Brian Miller and Jason Maringola // Photo: Trent Johnson

Streetsense Cultivates Neighborhood Hospitality

Bars are more than the drinks they serve. Behind the beer, cocktails and spirits is the lay of the land, the setting, the vibe. It goes without saying that without good product, any establishment will falter, but a backdrop that melds with its culinary offerings will only serve to heighten the experience for the customer.

One way to achieve this elevated interior ambiance is by allowing professionals to take over, because it’s often not as simple as taking the ideas from your brain and putting them into practice.

That’s where Streetsense comes in. The company is described as an experience-focused design and strategy collective, and has continually delivered spectacular interior architecture on an international level. You’ve likely seen their decadent design around the District, including at Ivy City’s Coconut Club, Shaw’s The Dabney and Penn Quarter’s Daikaya, to name a few.

Coconut Club // Photo: Rey Lopez

One step into their Bethesda office and you’re greeted with a number of creatives all huddled up, sketches adorning drafting boards, posters lining the walls and retro knick-knacks placed throughout the space. And while the Streetsense office has a certain feel, the company’s aesthetic is as diverse as their extensive roster of clients.

“We do more than just design and we think differently because we actually understand the analytics and demographics of our areas and bring people to the table,” design director of interior architecture Jason Maringola says.

Variables for the Streetsense process include the typical timeline, budget and service, but one goal that never wavers regardless of scope is the team’s ability to connect with the client. This can mean traveling to South Carolina and visiting dive bars or hopping on an international flight to tour dojos in Japan.

“There are a number of restaurant projects I’ve worked on where we’ve gotten to travel with the clients to really dig in beyond mood boards, Pinterest and Instagram and figure out what they’re trying to draw from,” says Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture of Edit Lab at Streetsense. “We want to know how they think people get together over food and drinks, how people socialize, about how communities are oriented around those concepts.”

Daikaya // Photo Nikolas Koenig

This part of the process is what has always driven Miller and Maringola, who both grew up with a strong unwavering desire to work in architecture. As a child, Miller’s family moved around from town to town and he took note of buildings commanding attention. And for Maringola, even at an early age he’d memorize floor plans of homes his parents toured, sketch them out and offer critiques.

The collective childhood wonderment of all things hospitality design is reflected in their day-to-day, including the neverending goal of getting inside the brains of bar and restaurant owners to render artistic mockups that reach beyond visually interesting interpretations of what could be pretty or trendy. Instead, Streetsense seeks to establish a dominant thematic concept able to operate as a focal throughline. From there, they’ll determine one clear option with secondary layouts.

“I think we try to drive an approach that’s not to get us excited or the client excited, but about the people walking in the door of that business,” Miller says. “What’s going to make a really good experience for them? Is it a quiet night out? Is it a birthday?”

Maringola adds that their design isn’t really for the client. And while discussing the looks and feels of their babies, striking a balance between doing something personal and artistic is the toughest part of the process.

“Our clients are taking a risk, they’re putting a lot of money out to create a space and to trust us. The most rewarding thing for a client to tell us is that it’s better than they imagined. Most clients aren’t visual, so when they see the space and people interacting in the space, it goes from night to day. Then, they realize we really created something unique for the community,” Maringola says.

Moxy Atlanta // Photo: courtesy of Moxy

Some of the clients they work with aren’t backed by a corporate entity with limitless coffers, Miller says. When dealing with mom and pop shops, decisions are made with an understanding that livelihood could be on the line.

On the flip side, with larger clients, out of towners might require an entire education on the culture of a location or neighborhood. What makes this particular area unique? What does it need? For this, Streetsense sets up tours and activities to help the companies learn about their future clientele.

“The work our studio does [is] with extremely neighborhood driven places,” Miller says. “Clients look to us for that understanding, and some of our more exciting projects are when we get to work on a lot of places within a small area. This allows us to kind of create an ecosystem like [we created] in Blagden Alley.”

Big or small, Streetsense’s interior hospitality designs craft unique experiences for visitors. And with backdrop details such as lighting, theme and decor under their supervision, our favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bars can do what they do best; serve you.

“I always think of it as production design for a movie,” Miller says. “If that setting isn’t right, you know it’s not right.”

“But, the big thing is we could do all the beautiful design in the world but if the food sucks, service sucks, whatever we do won’t mean a thing,” Maringola says laughing. “That’s the catalyst.”

To learn about Streetsense, visit www.streetsense.com.

The Bygone // Photo: Maxine Schnitzer
Photos: Jennifer Chase

Don Ciccio & Figli: Taste the Amalfi Coast at this New Ivy City Bar

Don Ciccio & Figli’s herbal liqueurs were born in Italy’s Campania region, thousands of miles away from their new home in Ivy City. But walk into the distillery’s new Bar Sirenis, and you’ll be awash in the colors of their Italian seaside home.

“We wanted to do something that would bring people to the Amalfi Coast,” says Don Ciccio’s owner and master blender Francesco Amodeo, who revitalized and dusted off his family brand in 2012 and started reproducing his decades-old recipes (some go back to the 19th century) in one of DC’s hippest neighborhoods.

Features of Bar Sirenis include white- and azure-patterned tiles, turquoise chairs, and deep blue walls offset by the white bar top and tables. And then there’s the lines of colorful bottles waiting to be savored. For Amodeo, the bar’s design evokes a morning sunset in his childhood home, albeit with the sleek industrial touches expected of an urban distillery.

The bar opened this April as part of the company’s new production distillery, pouring a variety of products from bitter amari of roots and spices to fruit and citrus creations made with ingredients like limoncello, prickly pear and mandarin orange.

Guests are recommended to start with a complimentary tour and tasting, including a rundown on the entire lineup of spirits on a thermometer from bitter to sweet. The next step is cocktail exploration in Bar Sirenis, where bartenders educate consumers and guide them through the best ways to incorporate Don Ciccio & Figli’s unique spirits into drinks.

“We wanted to capture people sitting down and watching the bartender make [the cocktail], asking questions about the application of it and really taste it in person,” Amodeo continues.

The menu is anchored around three classic Italian refreshments: the spritz, the negroni and the Americano. Working from those bases, guests can choose the bitter liqueur they enjoy the most from the tour and tasting and use that as the star of their drink. Bartenders on staff will then adjust the vermouth, other ingredients and ratios for the perfect flavor profile. Amaro delle Sirene, for example, typically calls for a Spanish dry vermouth, while Luna amaro works best with a traditional Italian red vermouth.

Hopefully, visitors will leave a little more familiar with this category of spirits, empowered to mix up some creations at their home bar.

As an added bonus, the Ivy City location is ideal for visiting other DC distillers and brewers. It’s across the street from One Eight Distilling, a short walk away from Atlas Brew Works, Republic Restoratives, New Columbia Distillers and City Winery.

“We really wanted to give our guests and our longtime regulars something that’s really beautiful and they can enjoy even more,” Amodeo notes.

Visit www.donciccioefigli.com for current tour times and bar hours.

Don Ciccio & Figli and Bar Sirenis: 1907 Fairview Ave. NE, DC; 202-957-7792, www.donciccioefigli.com

Photo: courtesy of Danielle Sauter

Insta Fashion In The District

DC’s sense of style has improved a ton over the last decade. While there are still those confined to the rigid rules of offices – meaning pencil skirts and blazers, and not always in the best fit – a lot of locals have begun to display their creative side through garments and fabrics. Though some of this is just an organic change in mindset, there have been tastemakers in the District using their own sense of style to lead the charge. We talked to a few of the many stylish people in the city and asked about the life of an influencer, where DC’s trending and the feedback of their Insta followers.

Photo: courtesy of Cory Luckett

The Fashionable Man
Cory Luckett

On Tap: When did you start your blog? What sparked that decision, particularly with DC in mind?
Cory Luckett: I probably started five years ago, and the reason why I started was because my aunt told me I should. My aunt was talking to me about my interests, and how I enjoy clothes. One day, she was like, “You should start a blog,” and I immediately figured it was a good point.

OT: How do you differentiate between things you’re sponsoring and things you just enjoy?
CL:
I try not to differentiate at all. I try to keep everything as organic as possible. I try to make it appear to the outside audience like everything is authentic, because ultimately it is. I’m not going to take a sponsorship I’m not going to wear from a company I don’t like. Just because I got free shoes, it doesn’t mean I’m going to post about [them]. If there’s shoes that I’m getting paid to promote that I really like, and if there’s shoes that I bought at a boutique that I really enjoy, the posts for those are going to be very similar. I’ll shout out both companies. I want to show that I like these things, and I always try to mix it up.

OT: How much research do you do before putting together outfits?
CL:
I don’t do much. I dress through observation, and my style is based on things that I like that I see people wearing. It’s really just my personal sense of style.

Follow Luckett on Instagram @the_fashionable_man and check out his blog at www.thefashionableman.com.

Photo: Pablo Reyes

District of Chic
Elisabeth Pendergrass

On Tap: How would you describe DC fashion?
Elisabeth Pendergrass:
I’ve always thought of it as a melting pot, in a way. There are a lot of international people that have moved here, and it’s a transient city so you get influences of Southern style and New England preppiness and an urban element as well. It depends on where you are, but it’s not like New York because you just don’t have the [same amount] of people. It’s fairly diverse and it’s definitely more than just suits.

OT: What kind of feedback have you gotten since embarking on this journey?
EP:
At the beginning, there was a little bit more negative feedback because you’re putting yourself out there, [but] nothing that was ever enough to make me feel like I made a mistake. I’ve definitely discovered this supportive community through it and met some incredible, creative people through the years. There’s definitely been great feedback from readers, and it’s always really encouraging.

OT: Do you go through waves of trends?
EP:
I’m just always looking at trends. If it’s a beauty or fashion trend, I put a lot of work into it. The most intensive work I do that people don’t see is photo editing in [Adobe] Lightroom. That’s what I spend the most time on. That, and writing content. I try to be very thoughtful.

Follow Pendergrass on Instagram @districtofchic and readher blog at www.districtofchic.com.

Photo: courtesy of Danielle Sauter

Blonde in the District
Danielle Sauter

On Tap: How did Blonde in the District begin?
Danielle Sauter:
I started Blonde in the District in 2014 as a creative outlet with the goal to encourage women to look at style as a tool to boost self-confidence as it had done for me.

OT: What are some things about DC’s fashion scene you’ve noticed since starting your blog?
DS:
DC fashion has come a long way from when I started my blog. I’m seeing more people having fun with what they wear – as it should be – and breaking outside of the whole DC stigma of professional wear. I used to think DC style was stuffy, but I’m happy to see it changing. I think DC style influencers have had a huge impact in shaping DC’s fashion scene for the better.

OT: How much experimentation do you go through when piecing together outfits?
DS:
I do love to experiment with trends, but I won’t wear something just because it’s on trend if I don’t love it. I spend a lot of time putting together outfits, especially if it’s for a styled shoot. I always put thought into what I wear each day. You never know who you’re going to run into, so it’s best to be prepared.

Follow Sauter @blonde_inthedistrict and check out her blog at www.blondeinthedistrict.com.

Photo: courtesy of Anchyi Wei

Anchyi Adorned
Anchyi Wei

On Tap: What inspired you to start displaying your style?
Anchyi Wei:
I’ve always had people stopping me to ask about my outfits, but what really kicked this off was my coworkers taking photos of what I wore to work every day and putting them on a Tumblr [account] called “Anchyi at Work.” After a couple years, and with much encouragement from local bloggers, I started to transition that into my own blog [and] Instagram.

OT: How much does the work culture of DC play into its fashion scene?
AW:
It is still conservative and practical overall due to the nature of most of our workplaces. Plenty of people love what I wear but say they can’t get away with it on a daily basis. I work as a contractor in a federal agency, and I definitely stand out. If we collectively all take “workwear” to another level and incorporate more creativity, I don’t see why it can’t become the norm.

OT: What’s your favorite part of keeping up with the fashion world?
AW:
Putting together outfits is the most fun part of the whole process of content creation. I generally don’t do too much research but already have an idea for styling based on trend reports, street style and runway images I’ve came across. If I’m stuck about an item, I’ll Google “street style” to get some ideas.

Follow Anchyi Wei on Instagram @anchyi and read her blog at www.anchyiadorned.com.

A Costume Conversation with Trove Founder Kelly Carnes

Photo: Caitlin Beam

“Halloween doesn’t hold the monopoly on dressing up.” DC-based Kelly Carnes, founder of the new virtual store Trove Costumes, is extremely enthusiastic about accurate costumes. Her new e-market is set to launch this month and will offer people a vast database of rentals, with elaborate costumes for anything from themed parties to cosplay-friendly conventions. In the lead-up to the store’s opening, we chatted with Carnes about how there’s no excuse not to wear costumes, how their staying power goes beyond October 31 and how pop culture fashion affects her everyday wear.

On Tap: What made you want to start Trove Costumes?
Kelly Carnes: I think the power of play is transformative and Trove will make costumes accessible to everyone. People can make money renting out their own costumes or save money by renting other people’s costumes, giving them greater access to this creative, empowering medium.

OT: What would you tell people that may be skeptical about dressing up for a convention or movie premiere?
KC: Costumes are empowering. One of the beautiful things about the cosplay community is how inclusive it is. Every kind of body and ability can be celebrated. There’s particularly strong representation by cosplayers of different ability, in part because assuming the qualities of a character you admire and respect can make you feel more powerful.

OT: How often do wardrobes from pop culture inspire your personal style on a day-to-day basis?
KC: A lot. I’m wearing Deadpool leggings right now! I find so much creative expression in curating and donning elaborate costumes to bring a character to life that to then put on “muggle clothes,” as we say, makes me feel like Superman putting my Clark Kent glasses back on. I don’t feel fully myself. Living this costume lifestyle has made me far more bold in my style choices.

OT: What are some of the elaborate costumes people can look forward to on Trove?
KC: It will serve as a platform for people to exchange directly with each other. But as its founder and best customer, I will certainly be renting out my extensive wardrobe on Trove! I have a list of almost 300 costumes and accessories I’ll be listing in my wardrobe, which include some of my most valuable and elaborate pieces.

For more information on Trove Costumes, visit www.trovecostumes.com.

Photo: courtesy of Bold Rock

Summer of Seltzer: Introducing the Fruity Flavors of Bold Rock’s Hard Seltzer

Virginia’s favorite cider brand is hitting us with a whole new level of refreshing. Bold Rock is releasing their new hard seltzer, delivering a clean, effervescent taste with all-natural ingredients at a mere 82 calories per can with a 4 percent ABV. Now if that isn’t great news for this summer of hard seltzer, I’m not sure what is.

Bold Rock’s release includes two flavors, grapefruit and cucumber melon, and they’re already working on phase two with a handful of more flavors heading into 2020. We asked Bold Rock Director of New Business Development Lindsay Dorrier about the inspiration behind the simple, clean, summer-themed label design.

“We wanted to note the healthfulness and create something that looked light and refreshing to reflect the contents of the can,” Dorrier says.

Virginians and Washingtonians alike have reached for the perfect sweetness of a Bold Rock Hard Cider where they can find it in local bars and restaurants, but the seltzer packs crispness and delight like none of their other ciders have.

The very first thing you’re going to notice is that 1 gram of sugar per serving, which makes a huge difference,” says head cider maker Ian Niblock. “Next, you’re going to notice how light and refreshing it is, and without having that sugar, it’s a totally different apple blend. It’s not going to be super acidic. It’s really well-balanced and super smooth.”

Toward the end of last summer, the Bold Rock team saw an opportunity to craft something innovative in the seltzer space. 

“We’re the only seltzer on the market, as far as I know, that gets the alcohol from apple and not a fermented sugar solution or something like that,” Niblock explains. “We had the added challenge of trying to make it clear and white and not look and taste like cider. That product development took a lot of time and was ultimately really rewarding.”

After working on it for 10 months, Dorrier is proud and excited to debut the new taste this summer.

“You’ve never tasted a cleaner finish than what you get with the seltzer, which is a testament to the quality of ingredients that we’re using and the way we’ve been able to approach the innovation process,” he says. “Side by side with some of the other options out there, there’s really no comparison because of how clean and superior our finish is.”

Whether hard seltzer is just a trend or the new normal, it’s definitely captured the hearts of non-beer drinkers and health-conscious consumers.

“The health stats are resonating both with younger and older consumers,” Dorrier says. “We’re hopeful that our product will place with people that care about what’s put into their bodies [and] want something low cal, low sugar, [and] made with all-natural ingredients [and] real fruit as the foundation.”

The grapefruit and cucumber melon flavors of Bold Rock Hard Seltzer will be available in local grocery chains across Northern Virginia starting June 10 with plans to expand to independent retailers in the District soon.

For more information, visit www.boldrock.com.

Photo: Deb Lindsay

Crafty Cocktails

It’s not always what’s on the inside that counts, and these craft cocktails are living proof. Whether it be ornately etched glassware, literary inspiration or food accompanying the rims of the glass, these drinks provide something both enjoyable and tasty to imbibers.B

Photo: courtesy of Dirty Habit

Black Oleander at Dirty Habit

The Ingredients: Tanqueray Gin, Bols Genever, acai, blackberry, fromager ash, citrus earl grey foam
The Design: Flowers, foam and fun color – this summer creation from Dirty Habit’s Drew Hairston is a triple threat of delicate design elements rolled into one refreshing drink. Plus, the intricate etching on the glass provide a perfect home to all of its refreshing ingredients. 555 8th St. NW, DC; www.dirtyhabitdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Truxton Inn

The BFG at Truxton inn

The Ingredients: Infused Brooklyn gin, cucumber, mint, peppercorn, Q tonic
The Design: Inspired by Roahd Dahl’s book of the same name about a big friendly giant, this drink is served in a goblet that gives you a full view of the peppercorn, herbs and citrus that color this literary cocktail. Plus, you can customize the liquor to mixer ratio by adding your desired amount of Q tonic. 251 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.truxtoninndc.com

Photo: courtesy of The Mirror

Classic Daiquiri at The Mirror

The Ingredients: Light rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup
The Design: Jeff Coles, The Mirror’s co-owner and head barkeep, explains that this classic cocktail is served in a sherbet glass, providing an example of Bohemian crystal from the Checz Republic. The delicate glass adds a twist of elegance to any drinking experience with a style of etching called Queen’s Lace and a beautiful gold rim. 1314 K St. NW, DC; www.themirrordc.com

Photo: courtesy of Bourbon Steak

Fireside Chat at Bourbon Steak

The Ingredients: High West Campfire, English Breakfast Tea, walnut bitters
The Design: This smoky cocktail combination is both indulgent and refreshing, but what really sets it apart is the delivery – expect the drink to be hand-delivered to you tableside in a custom barrel. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.fourseasons.com/washington/dining/restaurants/bourbon_steak/

Photo: Deb Lindsay

Bloody Mary + Bloody Maria at El Bebe

The Ingredients: Three Olives vodka (Bloody Mary), Jose Cuervo Especial silver (Bloody Maria), house made bloody mary mix, fresh lime juice, Bebe spicy rim
The Design: El Bebe is launching two variants of the boozy breakfast classic to accompany their new brunch program. While one features tequila and the other vodka, both are served in tall, embossed glasses and flanked by none other than a mini quesadilla. 99 M St. SE, DC, Ste. 120
www.el-bebe.com

Maps Glover // Photo: Timoteo Murphy

A Day In The Life With DC Artists Making Social Impact

Living in the DMV spoils us.

We have free access to world-class art at nearly every turn. But beyond its revered and iconic collections, the District is also home to an incredible array of artists working in experimental forms, crossing disciplines, and breaking down boundaries between tradition, style, design, politics and social justice. These artists are creating and chronicling the cultural landscape of DC today. They are not just leaving their mark on the city, but are also asking us to examine our own place in it – in a multitude of unexpected ways.

Consider Northern Virginia native JD Deardourff, with works installed everywhere from overpasses to the bottom of a pool, who is helping to literally repaint the face of the city. Or Xena Ni, a designer who describes her interactive installations as “civic journalism storytelling physical sculpture lawsuit art,” and that’s in addition to her line of feminist superhero underwear. Or a performance by Maps Glover, which may as well be a portal into a whole other experience of the world you think you inhabit.

While their mediums and inspirations vary, their commitment to making a social impact will never go out of style.

Photo: courtesy of JD Deardourff

JD DEARDOURFF

On Tap: There is sometimes tension around the term “street artist” and what it means to different people. Do you identify as a street artist?
JD Deardourff: I probably would just say artist. The way I got into it was primarily as a screenprinter –  that’s sort of my go-to art form – and one of the cool things about it is a rich tradition of wheatpasting and dissemination of imagery, either giving it away or pasting it in alleys or on light boxes. I was doing it before I was doing more “corporate stuff.” I’m an artist who does screenprints, murals, paintings and collages.

OT: When you’re getting ready to start a new project, what are the main factors that you consider and what motivates your creative process? What draws you toward a new project?
JD:
I like to think of it as a “one for them, one for me” situation. Some of the work I get to do pays for me to do other projects for free. Murals and commissions are probably half the time. The other half of the time is some personal projects I’ve been working on. I had a show last year where I sold all of the artwork I had and it was also the release of my first zine, Uncanny Fantastic. It’s basically a catalog of all of the personal art that I’ve done in comic book form. I’m working on volume two of that zine, so making a new body of work, which will correspond to the pages of the zine I’m going to drop in September.

OT: It seems like your career has progressed pretty quickly. Does it have to do with DC?
JD:
It feels like I planted a shitload of seeds like five years ago and the way that they’ve built up is that they all bloomed simultaneously. For example, conversations for one mural project I’ve been working on near Hotel Hive started in 2016. Sometimes, there’ll be something that’s like two years in production and that will coincide with something where I get an email the week before.

OT: What are some of your favorite projects?
JD:
I love doing shows. Last year, a highlight was a solo show I did with CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery at Union Market. And then I’m super proud of Uncanny Fantastic. The recycling truck for the DC DPW [Depart of Public Works] has my artwork on it. This pool in Silver Spring is super cool. It’s in a building call Central. When the art direction is solid, those murals look the best.


JD CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
My family (especially my eight-year-old nephew), my genius girlfriend Kelly + my friends, but mostly just my dog Bruce
Spotify, live shows + music (The Ramones, The Clash, classic rock)
Comic books 
Actually making artwork
Pop’s SeaBar
My little field notes book


OT: Do you think that mural arts are rivaling the “high art” that DC is known for?
JD:
I think definitely it’s one of those things where this art form has gained momentum. More and more people are commissioning murals. Initially, there were more bar and restaurant-type clients and now I think it’s cool to get, for example, law firm types interested in that kind of vibe. You get more of a critical mass. I don’t know if it’s a bubble sort of situation, but it’s definitely on the uptick.

OT: How do you feel that impacts both the physical and cultural landscapes of the city?
JD:
I think it’s good. For instance, Pow! Wow! just happened in NoMa and it’s is super cool in terms of the murals making that neighborhood what it is. It’s all the flavor. I understand some people might call it art-washing or make arguments that it can be bad for the community, but I don’t feel that way. And I think those battles are kind of over. It’s creating a cool flavor that wasn’t there 15 or 20 years ago.

Find Deardourff on the web at www.deardourff.com and on Instagram @jddeardourff.

Photo: Peter Gonzalez

XENA NI

On Tap: What brought you to DC and the art space that you exist in now?
Xena Ni:
I had just finished my fellowship at Code for America and was leaving Oakland where I was living. I was just sitting on the train and intentions for the next year popped into my brain. I wanted to make weird art with people. I was keeping an eye out for that when I moved to DC. I’d been assured by one of my coworkers that there were people doing weird things in DC.

OT: And did you find them?
XN:
Yes! I’m a designer and I’ve always been adjacent to art. But it was really coming to DC and finding my dream job that gave me mental space to take my art practice more seriously. An organization that’s been really great in DC has been The Sanctuaries. I participated in one of their fellowship programs. We were learning more about how art can respond to events like protests, and also to think more about how to work with communities in a respectful way.

OT: Do you feel like the people or places or themes or issues that you’ve encountered here have guided the work or the projects that you’ve chosen in a specific way artistically?
XN:
I have met a lot more working artists or artists who are taking their practice seriously, and realized how important it is to just know and be friends with other artists who are going through the grind. Collaborations have been so energizing.


XENA CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
The archive (a daily writing ritual)
My IUD (affordable healthcare and reproductive freedom make so much possible)
A clunky, squeaky, dependable Raleigh Sprite bike
Public parks (Kalorama Park, Kingman Island, Banneker)
Overflowing cart of art supplies


OT: What are a few projects you’ve worked on in the past couple of years that really stand out to you?
XN:
One that’s been really top of mind: the most recent iteration of it is called “Transaction Denied” and it is a room-sized, immersive multimedia installation, which showed at UMBRELLA in April. It tells the story of what it takes to apply for food stamps in DC and what happens when the government spends a lot of money to make the system work, but there’s not a lot of accountability and the government and the vendors dispute responsibility and as a result, thousands of people in DC either lose their benefits or face unusually long delays that are also really damaging.

OT: What did that look like, visually?
XN:
It takes abstract oppressing social issues and creates interactive, immersive big pieces to bring attention. I also wanted people to do something. People left their reactions, or their own stories on the walls of the exhibit.

OT: Where will the installation go next?
XN:
That installation is evolving. My co-artist Mollie Ruskin and I learned about a lawsuit a collection of legal aid organizations had brought against the city to seek justice for all the people who had lost their benefits or faced delays. We are now working with one of the main organizations that brought the suit, Bread for the City, and they are going to install it temporarily in their space.

OT: Any other notable projects?
XN:
I also like traditional, representational art. [This project] started off with not having any photographs of what my older relatives looked like when they were young because they couldn’t afford photography or they had to destroy when the Communists took over, and I just started drawing what I thought my grandmother looked like when she was my age. It felt like I was reclaiming my history and also underscoring that I could never actually access that history. It has morphed into this less personal project, which is drawing possible portraits from the future.

OT: How do you draw portraits from the future?
XN:
It’s like time travel in portraiture. It’s work that usually happens one-on-one with someone interested in orienting. It’s partially like a guided meditation [or] playful interview where I transport people to a scene from their possible future life. What I’ve really enjoyed about it is both what people come up with and their emotional reactions. Usually someone cries.

Follow Ni on Instagram @msknee and check out www.averyseriousdesigner.com.

Photo: Ashley Llanes

MAPS GLOVER

On Tap: You do a lot of performance art, as well as working within more traditional mediums. What drives you creatively?
Maps Glover:
DC has this electric energy that forces you to address social issues on a daily basis, and so that’s really what has kept me here and fueled my practice. A lot of my work really is a commentary about social dynamics. Where are we going? What are we trying to understand?

OT: Is that why you came back to DC?
MG:
Yes. I started making art in college and transitioned into doing things in New York. Coming back home, I wanted to see what I could contribute to this scene. There weren’t a lot of artists that were doing performance and I really wanted to dive into understanding what that felt like in DC. I felt like DC was a really good space to do it because it’s the intersection of politics and anti-establishment.

OT: When you’re approaching a new project, what are the most important factors?
MG:
Sometimes it’s a matter of what is fueling me at the time. Sometimes it’s something I feel really passionate about, or sometimes I have personal relationships with the subject, whether it be police violence or some of the work that really feels like an introspective experience of me analyzing my internal dialogue through visual interpretation. As an artist, I personally feel like it’s our responsibility to be social commentators. There are issues that may come up that we may not be fully familiar with, but to creatively explore those topics, I think that artists should try to be more fearless in taking on different spaces that don’t necessarily relate to them.

OT: In those instances, how do you get to the point of understanding something well enough to create something that you feel can open the dialogue?
MG:
I think that you should educate yourself first and foremost. At the same time, the artistic process is a learning one. It’s kind of like this experimental method and then it becomes this conversation of how does this connect to the larger picture?


MAPS CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
My sketchbook
Micron pens
Talenti mint gelato
Hugs from my very special friend
My mom’s cooking (tries to get down to her house every other week to grab a plate of food)


OT: There are times when it must be a struggle between letting this process happen and also being aware of what it means to people once you put it out there.
MG:
That happens all the time, honestly. I’m always looking for the experience that I’m having to be real and true to myself and then I just see other people witnessing that – the authentic experience that I have within myself. For example, I did an exhibition at the Transformer gallery back in October and I really wanted to create a space that was a response to the spiritual connection that I was really beginning to have a dialogue about in my work.

OT: How did you do that within the bounds of a gallery?
MG:
We had six weeks with each artist. We transformed Transformer. My religious background is Christian, so I was eventually crucified within the center of the stage. I had a friend who grew up in a cult, so she did a kind of ritual ceremony. I had a friend create a website live and DJ at the same time. It just had so many layers, and that is why I felt like the piece was successful.

OT: DC is in an interesting place in terms of what it does and doesn’t support in the arts. What do you think that looks like in terms of opportunities right now?
MG:
We need safe spaces for artists to be able to live and support themselves in a city that is continuously changing. If you don’t incorporate or consider the creatives who are part of the fabric of why people even come to this city, then what’s the point? The amount of channels and space for artists of all kinds to show is just very limited and everyone is scratching for the same resources. To get to the higher levels of creativity, people leave the city.

Learn more about Glover at www.acreativedc.com/maps-glover and follow him on Instagram @mapsglover.

Photo: Russ Rowland

Studio Theatre Unveils SHOWROOM For Summer

The summer season brings more than high temperatures to Studio Theatre. Local theatergoers can escape the waves of heat in shorts and sunglasses, ditching suits and cufflinks in Studio’s casual, four-stage space. To mirror DC’s slow season in the real world, Studio’s productions during this time of year are typically a little easier and breezier than standard theatrical fare.

Though the seasonal programing is always a little more laidback in summer, 2019 brings a sizzling new addition to Studio’s offerings: SHOWROOM. The curated lineup is set to feature one-man shows, LGBTQ performances and different kinds of karaoke.

“The idea of doing something a little more dressed down has been part of our DNA,” says David Muse, Studio Theatre’s creative director.

The first production, one-man show Every Brilliant Thing,begins on June 19, kicking off the series that includes six different pieces ranging from one-night shows like Mortified on July 13 to the extended run of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns from July 9 to 28.

The headlining productions both tackle weighty topics: Every Brilliant Thing offers a compassionate view of depression, and Bright Colors and Bold Patterns highlights assimilation and liberation, delivered by the worst wedding guest of all time.

“[SHOWROOM] is another way to do one-offs, so I thought we’d combine the two ideas in one: to continue to do something summertime festival-spirited, but instead of one performance with bells and whistles, to do a series of things,” Muse continues.

Aside from the variety SHOWROOM is prepared to offer, Studio creatives are currently in the process of transforming the Milton stage into that of laidback club including tabled seating, a bar and a vibrant aesthetic.

“We talked about the big idea, and how it should feel different than our regular season,” says Debra Booth, Studio’s director of design. “We decided they deserved a different type of space and different form of thinking because it’s not regular fare.”

Booth says the house normally requires little to no modifications, noting that keeping it clean is typically priority. However, SHOWROOM has required a complete overhaul including the removal of fixed seating to create a more open area.

“We’re creating a decking structure that turns every two rows into one,” Muse says. “On the slightly larger semi-circle, we can place a cafe and chairs. It will feel more like a hangout: part bar, part SHOWROOM space.”

Muse says SHOWROOM is another example of how diverse theatre can be. Yes, there is a time and place to wear button-downs, blazers and dress shoes, but this series isn’t meant to attract only one type of crowd.

“People associate Studio with high-stakes drama and high production value, and this is trying to set a different expectation,” Muse says. “What you’re coming to see is not setting out to be great drama with a capital D, which is not to say that there’s not terrific acting and writing. But it’s, ‘Hey, want to drop in during the summer and have a few drinks and see a show? Come here.’”

Though SHOWROOM doesn’t carry the literal moniker of “festival,” Muse and Booth feel it’s important to incentivize audiences to check out multiple productions throughout the series.

“I think the festival feeling is quite important to our thinking,”
Muse says. “The spirit is so terrific. I could see a show that’s shorter, and likely, before or after [enjoy a drink at the bar]. I can do that not just once, but several times. I think the prospect of offering that to our audience got us excited.”

And while SHOWROOM will have a distinct look and feel, the Milton stage itself will provide surprises.

“There are a couple shows that really have a real set of some sort,” Booth says. “On the other hand, some won’t have very much. It’ll change quite a bit from show to show.”

To truly accomplish this sensation, Studio put together a diverse range of productions with direct audience interaction like Spokaoke, a karaoke bar-themed show with speeches supplanting songs.

“This is the first time we’ve done this in one sense,” Muse says. “This sort of breaks the mold in what people imagine a theatre experience to be. In all of that, having some sense of show diversity, we wanted to be purposefully wide-ranging.”

Studio Theatre’s SHOWROOM performance series kicks off on Wednesday, June 19 with Every Brilliant Thing and concludes on Sunday, July 28 with the final showing of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns. Tickets to the two headlining productions are $45-$55.

For information on the full lineup including tickets and times, visit www.studiotheatre.org.

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


Photo: Stan Barouh

Every Brilliant Thing’s Alexander Strain

Studio Theatre’s SHOWROOM kicks off on June 19 with one-man show Every Brilliant Thing, starring Alexander Strain. Fresh off its run at Olney Theatre Center, the heartfelt story from playwrights Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe comes to Studio with director Jason Loewith at the helm. The play focuses on a little boy whose mother commits suicide when he’s seven years old. Growing up, he makes a list of things in life worth living for – everything from ice cream to the alphabet – as a coping mechanism. The hilarious work takes a realistic, compassionate look at depression and the human condition. As the lone man on stage, we spoke with Strain about his relationship with the character, some of the major themes and the importance of a responsive audience.

On Tap: What initially drew you to this role?
Alexander Strain: I had taken a step back from working in theatre. I had gone to grad school and gotten a degree in psychology, and in that time, I was very invested in what I was learning. I missed theatre, but I wanted it to be something I could be invested in. I thought this play was incredibly apropos with things I was learning, and I just thought it was an amazing piece.

OT: The play is about depression, but the synopsis almost posits a pretty positive way of looking at life. Was it difficult to get into the mindset of this character?
AS: It’s definitely a challenge. It’s dealing with some very difficult subject matter and dealing with it honestly. At the same time, the positivity of it comes from depression and mental illness in general as something that so many people experience, but don’t talk about. Because I was going through a psychology program and developing empathy for what this experience is, it was a bit easier for me to get into what the message of this piece [is]. I think one of the key messages of the piece is depression and mental illness in general is not something that can be brushed away by looking at the bright side. That isn’t how depression works.

OT: What are some of the hardest parts of bringing this person to life? What aspects of his mindset you actively relate to?
AS: I think one of the hardest parts is being by myself, because it involves so much audience reaction. There’s a lot of room in there for improvisation and the hardest part is to trust that it’s going to work. You need the audience to come on that journey with you. I had a lot of trepidation about this when I first started the piece, but we found that there wasn’t an audience that rejected it. For some reason, the piece and the energy I’m bringing to it really invited people in, and after that, it was easier to go on that journey.

OT: You’ve been performing as this character for some time now. Has it gotten easier to inhabit this space or more difficult?
AS: It’s easier. On paper, when you look at the show and what it asks of the performer, it seems daunting and like there’s no way it could work. It deals with very heavy topics and requires interaction and participation. There’s prominent comedic elements, and it seems like it wouldn’t work. Yet, the structure and gentleness of the piece, and the sense that it’s kind of a collective conversation as opposed to a performance piece – you realize it’s a very inviting space.

See Every Brilliant Thing as part of Studio Theatre’s SHOWROOM series from Wednesday, June 19 through Sunday, July 7. Tickets are $45-$55. Learn more at www.studiotheatre.org.

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

Photo: courtesy of Casa Ruby

Some Place To Lay Your Head: DC’s A Beacon of Hope For The Transgender Community

It all starts with family.

Because without support at home, transgender people can find themselves spiraling, according to Earline Budd, a transgender woman of color who has been an activist in the DC transgender community since the 1990s.

“One of the most outstanding issues we [trans people] face is estrangement from family,” she says. “Then housing becomes an issue because you’re homeless and you have to survive, which was my case at age 13.”

Budd says because she faced homelessness at such a young age, she found herself in and out of the criminal justice system and doing sex work just to survive.

“The struggle when I got out [of jail] was still not having any housing and having to grow up on the street,” she says. “In my case, I contracted HIV.”

The 60-year-old activist says she’s heard stories like hers from younger transgender people throughout her work with various LGBTQ+ support organizations. Not having a support system, especially at a young age, is the catalyst for many of the other adversities transgender people face throughout their lives.

Because once she was put out on the street, Budd had limited options as a trans woman of color, especially back in the 1970s. But things are different now, according to Budd there are more places transgender people can turn to when they’re in need. DC’s own Casa Ruby is one such place.

Casa Ruby is the “only LGBTQ+ bilingual and multicultural organization in the metropolitan Washington, DC area” that provides an array of services including housing, health and social programs to help LGBTQ+ individuals hurdle any barriers they may be facing at the time, according to its website.

Thirty years ago, Ruby Corado, a transgender Latina immigrant, arrived in DC and realized there were no services available to support her needs. This led to the eventual formation of Casa Ruby, Inc. followed by the opening of the first Casa Ruby Center in June 2012.

“Today, Casa Ruby employs almost 50 people [and] provides more than 30,000 social and human services to more than 6,000 people each year,” according to the organization’s website.

Holly Goldmann, director of external affairs at Casa Ruby, agrees with Budd in that many of the plights transgender people experience “start at home,” especially for transgender women of color. But that’s where Casa Ruby comes in.

“We’re there to provide the most vulnerable population in the city with life skills to save their lives, make sure they’re not dismissed and give them a family,” Goldmann says. “We want to make sure they’re always welcome – not just at Casa Ruby, but in the world.”

Goldmann says Corado plans to establish a second wellness center under the Casa Ruby name in Southeast DC, with the tentative opening date scheduled for some time in June. Budd reveals she was ecstatic for this news and commends Corado for all of her service to the transgender community over the years.

“Ruby has been absolutely phenomenal when it comes to stepping up to the plate,” Budd says. “She’s seen as a kind ear and someone who has been very important in our community.”

Along with Casa Ruby and other organizations focused on trans rights in the District, Budd says DC in particular serves as a beacon of hope for transgender people because of its policies addressing gender identity.

“DC is probably one of the most liberal places where you can come and be your authentic self,” she says. “It’s a leader because of all the things that have been put in place for transgenders.”

In 2014, then DC Mayor Vincent Gray announced that public and private health insurance plans regulated by the DC government were required to cover transition-related care. But transgender rights in the DC justice system were acknowledged long before Gray made his declaration.

Since 2009, the District has permitted transgender inmates to be placed according to their gender identity, and to begin hormone therapy while in custody. Peter Nickles, who served as DC’s attorney general in 2009, wrote in a statement that “these provisions, along with other aspects of policy, will help to ensure that the rights of transgender prisoners are respected and that their unique needs are accommodated, to the extent practicable, while they are incarcerated.”

Budd says this policy, along with gender transition health insurance coverage, makes DC a place where transgender people feel more heard and accepted.

“We’re probably one of the first places in the country where the Department of Corrections developed a policy for trans inmates,” she says. “That’s unheard of in a lot of other places.”

Charlotte Clymer, a transgender woman activist for the Human Rights Campaign, says while she feels lucky to live in DC because of how the city’s police department has improved its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, there are still shortcomings.

“There is a lack of understanding about LGBTQ+ people and the obstacles we face, so when police interact with us, they are not always passionate or sympathetic,” Clymer says.

While there is still work to be done, there is also a strong movement within the city to address these misunderstandings. The Capital Pride Alliance is one of several DC organizations dedicated to enlightening people about the barriers faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

At the annual Capital Trans Pride celebration on May 18 and 19, Capital Pride Alliance Board Member Ian Brown says the nonprofit held workshops on issues faced by the trans community in order to make them more visible.

“When you’re able to put a face with an issue, it becomes human,” he says. “You can no longer ignore it. That’s something I think is missing in the larger context of policy and national change. Our visibility is very important.”

The Capital Pride Alliance is holding its annual Capital Pride Celebration from May 31 to June 9 at locations all over the District. This year, the theme is “shhhOUT” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in New York City which served as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement.

Brown says while this year’s theme largely has to do with acknowledging this important moment in the history of LGBTQ+ rights, it also makes a statement.

“We wanted to acknowledge the forces that continue to try to silence our community,” he continues.  “In being about to shout, we’re definitely giving a shout-out to our past and how we’re here now proudly speaking out in the present day.”

Budd, who will serve as a grand marshal at the Capital Pride Celebration, says she is honored for the chance to tell her story through this appointment and hopes she can inspire more transgender people to follow in her footsteps as an activist.

“I do it because I’ve been there and I believe someone has to be a mentor and be there for those who are coming through now,” she says. “But it’s not easy [to be an activist] when you don’t have some place to lay your head.”

Celebrate Capital Pride from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 9 around the District. Learn more at www.capitalpride.org.

Capital Pride Alliance: 2000 14th St. NW, DC; www.capitalpride.org
Casa Ruby: 7530 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.casaruby.org

Photo: Kara Donnelly

DC’s Bacchae on the Expansiveness of Punk

I think it’s time this asshole knew // I do not exist for you

These two lines from Bacchae’s song “Read” perfectly capture the DC punk band’s ethos. Whether it’s calling out toxic masculinity on this track from their 2018 self-titled EP or wrestling with not meeting societal expectations of adult success on their new single “Everything Ugly” – both recorded on Philly-based Get Better Records – they’re direct, they’re fierce and they’re not taking any shit.

I quickly learn this over a heaping plate of nachos with Bacchae (pronounced “Bock-Eye”) at Wicked Bloom, post-practice at neighboring 7DrumCity, and just around the corner from where three of the four musicians live together. I also learn that they’re insightful and quirky and full of self-deprecating charm (the best kind, really), and take the messages behind their music quite seriously.

Eileen O’Grady (drums) tells me about a work trip where she traveled solo and not once but twice was trapped into conversation with middle-aged men while just trying to read her book in peace. The second encounter escalated to the point that she had to literally duck behind a barrier and hide from the guy because he came back to the bar looking for her. She sent Katie McD (vocals, keyboard) a lengthy email about the experience and suggested they write a song about it. McD was game.

“Read” resonated with Rena Hagins (bass, vocals) too; she’s introduced the song to audiences on several occasions as being about “dusty ass motherf–kers who won’t leave us alone.”

“I feel like ‘I do not exist for you’ fully encompassed everything we were feeling,” the bassist says. “We’re sitting out here just living our lives trying to simply exist and you think this requires you to be in our space and talk to us, but we’re not welcoming that.”

But the band’s candor doesn’t stop there. We dig into the inspiration behind the May release “Everything Ugly,” speaking openly about how it feels like you can’t win no matter what when it comes to checking off the obligatory boxes of where we should be in life by a certain age.

“I feel like people more and more live outside of established life paths but still feel pressure to adhere to them,” Andrew Breiner (guitar) posits. “Whatever the options, you’re kind of expected to do all of them. You should have the family and the career and also be a bohemian that’s unmarried and living free – all incompatible things that you’re expected to do but all at once. That’s impossible.”

O’Grady views the new track as universal, speaking to different levels of the collective feeling of being lost in a sea of how you’re not measuring up – relationships, home ownership, stable job, you name it.

“I feel like the song can mean many different things to many people, but the thing that ties it all together is not being able to live up to this expectation of what adult success and stability should look like,” she says.

Hagins gets visibly choked up when we wax philosophical about the song’s meaning, speaking in earnest about how much she loves the relatability of the lyrics and McD’s distinctive pipes on the track. McD, who writes the bulk of Bacchae’s songs, says she drew from the complaints of our generation as she penned the track about being depressed and feeling isolated.

“I think we feel [societal pressures] more so as women,” she says. “We’re pulled in all these different directions and we can never be good enough in every single arena or even just good enough in one arena. I feel like you don’t have to do that when you play punk rock.”

Bacchae embraces the label of punk, but McD is quick to clarify that the genre isn’t confined by a set of musical rules.

“[Punk] doesn’t have to sound a certain way because it’s more tied to ideology and attitude than to a certain sound.”

O’Grady responds in kind, noting that punk is expansive.

“There’s a lot of room within punk to be whoever you want to be, and I think that’s part of what punk is.”

Even the band’s name is directly connected to the core meaning of what it means to them to be punk. Breiner points out that Bacchae were the followers of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and agriculture, and known for making a ruckus in their worship, “which is very fitting for a punk band.” O’Grady gets a little more academic, citing Anne Carson’s queer, feminist translation of Euriphides’ Greek tragedy Bakkhai that embraces playing with gender and “ripping some guy’s head off.”

When you narrow the scope of punk to its sonic components, Hagins says there’s such a range of different styles that can be listed under that umbrella.

“Although we might not traditionally fit with somebody’s thought and vision and aesthetic of what punk is, it still works.”

Though the band has some shared influences (Screaming Females and Pixies chief among them), they pride themselves on having an eclectic sonic palette and drawing from different styles.

“I think that’s what defines us,” O’Grady says.

Breiner is quick to respond with, “Yeah, it’s our best thing, I think.”

Though Bacchae’s toured outside of the District since forming in 2016, the bandmates have strong roots in the nation’s capital. Not only do three of the four hail from MoCo, they all emphasize how supported they feel by the DC music community.

“We’re lucky to be a DC band for sure,” Hagins says. “I went to a lot of punk and hardcore shows growing up and I’ve seen a shift in terms of the diversity onstage. There’s a lot more women, queer people, nonbinary people – just a variety of different people on the stage instead of just white males that typically take up the space in those scenes. It’s a lot more enjoyable because you don’t feel as othered in DC. There’s a lot more people you can connect to that are there in the crowd and also playing music and just representing who you are.” 

The bandmates mention that part of their association with the local punk scene directly correlates with how many hardcore shows they’ve been asked to play, so they’ve “ended up feeling like that’s our group of people,” according to Breiner.

He mentions that the punks are the ones often putting on the house shows, which help keep the DIY music scene alive in the District. But as the noise complaints continue to roll in and accessible, affordable shows held in music lovers’ homes seem to be on the decline, the musicians advocate for DC’s other options: smaller venues like Black Cat (they’re still mourning the closing of the backstage, as am I) and Comet Ping Pong (the host of their next local show on July 8) and scrappy creative spaces like Rhizome and Dwell.

They’re also energized by the talent of their peers, rattling off a long list of local artists they are smitten with including Ex Hex, Bat Fangs, Mock Identity, Bad Moves, Homosuperior and most mid-2000s bands on DC-based punk label Dischord Records.

But the gravitational pull to the District seems to extend beyond Bacchae to the band’s day jobs, ranging from digital healthcare and professional writing to strategic research for a labor union. Oh, and McD’s gig as a part-time beekeeper. While playing music full-time might be the dream, they each seem connected to their professions in meaningful ways.

Beyond the daily grind, they can be found exploring some combination of the National Arboretum, Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, and Hirshhorn, indulging in authentic Vietnamese nosh at Falls Church’s Eden Center, or hanging out with their cats (three felines total are connected to the band). And the four friends don’t seem to get sick of each other either; they catch shows and meals together regularly.

 “There’s a whole conspiracy theory that we’re the same person,” Hagins says.

“A lot of people in our music community scene have commented on the fact that we travel in a pack,” O’Grady says, before ending her thought with earnest laughter. “We just like to hang out. It’s not weird.”

Catch Bacchae at Comet Ping Pong on Monday, July 8 at 9 p.m. with Potty Mouth and Colleen Green; tickets are $12. And stay tuned for their new album this fall, as they’re set to record on Get Better Records in September. Learn more about the band at www.bacchae.bandcamp.com and follow them on social media at @bacchaeband.

Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; 202-364-0404; www.cometpingpong.com

Stonewall Sports: Builds Community On and Off the Playing Field

Sports bring people together. Playing or watching games builds camaraderie, helps you establish rapport with teammates and, frankly, is an astonishingly effective ice breaker for folks who may otherwise be inclined to avoid strangers. There are a ton of options for people looking to participate in athletics on a social level after they leave high school or college locker rooms.

Stonewall Sports added their name to the list of national social sports organizations nearly a decade ago – but with a more focused mission. Yes, games are played and friendships are fostered, but Stonewall also carries the namesake of the Stonewall Riots, which pitted members of the LGBTQ+ community against police officers in New York City in 1969.

Stonewall Sports describes itself as an LGBTQ+ and ally community-based nonprofit that combines the fun of sports with the initiative to raise funds for other local nonprofits. The organization currently boasts a presence in 16 cities with 12,000 participants nationally, including a thriving DC chapter.

“I moved to DC about five years ago and Stonewall Sports had a very good presence in DC,” says Frank Criscione, Stonewall’s DC manager of community engagement. “Our community engages with locals, whether it be through philanthropic opportunities or volunteering.”

When Criscione moved to the District, he didn’t know many people. After hearing about Stonewall, he figured sports might provide the best opportunity to get to know the area and meet locals.

“It’s better than most ways to meet people, like at bars,” member Anthony Musa says. “This is an alternative way to do that and you get introduced to a diverse group of people with different backgrounds.”

Another factor that sets Stonewall apart is its mission to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel comfortable in an atmosphere that may not always seem inclusive.

“I think it goes back to the PTSD of being an adolescent in sports,” Criscione says. “It goes back to that feeling of being the gay guy. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only gay guy on a team.

I’m on a whole team of gay guys. You don’t think about the social pressures of how you have to act or perform in that atmosphere. You get to rekindle some of the magic for sports you used to enjoy without those pressures.”

Criscione mentions he focused on individual sports growing up, but Stonewall gives him a chance to be a part of a team as opposed to competing alone. The organization currently offers everything from flag football and dodgeball to climbing.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it can be competitive depending on what you’re looking for,” Musa says. “It’s fast-paced and relatively easy to pick up. It’s a good way to interact with people you may not ordinarily talk to.”

Both Musa and Criscione gush about the fun had on the courts and fields, but the good times don’t stop there. As newcomers to DC, each points out that the teams don’t stop conversing after the final whistles. Meetups and even parties often follow.

This kind of openness helps Stonewall members in their volunteer fundraising efforts as well, as those represent the organization’s heartbeat and give the members another way to work toward an incredible achievement.

“I think Stonewall has a great impact on the community,” Criscione says. “I get to remind newcomers that it’s more than a sport. It’s being involved.” 

Get involved with Stonewall Sports at https://stonewallsports.leagueapps.com.