers have helped raise almost $20 million. To learn more about the festivities, we spoke with race director Ashley Casper about the event’s mission, what people can expect from this year and why the cause is worth the chills.

On Tap: How have the races changed since 2010? Are there any plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary? 
Ashley Casper: The inaugural 2010 event took place in DC and was a trial run to determine local interest and potential fundraising levels, bringing in more than 500 participants and fundraising more than $12,000. Since our very first Cupid’s Undie Run in 2010, we have spread awareness of NF and raised more than $18,900,000, thanks to the 107,000 undie runners and 247,000 donations that have supported more than 225 events across the country. [All] of net proceeds from our programs goes specifically towards NF research through our partner, the Children’s Tumor Foundation. The event has gotten larger over the years, but the one thing that always stays the same is our mission to end NF.

OT: What are some aspects that surprise people who sign up? Are there things participants mention to you regarding things they didn’t expect? 
AC: People often are surprised to hear that we run in undies in February, but there is a really great reason for it! We run in our undies because people with NF can’t cover up their tumors. They can’t put clothes on to feel more comfortable, so why should we? Also, while the event is pants-optional, we encourage participants to wear what they are most comfortable in. Tutus, onesies, bathrobes, costumes (we even have a costume contest!) are all encouraged. The important thing is that people show up, have fun and raise money for charity!

OT: What are some of the festivities people can expect aside from the race? What kinds of activities are planned? What are the ones people respond to most?
AC: At Cupid’s Undie Run, the party is as big as the one mile(ish) run is “brief.” Thanks to the support of local sponsors like DC Fray, Hot 99.5 and DCW50. The four-hour party features a DJ, a photobooth, mascots, awards for top fundraisers and a lot of energy.

OT: Have any pointers for first timers? 
AC: First, join or start a team, Cupid’s is a lot of fun with friends! There are prizes for top team fundraisers and people are very creative with team costumes. One of my favorites from 2019 was an entire team dressed as Waldo from Find Waldo. Two, layer up! Even if you’re wearing undies, you can add knee socks, scarves, hats and gloves to stay warm. Three, if your outfit does not leave room for pockets, no problem! Cupid’s offers fun awards for fundraising for NF and if you raise $250, you earn official 2020 Cupid’s undies PLUS open bar – no need for pockets.

OT: How do you all establish the goal year by year? 
AC: Our mission is to end NF and that is what drives us every year to increase fundraising and awareness. We’re always pushing ourselves to create the best event possible for our participants and increase our fundraising.

OT: Lastly, what does it mean to you to be apart of an event like this, with a fundraising angle? 
AC: It’s very rewarding to be a volunteer Race Director for the DC Cupid’s Undie Run. I have met so many wonderful people and families affected by NF, and the money we raise has a very real impact on their lives. The Foundation’s research initiatives have generated 116 pre-clinical studies that have led to 16 clinical trials. Being a part of an event that truly puts the FUN in fundraising and has such a positive impact on those affected by NF means everything to me. Every one mile(ish) we run and every dollar we raise gets us one step closer to a cure.

For more information about the race or how to get involved, visit www.cupids.org

Photo: DC Fray

Five Reasons You Need To Pickup A #FrayLife Passport ASAP

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Why pay full price on a night out or Sunday Funday when you can save 50 percent? There are more than $250 in savings in the Fray Life Passport with BOGOs galore. You’ll find 2-for-1 flights of rare whiskey samples at RiRa, 2-for-1 margaritas at Nellie’s, and even a 2-for-1 brunch deal at Medium Rare, just to name a few deals. 

You can even get savings on savings. Passports are $30, but you can save 20 percent by entering promo code FRAYPASSPORT20. Each offer is valued at $15-$20, so the passport basically pays for itself after one or two uses! Make memories. Save money. 

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A #FrayLife Passport gives you the perfect opportunity to try a cuisine you’ve never had, visit a neighborhood you’ve never been to, or give that new exercise fad a try. If for some reason it wasn’t what you expected, you can at least feel good about the fact that you didn’t have to pay full price! With deals in Maryland and Northern Virginia, in addition to DC, you can get out and explore everything the DMV has to offer.

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Anafre's pork shank // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

Anafre Offers Variety Of Mexican Seafood Flavor

If you are familiar with Mexican restaurants Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana and El Sol, you will know that the chef behind them, Alfredo Solis is not joking around with the food. (And if you are not familiar with those spots, you should get yourself there). 

Anafre, the coastal Mexican restaurant by the same group marks yet another labor of love. Opened this past November in Columbia Heights, Anafre showcases the diversity and depth of coastal Mexican cuisine, aiming to transport diners on a lovely culinary journey around Mexico.  

The name comes from the Spanish word for a “portable oven,” traditionally a clay pot that has an opening in the bottom where hot coals are placed that then heat up the dish atop the pot. In many Mexican countryside homes the anafre might be the only stove used. At the restaurant, this style of cooking is interpreted in an open kitchen where most items are prepared over charcoal.

Anafre’s vibe is chill and relaxed, the ingredients and food is always fresh and delicious, and the dishes are hearty and creative. It’s a perfect spot to let loose with friends for drinks or dinner. Best of all, everything is extremely reasonably priced, with entrees starting at $12. Oh, and did I mention the yummy cocktails?

Mole old fashioned // Photo: courtesy of Anafre

The drink list is made up of cocktails leaning heavy on Mexican whiskies, sotol, tequila and mezcal. The restaurant’s take on the Old Fashioned features Solis’ signature mole sauce – the drink is spicy, boozy and a must try. The Piña Colada Viaja a Mexico is a take on the classic cocktail that includes mezcal in addition to rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and Tajín Mexican seasoningHowever, any of the cocktails by Heriberto Cassanero, previously of Reliable Tavern, Bar Lorea and Little Havana are enjoyable, and feature a range of concoctions in the price range of $10-$14. 

For appetizers, don’t miss the oysters al carbon con crab meat – oysters baked with jalapeno butter, topped with a generous heap of crab meat, a bit of cheese and served with bolillo bread – you’ll want it to soak up all that delicious butter. This dish was  lovely and decadent – and at $13 for six oysters, it’s an excellent deal. Other appetizers feature guacamole with lobster, seafood nachos with crab, and shrimp and pickled jalapenos. The queso fundido – prepared on top of the grill in a plant leaf with huitlacoche makes for a lovely presentation and tasty dish that’s just a bit different from other queso fundidos. 

The rest of the menu spans a variety of tacos, tortas and dishes. We very much enjoyed the chile relleno taco – tortillas topped with cheese stuffed chilis. The fried oyster taco was also delectable and comes with red cabbage, chipotle aioli and avocado. These tacos are not petite and as they are the “guisado” or stew style – they are substantial, homey and absolutely fantastic. At about $4, again I’m surprised at the incredible value for something so high quality. 

Another excellent dish is the 12-hour pork shank – it’s extremely tender and the meat falls off the bone, as one would expect from 12 hours of slow cooking done right, the marinade is thick and rich and spicy, and forms a delicious plate of food. There’s a reason this made it over from the Little Havana menu. It also makes excellent leftovers – and you likely will have leftovers as it’s another generously portioned dish. It’s almost ridiculous that this dish is only $14 – I would gladly pay double that. 

Other entrees are also solid and consistent – Anafre’s  abundance of seafood dishes honor Mexico’s many beach communities including Puerto Nuevo, also known as “Lobster Village,” where lobster is deep fried, split open and topped with butter. At Anafre, Puerto Nuevo-style lobster is accompanied by rice, beans, flour tortillas and topped with jalapeno butter.  The seafood enchilada is stuffed with shrimp and crab and topped with a red salsa – a hearty dish. 

To take full advantage of the charcoal grill, Solis also makes a Pollo A la Brasa – chicken cooked over wood charcoal making for a tender and tasty meat, and a slightly charred but crispy skin. The yuca fries here are fantastic, thinly sliced as opposed to the wedges typically found and crunchy all around. A whole chicken and three sides is just $22.

Dishes at Anafre are simple, elegant and fabulous, as the restaurant shows off the variety of Mexican seafood flavors – not something you find very often in Mexican restaurants. The food and drinks speak for themselves and I’d definitely come back here for a fun time with friends

Anafre: 3704 14th St. NW, DC; 202-758-2127; www.anafredc.com

Andrea Harris Smith as Nya in "Pipeline" // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Studio Theatre’s Pipeline Depicts Correlation Between Struggles Past And Present

In one poignant scene in Dominique Morisseau’s play Pipeline, Nya, a black mom who teaches in a resource-strapped city school, shares the poem We Real Cool with her students. The Gwendolyn Books poem used to be a favorite of hers. But now its message hits a little too close to home.  

On another part of the stage, shrouded in darkness, Nya’s son Omari acts out the lines of the poem: “We skip school. We real cool… We jazz June. We die soon.”  

It’s the last line that chokes Nya up.  

When it was time to send her son to school, Nya chose a predominantly white college prep school, thinking this would give him a brighter future than the decaying urban alternative where she has taught for decades. But now Omari is in trouble. He hit a teacher and ran away. Suddenly, Nya fears she has made the wrong decisions for her son. Or worse: That regardless of her choices as a parent, her son will be caught up in a system that has led generations of black boys to live in America’s shadows.   

Pipeline’s title refers to the school-to-prison pipeline many young men of color face in America and the broken education system that feeds into itMorisseau was inspired to write Pipeline after reading Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which traces racism in America with a direct line from slavery to today’s education inequality and high rates of incarceration for people of color.  The play runs through February 16 at Studio’s Mead Theatre. 

“Dominique is such a master at taking very big societal issues and harnessing them into characters’ lives, desires, dreams, and truths,” Awoye Timpo says

Timpo is directing Pipeline at Studio Theatre this month. This is her third time directing a Dominique Morisseau play and it’s this ability to personalize big societal problems through the lens of individual characters that keeps drawing her back to the material 

What makes Pipeline a great, great play, is that it asks some very big questions about who we are, where we come from, what we aspire to be and what stands in the way of us achieving those things,” Timpo says 

And it does so through the lens of a mother and son whose problems are instantly relatable. In Pipeline, we catch the characters in a deep moment of crisis

“From the moment we meet Nya, we are watching her try to figure out if her son’s actions are a result of her own personal failure as a mother,” Timpo says. And the weight of that question is enormous. 

Actor Justin Weaks weighs in on Omari’s struggle.

“This is a young man trying not to be anything but himself, but it’s hard. It’s hard to navigate when you’re operating as a token and feel that from the students, the faculty, everyone. It’s hard to discover who you are when you have so many people telling you what you are or what you should become.” 

As Nya and Omari struggle to connect over the course of the play, Morisseau encourages audiences to reconsider the legacy of America’s past.

If you are trying to save someone, how do you contend with how we got here as you think about how to move forward?” Timpo asks. 

“I think what we have to understand when it comes to educating young people,” Weaks adds, “is that these are complicated human beings who have come to be educated. They are dealing with things at home that we may not know about, things that are very specific to that human. Difficult behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has a source and it’s important to understand where these kids are coming from in order to give them the education they need.” 

Morisseau is known for incorporating the works of African American artists of previous generations into her plays. Gwendolyn Brook’s We Real Cool is a huge presence in Pipeline, as is Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, the story of a young black man whose crimes are portrayed as the inevitable outcome of a society that treats black men as criminals. Through these nods to writers of the past, Morisseau weaves their work into her own writing, creating a sense of legacy and reminding us that the struggles of the past are the struggles of the present.

It’s like she is saying that we have these ancestral spirits who are lurking inside us. The way she lets those writers vibrate in her work is really exciting,” Timpo says.  

“We as black artists now are standing on the shoulders of so many generations of artist who have come before us,” she continues. “The beautiful thing about Pipeline is that Dominique is capturing the sights and sounds of this moment in time even as we can feel the presence of other writers inside her work.”  

Pipeline runs through February 16 at Studio Theatre. Times and tickets vary by date. For more information abut the play, visit Studio’s website.

Studio Theatre: 1501 1rth St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

Iron Cages // Photo: Farrah Skeiky

With “Present Tense,” Photographer Farrah Skeiky Brings DC’s Vibrant Music Scene to the Front

If you’ve been to a punk, DIY, or house show recently, you might have been in the midst of local creative and photographer Farrah Skeiky. Her list of accomplishments runs long, and the common thread between them all is a devotion and dedication to DC’s famed music scene as it currently exists. Born of a desire to share that this city is as vibrant as ever when it comes to music and creativity, Skeiky’s first solo exhibition, Present Tense, opens at Transformer on January 18. To get to the heart of her work, which is at once a celebration and a call to action, On Tap spoke to Skeiky about her process and the progress she hopes drawing attention to live music in the District will bring.

On Tap: Present Tense is your first solo exhibition, and on your site it said the exhibition aims to “fight… the notion that this section of DC counterculture exists solely in the past.” As a music photographer, when did you first catch wind that there was an idea that counterculture was a thing of the past?
Farrah Skeiky: I love shooting all kinds of music. One of my favorite shows I shot this year was Lizzo. In 2018 I shot Blood Orange – obviously there’s a lot of national acts that I really, really love. But people kind of know and herald DC as a very important place to when it comes to music, but people really talk about it in the past tense, right? They talked about Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Bad Brains – all important bands. I’m never going to disagree about that.

And their contribution to music is obviously great, especially in punk music and the culture around it. Conversations about straight edge, veganism, benefit shows – all that stuff is really important, but it’s still going and it never really stopped. So for me, highlighting the bands and the people that are part of the present tense, where it gets its name from – this concept of people talking about DC as a place that used to have really cool bands and used to have really cool shows. And I was standing there talking to people who are saying these things, and I’m thinking, “But I was just at a great show last night, where three out of the four bands were local bands that are currently active or are in all these big bands currently playing reunions.”

I hate when people talk about this place in the past tense, when I’m in the middle of it and it’s active and it’s vibrant and people from all over the city bring all sorts of different stuff to the table. 

OT: What proved, to you personally, that it was alive and well? Was it a specific moment or a culmination of your experiences?
FS: [It] as kind of just a culmination [of everything]. I moved from Seattle to the Maryland suburbs [when] I was 15 and that’s not a fun move, to go from a very cool city to the suburbs. You’re kind of just getting into who you are and how you can use the world around you at that age. [So I] moved across the country, from one Washington to another. I really was not excited, but knowing that DC had this rich history that was still very much active, with really great independent music shows, all ages [and] culture, which is not common in a lot of cities – that was really important to me.

I feel like I watched it from afar, just like a lot of other people do in this country who are excited about punk music, but you don’t always realize it when you get there and [can] be part of it. So it wasn’t one specific [moment]. I think it was just, I realized I was going to more and more local shows and I was really excited about all of these local bands and what they were doing and I’m like, “well these are the bands I want to be taking more photos of.”

OT: Did you get exposed to photography and the local scene as a teenager in the suburbs of Maryland or was that something that happened as your career progressed?
FS: I never really thought that photography would play such a large part in my life. I got a camera when I was 16. I got my Canon Rebel XS. I was already engaged with art in school and playing music. I’ve played in jazz band and orchestra, and I thought that that was going to be how I engaged with music, by playing it in that class. It wasn’t really until my friends’ bands were playing something like the rec center or in a battle the bands [where] I was like, “I’ll bring my camera,” and or my friends said, “It would be cool if you brought your camera.” Live photos were always more interesting to me than any still one. I can capture people in that emotion and kind of show you how it felt to be there, rather than just tell you – I’m not good at words. I would rather show you how it felt to be there than tell you. That’s what I got really excited about. So it was probably 17 or 18 when I really started becoming excited about music photography.

OT: I’m guessing you had a rather large amount of photos to sift through for inclusion in this exhibition what criteria did you apply to capture this goal?
FS: It’s really hard because there’s a Present Tense book that’s coming out in February and that’s a couple photos of…almost every DC the band I’ve captured over the last five or six years. And that’s that book. The show was really hard, because it’s 16 pieces, I didn’t want to repeat bands and I wanted to get kind of a wide range. There are some from 2015 and 2017, and the most recent photo is from about three months ago. 

I didn’t want it to just be hardcore bands, and didn’t want it to just be photos of singers, because it’s very easy to catch [them] because they’re moving around the most. I tried to shoot photos of every member of the band when I’m shooting a show, so everybody has a photo of themselves. There’s also like, not just straight forward hardcore punk bands in there, but also bands that are more DIY or indie rock as well.

I wanted a little bit of genre diversity and having a kind of range. This isn’t just photos from 2019, there are photos from like 2015, when I really started shooting punk in DC more seriously. Before I was doing that, I was on and off the house photographer rotation for IMP for a long time and I kind of consciously made the decision to say, “Okay, I’m going to step back from that a little bit and focus more on local bands.” 

OT: Any particular favorites that are part of the exhibition you’d like to share?
FS: There’s kind of a lead photo that I have as part of this show. I think it was at Damaged City Fest, of this band called Sem Hastro. So in the photo, the one guy is choking the other guy. I love that photo because I feel like it’s a great little encapsulation of what DC punk and DIY has been in the past few years. Both of those people in the photo came to DC from other countries and participated in the punk culture here. 

Sem Hastro // Photo: Farrah Skeiky

So [in the photo,] the one doing the choking came from Japan was studying art at the Corcoran for four years. His band is still active, on and off, where he still lives in Japan, but he comes back to DC when they tour the States. The person singing came to DC because DC punk bands were playing in Brazil, and kind of made this super group of some of the Brazilian punks and some of the DC punks. The transient nature of DC is sometimes not the worst thing in the world. All these bands still have an impact here, these people still have an impact here. They’re still part of it, even though they’ve gone back to Brazil to Japan. They still made their mark and their contribution to it, so that’s one of my favorites. 

There’s also one crowd photo in there that I really love. My roommate is in it, and everybody’s expressions were just very sincere. Some of them are a little bit goofy. We’ve all had photos where we’re like,  “Damn, that’s what I looked like at that show? That’s the face I was making?” and there’s humor in it. Like you can’t take yourself super seriously in that moment when you look ridiculous.

OT: What do you hope those who view your exhibition gain from it?
FS: I want people to know that this is something happening right now. When people have this idea that punk and DIY is something that used to happen here, [and] when people were making important decisions about development and changing neighborhoods and changing venues and people access spaces and content, what your barrier of entry is, they’re not considering [music] because they’ve got it in their heads that it used to happen here. If it doesn’t happen anymore, they’re not making room for it. The reason that scenes and communities – two different things – can struggle in a city like DC is because they’re not getting enough support because they’re not being taken seriously.

That’s a big part of it. Smaller venues close, bigger developers come in, and the nature of it changes who’s controlling the booking of bands in the city. A lot of stuff is happening. Even smaller venues will book through Live Nation, which is so trippy to me. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the context of this, that means that a lot of local folks who have been here and are actively doing this thing [and] are left out of the conversation, because people are not doing their homework and realizing these people exist.

It’s hard, and we kind of need to shout our existence a little bit more so that we can maybe be part of this conversation, so we’re not constantly looking for a space and not having space to make things happen. We’re also like resilient folks. So if the show needs to happen in a house, our show needs to happen in a house. We’ll figure it out. We’re not gonna stop doing what we’re doing just because the new development and new DC isn’t making way for us. We’ll find a way. But wouldn’t it be cool if people knew we were here and supported our existence?

Present Tense runs through February 29 at Transformer, Wednesday through Saturday from 12-6 p.m. and by appointment. Skeiky’s work featured in the show is also up for sale. Her book Present Tense: DC Punk and DIY, Right Now will be released on February 22. For more on the exhibition and its programming, visit here.

Transformer: 1404 P St. NW, DC; www.transformerdc.org

Photo: Joan Marcus

Fleabag’s Enduring Brilliance Lies In Its One-Woman Show

If you’ve been paying even an iota of attention to mid-winter award shows, you’ve probably noticed a few newcomers starting to look familiar. While Phoebe Waller-Bridge is no newcomer to theater or television, her domination of awards shows like the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild definitely is. 

For those who have followed her Amazon show Fleabag since its first season released in 2016, long before the streaming wars took over,  you know these accolades were well deserved long before season two rolled around late last year. It took time for the show to catch on, but everyone has been abuzz about this past season, hence the plethora of awards Waller-Bridge and company have taken home. 

Maybe it’s Andrew Scott’s character Hot Priest, the aforementioned race to make the best bingeable content, or the other cast members who get much more screen time (I’m looking at you, Sian Clifford, a.k.a. Claire. Plus, If we can’t have season three, can we have a Claire spinoff?) that made larger audiences take note. But to truly understand why the show was always destined for acclaim, awards or not, we need only to look at its source material. 

Not long after season two hit Amazon Prime’s streaming service, it was announced that Waller-Bridge would be performing a final run of the one-woman play in London’s West End. The play, originally appearing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, provided the basis for season one. 

Capitalizing on Fleabag fever, NT Live broadcast and syndicated the play throughout the U.S. And post-Emmys, Globes and the like, nationally acclaimed theatres such as DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company hosted another broadcast of the last hurrah on stage on January 15, 17 and 18.

While seeing that final early-fall run would have been the stuff of dreams for even the most casual theater fan, the filmed version is still electric. It’s quite a feat to capture an audience, completely on your own, for a full hour and twenty minute span, and in this case, not even in a live setting. But, Waller-Bridge does just that, aided only by sparse voiceovers to set the scene.

It’s perhaps not even fair to say that they set the scene, although the sound design is done incredibly well. Waller-Bridge’s immaculate writing and knack for no-holds-barred, intimate dialogue serves as the magnet attaching every ounce of your attention to her. 

Even more so than when you watch the show, you’re constantly playing mental gymnastics with yourself as to whether you love or hate this character. Fully on her own on the screen, you are forced to confront the fact that warmth, humor and an immense, almost overwhelming at times, capacity for love exists in the same body of a woman who makes terrible, self destructive choices that hurt others but ultimately herself.

And that’s where the magic of the play (and by proxy, the show) lies – in its ability to confront the incongruities of human nature, particularly in female characters, on stage or screen. While I doubt the average person has behaved in manners as extreme as a few that Fleabag does, you can still most likely envision times when you exhibited similarly conflicting behaviors. 

Fleabag’s ability to make us confront – and accept – our capacity for bad and good (which is sometimes arguably even more difficult) is simply part of finding our way in the world. Waller-Bridge’s source material makes that message shine through, and is a must-see for anyone who loves the show, or just great theater. 

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

Photo: Drew Xeron

Squats and Margaritas: Fitness Blogger Erin Washington Finds Balance

Life is all about choices. Be a mom or be a writer. Do squats or drink margaritas.

But Northern Virginia based writer and fitness blogger Erin Washington has come to the conclusion that it’s not the either/or that makes life worth living; it’s having both things and finding the right balance that’s the key. 

Her first book, “Squats and Margaritas: A Journey to Finding Balance,” was released this month, and in it, Washington details her more than 20 year struggle to find that sweet spot between discipline and indulgence in her own life. She hopes that talking about her hard times will help others through their own rough patches.

“This book shares my journey through overcoming a serious eating disorder,” Washington says. “[I was] finding true happiness by living my life with balance. And it shows the reader exactly how they can do it too.”

Washington grew up in Ohio, played Division 1 soccer at the University of Dayton, and ended up in DC working for the Redskins. There, she met her future husband, former Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington. They married and have two young children.

These days, Washington juggles her roles as mom, writer and fitness blogger. Her more than 15,000 followers on Instagram look to her for inspiration.

“So many women are turning to social media to follow fitness influencers for motivation, and it’s exciting to be able to provide daily content to my followers and be able to motivate them in real time.”

She shares what works for her, and offers tips for getting back in shape after the holidays. Washington says it starts with what you’re eating.

“You can start by eating small meals more often versus having three large meals per day, and increasing your water intake. Nutrition is a big part of losing weight. Tackle that first by eating clean – no processed foods – every couple of hours, and drinking eight glasses of water each day, even when you’re not thirsty. When you start seeing results on the scale, you’ll feel more confident about getting in the gym and starting an exercise program.”

So why did she pick that title, “Squats and Margaritas?” For her, margaritas symbolize the balance she’s constantly working towards.

“A margarita, for me, is the indulgence I can’t live without. For someone else, it may be a beer or red wine. You have to allow for the thing that you can’t live without because if you know you can have that, you won’t quit on your healthy eating plan. If you cut something out of your diet that you love, you will eventually fail because you’ll be miserable. Restriction isn’t sustainable, balance is.”

Instead of restricting yourself, Washington says, you can have your indulgence as long as you find somewhere else in your diet and exercise plan to balance it out.

“Skip the bun on your chicken sandwich,” she says. “Don’t have a beer at happy hour if you’re having a margarita at dinner.”

And she offers one last tip for readers.

“The best margarita I’ve ever had is the jalapeno cucumber margarita at Matchbox. It’s the best. Trust me. I’ve done the research.”

For more on Erin Washington, visit her website www.squatsandmargaritas.com and follow her on Instagram @squatsandmargaritas. Find her new book on Amazon.

AYO on left // Photo: Jim Saah

AYO Gets Help And Opportunity At Strathmore With AIR

AYO needed help. That’s the first thing she mentions when discussing her recent inclusion as one of Strathmore’s Artist in Residence (AIR). The program is intended to help them gain opportunities to perform, create and teach workshops at the Bethesda-based arts center.

Being an independent artist while juggling an upcoming EP, singles and performances is a full time job, and if you couple that with limited resources, the life can seem daunting. For a majority of her early life, AYO never even considered the path of a full-time musician, citing that she enrolled at Howard University to study Biology. Despite this, her undeniable talent behind a microphone coupled with her messages of empowerment have made her an artist to watch in the DC area.

At 7:30 p.m. on January 15 and January 29, AYO will take the Strathmore stage with two unique concerts. Before she performs at The Mansion, we got to talk to the artist about the life of a musician, AIR and writing music that resonates.

OT: What made you want to get involved with the Strathmore Artist in Residence program?
AYO: I needed help, that’s what. I needed help.  This program keeps stretching me, and it’s crazy how much help I didn’t know I needed. Creating a strong email list is something that seems common sense, but it wasn’t to me. Being your own music director or pitching yourself to venues. It’s been a lot of things, and it’s forced me to do those things. It’s classes: It’s all six of us in the room with [AIR director Betty Scott]  and one of her assistants and aids, and a presenter. We ask as many questions as we want. For example, we had a grant writing class, and I didn’t know all this money was available for people like me.

OT: What was your reaction when you found out?
AYO:
I screamed when I found out, just YAY, you know. I was really really excited and I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing. I was just really honored, and I didn’t know what to expect.

OT: Obviously the AIR participants are all from different backgrounds, what’s it like getting to know your contemporaries from different genres? 
AYO: Yeah, it’s definitely been very encouraging to see, to feel this much support in this music thing. To know that it’s possible to know that other people are on this journey with me. It can feel very alone. Like you’re out here alone trying to make this ting work, to know that other people are working toward the same thing in other genres is really inspiring.

OT: How did your musical journey start? How did you start singing?
AYO: I lived in Nigeria, from five to 11, and my babysitter used to sing songs with me. She heard me sing, and realized oh you have a nice voice. She was also the director of our Youth choir at our church, and she would give me little solos and stuff like that. 

OT: From there, what kind of involvement did you have with music and singing?
AYO: I remember singing a lot of church music, a lot of leading worship. Didn’t really sing anything outside of church. I did a couple of talent shows. My dad listened to a lot of Sunny Adaye, Nigerian artists and afro beats and stuff like that. 

OT: You’re sound is often listed under the umbrella category of pop, so what’s your relationship like with that term?
AYO: For me, pop music happened when I was in high school. I used to go on Limewire and Frost something, all of those ripped music sites, I would go on there and type in artists. At the time I loved Maroon 5, and then I listened to Coldplay, then Plain White Ts. I loved the way those songs made me feel and how they would build. I loved Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. I was obsessed with Pink and Katy Perry. I loved big pop songs, those go to another place type pop songs. Coldplay was really good at that. I loved Journey, a lot of these songs I would hear on the show Glee, and I would go look at it from there. 

OT: Were you writing your own “big” pop songs at the time?
AYO: There’s stuff I wrote my senior year at high school, [and] I’m not saying I was a bad writer, but I definitely wrote different. My freshman year of high school, I would write melodies and I would play the piano by ear. I would just play the harmonies I heard in my head. That made songwriting slow for me, versus now, I can hear a melody in my head and build songs fairly quickly.

OT: What changed about your song writing? Was it the inclusion of the piano as a tool?
AYO: Oh absolutely, for me, it was very much hand in hand. I started playing piano when I was five, but I didn’t really do anything. The guy would try to teach me, and I would run around. In high school, my mom would make us sing worship at night, and I would play different chords on the piano. I tested into the remedial music course in college, and I took classical and jazz piano, and I practiced my butt off and I started to see a difference in my writing. It was really playing piano and theory that fueled me as a writer.

OT: Your music is extremely emotional, which makes sense because of your church backgrounds. Where you always writing songs like this?
AYO: I was a sad child. I wrote about my parents’ divorce, I wrote about being alone a lot. I wrote about liking people, crushes. So yeah. It definitely was there, I wrote about everything I experienced. I basically loved seeing people’s stories and having the chance to tell them. It was very unrefined, when I was raped in college, it took me six years to write about it, but I did. The struggle with depression and anxieties, seeing what children in Baltimore went through when I was teaching them. Despite that, I don’t want the music to sound depressed, or have that vibe. 

OT: How do you strike that balance during the construction process?
AYO: Most of the time I have a theme. If I’m feeling a certain type of way. With my single “Direction,” I remember really liking this guy and I didn’t want to be the one to approach him, I wanted him to approach me. [So], what kind of chord would make it seem like I was moving in a direction? I also thought about what artist I wanted to influence the song, so I used Earth, Wind and Fire and early Michael Jackson. [When] I wanted to write a Christmas song [“Direction”], I love Jazz music, and I wanted to use Nat King Cole, he used a lot of two-five-ones and key changes, and I figured out what sounded Christmas-y, and wrote the lyrics according to that. That’s kind of my process.

OT: You have several concerts coming up, an acoustic performance on January 15 and a larger pop show on January 29, what should people know about those showcases?
AYO: So, the first one couple of concerts is very intimate, very singer songwriter type of vibes. The second one is a very pop show, with huge pop songs, such as “Don’t Stop Believing.” My music is very uplifting and very fun, but it’ll make you think. It’ll make you think about those experiences that you have in life. That what my music will do. 

AYO’s performances on January 15 and January 29, tickets $25. For more information, click here. For links to her music, click here.

The Music Center At Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org

Photos: Ashley Habeck

Pilates Studio Empowers DC Residents For 21 Years

For 21 years, Excel Pilates DC has been a cornerstone business in DC’s Brookland neighborhood. 

What was just an empty space in 1998 transformed into a full blown Pilates studio when Lesa McLaughlin and former business partner Kerry De Vivo, talked the owner of the space into renting it to them. The two women built out the entire studio themselves, painting the walls and floors, and filling the space with reformers, wall units, chairs, barrels and more. McLaughlin calls the process “a labor of love.”

The term “Pilates” comes from Joseph Pilates, the founder of robust exercises centered around coordination, balance, strength and flexibility. 

“Empower Your Body, Empower Your Mind,” is the Excel Pilates DC motto. With a strong commitment to following the original teachings of Joseph Pilates, McLaughlin says that what makes her studio unique is that its teachings are “authentic.”

Lesa McLaughlin

McLaughlin grew up as a multi-sport athlete and pursued a dance degree at George Mason University. She went on to dance professionally, but was injured in a car accident toward the later part of her career, inspiring her to go to New York to practice and study Pilates. She then became certified in The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning in 1995, under the instruction of Joseph Pilates’ own student, Romana Kryzanowska.

Pilates was a natural transition for McLaughlin, and helped her find her way back to dance in a pain-free way. 

That is the intriguing part about the exercise method to many people. Regardless of fitness experience, McLaughlin said Pilates is for everyone.

“Pilates isn’t physical therapy, it’s exercise. It can be taught in a way that it’s for everybody,” McLaughlin says. “You don’t have to be an elite athlete or dancer to experience the work in a meaningful way.”

Having a meaningful experience with Pilates is one requirement candidates must have to go through McLaughlin’s teacher training program, along with several others. All of her teachings are classical, rooting from the original teachings of Joseph Pilates, which is one reason why Jaqueline Emanuel, an Excel Pilates DC instructor, fell in love with the studio. 

Emanuel joined the studio as a student in 2000, and knew she had the passion necessary to eventually become an instructor.

“What I like most about Pilates, and why I wanted to be a teacher, is because I believe in it so much. Anybody can do it,” Emanuel says. “It’s complete coordination of mind, body, spirit and I find that to be a unique quality in the movement.”

As the Pilates movement has grown over the years, so has Excel Pilates. In 2002, a second location opened in Annapolis Maryland, which is now owned and operated by De Vivo. Just five years ago, Alexandra Adams, a former student of Excel Pilates DC, opened another location in McLean, Virginia. These are the “sister” studios to the DC location.

Over the past 21 years of owning her own business, seeing the community that the studio has created is extremely satisfying to McLaughlin. Clients who frequented the studio when it first opened still travel today from other areas in DC to take classes, and there is something to be said for that.

“To know people are dedicated not only to the work, but to our studio, and to see people experience the work and do things they wouldn’t be able to do, that’s rewarding for me,” McLaughlin says. “That’s why I do it.”

To learn more about Excel Pilates DC and class offerings, visit www.excelpilates.com.

Excel Pilates DC: 3407 8th St. NE, DC; 202-269-3020; www.excelpilates.com