Photo: www.ididherwrong.com
Photo: www.ididherwrong.com

DMV Film Wins Big at Västerås Film Festival in Sweden

Chilean-born director Francisco Campos-Lopez moved to the DMV area to direct music videos in 2011. This September, Campos-Lopez debuted his first feature film, I Did Her Wrongat the Västerås Film Festival in Sweden and won big. The film tells the story of an estranged father trying to reconnect with his daughter by casting her as Cordelia in his own production of King Lear. I caught up with Campos-Lopez on the success of I Did Her Wrong in Sweden.

Campos-Lopez referred to the DC area as a “goldmine” of untapped talent, and he showed that to be the case with respect to music videos. But surprisingly, in 2017, he showed that that talent extends no less to independent dramas. Using local crews and actors, Campos-Lopez shot I Did Her Wrong in Luray, Virginia, as well as in the suburbs of DC.

For the film’s debut at the Västerås Film Festival, it was nominated in four categories including Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Actress, which DMV native Catalina Lavalle in fact won for her performance in the film. On why he debuted the film at the Västerås Film Festival, Campos-Lopez concedes that the festival process is a crap shoot.

“You can’t expect anything from film festivals,” he says. “Sometimes they will hate it, sometimes they will ignore it. And you can be ignored in all the film festivals in the world, and then someone will come pick it up. It’s just that weird.”

So, Campos-Lopez and the producers of the film just decided to take a chance on the Västerås Film Festival, which was founded in 2015 and has since become a showcase for quality independent films. Few involved expected these results from the film initially. Campos-Lopez describes signing lead actor Alexander Barnett, an NYC-born actor who has established himself on the DC scene the past several years, as a case of half-begrudging concession.

“He said to me, ‘I’m not in love with the idea, but what the hell?’”

Producer David Schiff describes his early expectations as “very low,” and like Barnett, signed on more for the sake of Campos-Lopez, rather than the film per se. But as the project grew, and especially as Campos-Lopez worked through the footage post-production (with help from Schiff himself), Schiff began to see the film as one that had a “legitimate shot of being a film watched and enjoyed by many.”

On where the film goes from here, Schiff concedes that they “don’t really know.” For the next couple of months, it’s a process of sending the film out to various festivals and hopefully hearing back. The local premiere will be at the Alexandria Film Festival in November. After that, the film will hopefully move to a streaming service such as Amazon or Hulu, says Campos-Lopez. I can’t help but ask him about the lengthy process.

“It’s true,” he says, “a movie takes a chunk of your life.”

For more information on the film, visit the website here.

Photo: Courtesy of LCD Soundsystem
Photo: Courtesy of LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream Tour at The Anthem

It’s past 9 p.m. on October 17, and the lines into The Anthem still stretch from both sides of the marquee. It’s cold for the first time in what seems like forever in DC, and in line, people chat restlessly. Maybe because the band was supposed to go on at 8 p.m., and maybe because, for many, this would be their first time at The Anthem, one of DC’s newest and biggest venues at The Wharf; but they are restless more than anything else because they are there to see LCD Soundsystem, who, after so publicly disbanding in 2011, had come back unexpectedly this year with a new record, American Dream, which is at worst on par with their previous records, and at best, a motherf—ing eagle.

There was no opener, but music played as we walked inside. I had a feeling the band wouldn’t go on for awhile, so we took time to explore before noodling to the front of the floor pit. The first thing about The Anthem that you notice is that it’s massive; it has the space and breadth of a cathedral. In the vestibule, you walk beneath dozens of cymbals, hanging like so many candelabra. The brass glints overhead and poor puns about hi-hats are made, and, in silence, you shake your head. Then you walk into the nave, so to speak, which somehow achieves the effect of holding 6,000 people, and yet never feels so big that the stage feels beyond reach, nor ever feels so crowded that you feel pressed for room to breathe. There’s mezzanine and balcony seating too, if you prefer not to stand in the pit.

The second thing that you notice about The Anthem is that you’ll want to move in. They sell food at a less expensive rate than the alcohol, and there’s a coffee stand on the mezzanine level. I was so taken by the place that I almost forgot I had come to see my favorite band (to whatever extent one can have a favorite band). Each and every detail inside is worked out. There are even what essentially look like chic Lite-Brites stage left, stage right and on the galleries that are configured to look like plush red carpet curtains.

LCD Soundsystem came on past 10 p.m., and then we danced ourselves clean for nearly two hours. Though the title of the documentary about their final performance, (or what they had taken to be their final performance), is called Shut Up and Play the Hits, this isn’t a singles-only band; simply put, when you shuffle LCD Soundsystem, you don’t skip songs. In the same way, the night was a mix of old tracks and songs off of American Dream.

Part of the original impetus for LCD Soundsystem was to make music that people would dance to and, aside for a pee break, they kept the crowd moving. This crowd wasn’t one for moshing either; it was like butt-to-crotch dancing, shake your booty (not arms) dancing. The standout track, though, was still “Losing My Edge.” It’s LCD Soundsystem’s OG debut single; lyrically it feels as relevant as ever, and musically has lost none of its power. It was an especially great track performed live. Frontman, James Murphy adlibbed new lyrics – “We all know now that Pharrell is really Daft Punk” – and combined with a light show, people were losing it. [Side note: I’ve never had anything to say about a light show before.]

I was there when LCD Soundsystem played The Anthem for the first time. I was there when LCD Soundsystem played “Oh Baby” live for the first time. I was there when LCD’s frontman called for a pee break toward the end of the show. And though I had often worried that The Wharf would become a gross concentration of wealth, where the only businesses able to make it were those that had already been making it, this show was something really special, and The Anthem is too. Most of their shows cost upwards of $40, but the National Symphony Orchestra will play for free on November 15. 

The Anthem: 901 Washington Ave. SW, DC; 202-888-0020; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Susan Green
Photo: Susan Green

Interactive ‘Digital Eye’ Explores Modern Privacy

Blind Whino’s Digital Eye exhibit celebrates National Cyber Security Awareness Month and primes patrons for Halloween with its eerie portrayal of free speech and privacy dilemmas.

During the hour-and-a-half-long opening last night, sponsored by 13 arts and cultural institutions (some local and many from overseas), actors imitated the familiar conflicts, both real and theoretical, that haunt people in the age of the Internet.

The acts spanned the sociocultural spectrum: a woman wearing a burka, aglow behind a laptop, at the back of a pitch black stage pleading for her bodily rights; a mother castigating her daughter after discovering obscene behavior on her phone; and a man facing interrogation for possessing the “last secret in the world.”

Although the performers consistently broke “the fourth wall” by occupying their audience’s personal space, they hardly tiptoed around the issues. Instead, the audience was bombarded with worst-case scenarios, such as a T-shirt displaying an elderly man’s name and address and an “EverythingLeaks,” in which the entire country’s personal information is released to the public.

The effect was unsettling; one couldn’t help feeling exposed. This was especially true when a web camera, at first focused on a group of fictional millennials trapped in a pristine apartment, turned its eyes on the crowd.

The final display in the exhibit was a game show, featuring lighthearted categories such as “Who Do You Trust?” As teams competed, they learned how companies such as Amazon, Google, Uber and even Disney have taken advantage of our unguarded information. As the game came to a close, the contestants were left with one last message.

“We want you to be the only person who owns your personal information,” the host declared.

Digital Eye also runs tonight at 6 and 8:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit here.

Blind Whino: 700 Delaware Ave. SW, DC; 202-554-0103; www.blindwhino.org

Photo caption: Eva Wilhelm, Victoria Reinsel and Alex Piper in Making Plans, directed by Samantha Wyer Bello

Photo: Courtesy of Amber Tamblyn
Photo: Courtesy of Amber Tamblyn

Amber Tamblyn Set For Poetic Debut at Kennedy Center

At 34, Amber Tamblyn has accomplished a great deal in the entertainment world. She’s achieved success as an actress, writer and director, and has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy.

Whether it’s her breakout role as the title character in Joan of Arcadia, playing rebellious Tibby in the popular movie adaptation of Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or even her years as young Emily Quartermaine on General Hospital, Tamblyn is a favorite to many.

Apart from her success onscreen, she is also an accomplished writer and poet, and has been invited to take part in the ninth annual Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival, produced by Brightest Young Things and curated by writer/actress/stand-up comedian Tig Notaro at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, October 28.

Joining Tamblyn onstage will be poet and activist Andrea Gibson, whose powerful work ranges across topics of gender, bullying, war, class, sexuality, love, spirituality and more. For those coming to the show, Tamblyn previews they will see “some of the best, most invigorating and heart-challenging poetry they’ve ever seen.”

“I’ve toured with Andrea Gibson before, and she’s incredible,” Tamblyn says. “[She’s] one of my favorite poets to perform with. Andrea and I both know Tig. Tig came to us and asked us if we wanted to do the show, and of course we said, ‘Yes.’”

Although the styles of Tamblyn and Gibson are very different, their messages are fiercely tied by being feminist, political, daring, funny and strong. Tamblyn views performing at the Kennedy Center as a huge honor, and she can’t wait for the night to arrive.

“Years ago, I was invited by Hillary Clinton to be a guest when she was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors,” she says. “I campaigned for her in both 2008 and 2016. It was such a gorgeous space, and I remember thinking how lucky the artists were that got to perform there.”

Tamblyn recently grabbed headlines for a strong op-ed in The New York Times in which she spoke out against sexual harassment and the importance of women being believed, detailing a run-in with actor James Woods when she was just 16. This was weeks before any of the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfaced, and is believed to be a catalyst to all of the women coming forward against the movie mogul.

“Here’s a great example of an action feeling less about choice and more about survival,” she says. “I had to write that article lest I be a hypocrite and lest I allow other women to continue to be shamed and not believe. Even if no one had read it or I had been sued for writing it or any other various awful things, I had to write it to speak to other women and girls in a language that only we speak – to acknowledge our most painful silences. It’s important for me to be an ally in this world, however that may come about. And that means being an intersectional ally; making sure that I care and pay attention to everything that’s going on not just in front of and behind me, but also directly next to me – to the women around me.”

In Tamblyn’s view, there’s no such thing as “no sacrifices” if one wants to see their visions through.

“I’ve sacrificed a lot to get where I am and to be able to speak with the voice I have,” she says. “Plus, I have an infant daughter, which adds a whole other layer of intensity to my life. Kathleen Hanna from Riot Grrrls once said to me that she didn’t feel like music was a choice for her, that there was no choice in it. It was an act of survival. I completely agree with that. I didn’t choose to write and produce content in film and television; it was something I had to do to really start living my best life, regardless of whether I failed or not.”

On a lighter front, Tamblyn is optimistic about the chance of there being another sequel to the popular The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie franchise, which she stars in along with close friends Blake Lively, American Ferrera and Alexis Biedel.

“The fourth and final book is a powerful one, and one that is very personal and important for us sisters to tell,” she says. “We are hopeful that another film will get made.”

Meanwhile, fans can check out Tamblyn’s most recent work, Paint It Black, which she wrote and directed based on the novel by Janet Fitch, on iTunes and Amazon.

“I’m extremely proud of this film and I believe it speaks to complexities of the female experience.”

Catch Tamblyn at the ninth annual Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival on Saturday, October 28 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit here.

Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org
Photo: Noah Fecks
Photo: Noah Fecks

Rye Day the 13th in Charm City

Last weekend, On Tap spent Friday the 13th in Baltimore for Rye Street Tavern’s Rye Day the 13th celebration. Read on to learn about my 24-hour excursion in Charm City, including my stay at the Pendry Hotel.

The Pendry Hotel

The Pendry Hotel is located right on the water in Fell’s Point, a historic community established by William Felt in 1760. It’s a booming area of commerce, with restaurants, bars and shops all nestled next to each other. The vibrant brick buildings are only to be outdone by the pitter-patter of boots skating across the cobblestone roads. Our room featured a large window with a view of the waterway, where boats came and went, offering a vignette of what life might be like on a riverfront property.

Rye Day the 13th

After checking into the Pendry, we enjoyed a boat ride over to Rye Street Tavern. Food for the swanky event included pulled pork tacos, with tender and succulent meat covered in shredded cheese and other toppings. There were baked oysters and roasted carrots on trays, and the bar featured a few beers and two cocktails, both made with rye whiskey from the neighboring Sagamore Spirit. Aside from eating, we were entertained by numerous games including blown-up versions of Pac-Man, cornhole and probably the longest foosball table in human history. No kidding, the thing had to be 237 feet long (all measurements approximate).

American Visionary Art Museum

The following morning, we had the opportunity to visit the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), a perfect post-party activity for our early Saturday outing. Here are six awesome things we experienced on our AVAM visit:

  1. A guided tour from founder Rebecca Alban Hoffberger
  2. Baller pieces of art that look like they’re painted, but are actually color penciled
  3. Sculptures that are so intricate, it’s mind boggling how someone could look at a piece of wood and think, “I see a fountain-like structure commemorating the atrocities of war, particularly World War I.” When I look at wood, I just imagine…I don’t know, a fire?
  4. America’s “First Robot Family”
  5. A giant, automated toy tiger on a tiger-scaled cat perch
  6. A statue of Icarus

Rye Street Tavern’s Brunch

After the museum, we hurried hungrily back to Rye Street Tavern for the final stop on our Baltimore staycation. Anytime a server asks you point blank – “Mimosa or Bloody Mary?” – you know you’re in a good spot. We were treated to multiple courses, starting with a fall salad and blue crab cocktail. A salad is always a safe way to begin a meal, especially one topped with apples and walnuts, but the crab cocktail was perhaps the most refreshing appetizer I’ve ever eaten. What followed was a healthy serving of fried chicken, which featured an impeccable crunchy-to-juicy ratio, as well as scrapple and flap jacks. We also enjoyed sides of house-cured bacon and honey butter “biskets.”

Baltimore is a city with many hidden gems, from unique restaurants to truly visionary art museums. The next time you feel like taking a staycation, head to Rye Street Tavern for Sagamore Spirit whiskey and delicious fare, and the American Visionary Art Museum for one-of-a-kind art with a story.

American Visionary Art Museum: 800 Key Hwy. Baltimore, MD; www.avam.org

Rye Street Tavern: 225 E. Cromwell St. Baltimore, MD; www.ryestreettavern.com

Illustration: Courtesy of Check, Please! DC
Illustration: Courtesy of Check, Please! DC

‘Check, Please! DC’ Knows Which Doors to Take

It was 4 a.m. in Montreal and of course, I had no idea where to go. My partner led me to an unmarked door on an unremarkable street, and inside we found a booth and a bottle already waiting for us. Boom – a restaurant in secret, right there hiding in plain sight from folks who only discover restaurants through the local papers or – gulp – Yelp. 

Now, I don’t think Check, Please! DC will do as much to seduce viewers as my partner leading me into the unknown, but you’ll still find gems that may charm your significant other. In fact, the show will lead viewers into potentially uncharted territory, though you won’t know where until October 18 when it premieres on WETA TV 26.

Check, Please! DC is the DMV iteration of the series, which first aired in 2001 in Chicago and has since spread to other markets like San Francisco. The premise of the show flips the formal approach to restaurants on its head. Critics don’t come on the show and recommend spots; instead, locals come on and share places that you would never have heard of otherwise. It’s this diversity of places that the show’s host, Rose Previte, takes the most pride in.

“You’re not just going to hear about new 14th Street restaurants or The Wharf,” Previte says. “You’re going to hear about holes in the wall in Northern Virginia. You’re going to hear about crab places in Annapolis.”

Previte is a local restaurateur and owner of 2017 Rammy Award-winning Compass Rose in the 14th Street Corridor, and the soon-to-open Maydan on Florida Avenue. Before hosting the show, Previte felt she knew the DC restaurant scene, but even she’s discovered a slew of unearthed spots through her guests. And like almost all of her guests, Check, Please! DC is Previte’s first TV appearance. The transition, she says, “scared [her] to death.”

She first heard of the program when the producer came into Compass Rose and personally asked her to audition. The visit took her by surprise, but her initial hesitation was put to rest when the producer explained that the job called for little more than talking about food and DC restaurants, which is already how she spends the majority of her time.

As for me, my two concerns for the show were that 1) the places recommended would be too expensive; and 2) the unsung spots of suburban strip malls would remain overlooked. However, these were put to rest while watching a sneak peek of the first episode. I won’t have to dip into my savings for dinner tonight, and I can trust that I will see banh mi or Korean BBQ on the show at some point. As for that place in Shaw, I guess I’ll just wait for my birthday and hope my parents are feeling both fancy and generous (c’mon, Mom and Dad.) 

The first six episodes of Check, Please! DC’s first season kick off on Wednesday, October 18 at 8 p.m. on WETA TV 26. Each episode features three new guests, each of whom will offer their go-to spot in the DMV area. The show is still searching for applicants to appear in the second half of season one, scheduled to air in early 2018. For more information, click here.

Illustration: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Illustration: Courtesy of Arena Stage

DMV Native Makes Arena Stage Debut in ‘The Pajama Game’

Northern Virginia native Gabi Stapula used to see shows at Arena Stage, and dreamed of one day performing professionally in the building. She even attended the theater’s summer academy for younger actors while in high school.

“I knew they brought in really high caliber actors, and that it was a place I wanted to work one day when I got enough training,” she says.

Stapula is now getting that chance, playing Mae in the Tony Award-winning musical The Pajama Game, running from October 27 to December 24 on Arena’s Fichandler Stage.

“I had done The Pajama Game in college, and it’s a show that is near and dear to my heart because it is just so fun,” Stapula says. “And I knew that Parker Esse, the show’s choreographer, would bring a new spin to all the dances. And he is re-choreographing all of these traditional numbers you are used to seeing, and I was so pumped to hear that.”

Stapula had first met Esse at Arena while at the summer academy, but at the time, she was mainly a ballet dancer.

“He was showing me the ins and outs of what musical theatre is, and meeting him changed my trajectory of what I wanted to do. I was going to go into more of the ballet world, but he completely upturned me – and now I’m doing musical theatre.”

Esse actually gave Stapula her first professional job at the Merry-Go-Around Playhouse in upstate New York, and she performed there in shows such as Crazy For You, West Side Story and Saturday Night Fever. Although she’s carved out a nice career for herself in New York, The Pajama Game is Stapula’s first professional role in the DC area.

“I mainly did stuff at my dance studio when I was growing up here, so this will be my first time,” she says.

And it would probably be easier to list the shows when there won’t be a big crowd of friends and family attending, as folks from her high school, dance studio and hometown are ready to flood the theater.

“Those are the people who shaped the way I am, and they finally get the chance to see post-college Gabi and everything that they worked toward with me come to fruition. It means a lot that they are coming out for support.”

The first time she performed in Pajama Game, she played Gladys, but this time she’s tackling the role of Mae, a feisty member of the factory’s union grievance committee who supports the union president perhaps a bit too much.

“What I like about Mae is that she’s so unapologetic,” Stapula says. “She doesn’t care what other people think and she’s such a strong woman. You don’t get to play those characters usually in such an old-book musical. She’s also so goofy, and I get to see the world of this musical through a different eye.”

With a book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, the story follows Sid Sorokin and Babe Williams in a battle-of-the-sexes romance that soars with seductive dance numbers like “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Tim Rogan and Britney Coleman play Sid and Babe, respectively.

“I just watched Tim and Britney do one of their love numbers in rehearsal, and their chemistry is off the charts,” Stapula says. “This is a big musical with a lot of dance numbers, and I think audiences are going to love it.”

Directed by Shakespeare Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul in his Arena Stage debut, The Pajama Game also stars Broadway legend Donna McKechnie (Tony winner for A Chorus Line), as well as Broadway veterans Nancy Anderson, Eddie Korbich and Blakely Slaybaugh.

“Just being there with Donna McKechnie is the coolest thing ever,” Stapula says. “Her aura in the room is amazing. The talent that they’ve brought in for this cast is spectacular.”

With her dream of working at Arena about to be realized, Satpula is considering sticking around the area and seeing what opportunities come.

“I would love to do more work in DC. I have fallen in love with what DC has to offer.”

The Pajama Game runs from October 27 to December 24 at Arena Stage. Click here for more information.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org

Photo: Michael Loria
Photo: Michael Loria

OPUS 1: Surreal as the Succession of Days

Before the Chrysalis Stage, Enchanted Forest and Lightning Cloud, one had to pass beneath an arch reading “The Journey Begins.” And thus it began, though for such a commanding piece of signage one might have expected a longer journey in duration. This was the OPUS 1 event at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, billed as a “surreal sensory journey.”

I arrived a few hours before sunset. At this time, the Hearth Stage, (i.e., Merriweather’s mainstage), was modestly attended. Someone onstage performed an improvised song. I pressed on from the Hearth, under the “Journey” arch and into Culinary Village, which looked enticing but was expensive. I patted the white chocolate macadamia nut Clif Bar in my pocket and, again, moved on. After Culinary Village was the Chrysalis Stage. Most of the crowd was gathered here. There was plenty of space to sit on the grass, and it seemed nice to be well-monied enough to have a grilled cheese from the nearby food truck.

Not much for pep bands though, I moved on to the Enchanted Forest. But before entering the woods, one had to pass beneath another threshold; this time instead of a sign, it looked to be Sauron’s other, lazier eye. If any journey were to begin, I felt it would be here. The eye had its own soundtrack, or sound effect rather, and after nightfall its shimmering blue light would be something to watch.

The lines to three separate installations converged beneath the eye; one led to the Lightning Cloud, another to a green screen labeled the Immersive Projection Program and a third to an egg-shaped installation called the Mutual Wave Machine. Eager to avoid lines, I kept moving, except I slowed my pace upon noticing the end of the tour.

Tucked behind the Egg Installation was another spot on the map labeled “Hibridos.” It was shaped like a bonfire space, only in the center of the circled-up logs was a table where a few performers were setting up. Their space was quiet, and I felt drawn to it. As I came over, one of the performers turned to meet me. He was smoking a clove cigarette but asked me if I had any rolling papers to share. No dice; I failed him. 

He was handsome in a wiry sort of way and had a heavy French accent. We sat and chatted awhile. I recorded our conversation but the information conveyed was mostly programmatic, with the most interesting part inaudible (he stuck his tongue out at me in a cheeky sort of way). His name was Vincent Moon and for his installation, he would VJ (video jockey) footage he shot over the past year in the Amazon, while his partner would make music from the field recordings they had done there. (I wouldn’t realize it until the following day, but Moon was actually the founder of a video podcast series called “Concerts à emporter,” which I’ve followed for years. Small world.) 

The next couple of hours were packed. On the Chrysalis Stage, the Brooklyn Raga Massive performed Terry Riley’s In C, and then the Sun Ra Arkestra put on a bombastic show. The performers I met put on their installation made from footage shot in the Amazon. And back at the Hearth Stage, EXO-TECH was performing for two or three ecstatic dancers. The EXO-TECH performance was a bit loud for some of the kids playing tag on the lawn – they covered their ears and hoofed it back to the Enchanted Forest.

For these kids, I imagine OPUS 1 was a surreal experience, though I imagine it had as much to do with the new spaces to explore and the number of other kids there as anything else. But for us adults wandering through the anticlimactically small installation setup, it was just a free evening in a pleasant place with neat things to see.

For more information about OPUS 1’s installations, click here.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pky. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com

Photo: Chris Samoray
Photo: Chris Samoray

Food, Beer and Music at National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral is letting loose this weekend by transforming the iconic space into a 17th-century English tavern for a night. For the first time, the Cathedral will host Navetoberfest! this Sunday, October 8 from 6-8 p.m. As the name suggests, the event will be fueled by food, beer and music.

“We’re letting our hair down a little bit, and opening it up so that it’s not just a pretty building on a hill, but is this really interesting venue for the arts,” says Kevin Eckstrom, a spokesperson for the National Cathedral. “We’re trying to do arts in a different, unexpected way for the Cathedral.”

The Cathedral is no stranger to hosting concerts. Music from Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and other classical pieces has echoed in the storied halls before. But as of yet, 17th-century English pub music hasn’t.

Norwegian virtuoso Bjarte Eike will perform the Alehouse Sessions, giving the audience a glimpse into the ever-changing music of the 17th-century English tavern. True to pub-style music sessions, the group won’t follow a script or set list. Instead, they’ll play a mix of English sea shanties, Henry Purcell overtures, and just for fun, Scandinavian folk songs.

Eckstrom says the concert isn’t going to be an affair where you arrive, sit down, listen quietly and applaud politely at the end. Instead, he expects an atmosphere more similar to an “open mic night from the Elizabethan Age.” For a more modern comparison, he says it’s kind of like if you imagined a Grateful Dead show 400 years ago.

“This is much more of a lets all kick back and have a good time sort of idea,” he continues.

Kegs of Radeberger Pilsner and Schöfferhofer Grapefruit will help to cultivate that mood. And to stay in tune with the night’s old European tavern theme, common European imports will also be available including Amstel, Beck’s and Duvel. An assortment of German-inspired food including sausages, veggie dogs and pretzels will accompany the brews and music.

Eckstrom recommends that anyone who appreciates live music with food and drink, as well as those wanting to experience a take on classical music in a completely different setting, should come to the event. And, of course, the beer is a plus too.

“There are not many times when you get to crack open a beer inside of the National Cathedral,” he says. “It will be one of the first times ever.”

Tickets cost $75 each, and the music, food and beer (at least enough before anyone is swinging from the arches, Eckstrom says) are all included in the admission price. Tickets are available for purchase here. For more information on concerts and other events at the National Cathedral, visit here.

Washington National Cathedral: 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC: 202-537-6200; www.cathedral.org

Photo: Courtesy of Folger Theatre
Photo: Courtesy of Folger Theatre

Folger’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ Strips Down Legendary Romance

Scandal‘s Olivia and Fitz weren’t the first power couple to reign over an empire in it’s waning days. Shakespeare knew that even centuries later, people would gather to watch the drama of love, passion, betrayal and politics with oversized glasses of red wine, which is why he wrote Antony and Cleopatra as a blueprint.

Folger Theatre opens its 2017-2018 season on Tuesday, October 10 with Shakespeare’s historical drama about the love affair between the queen of Egypt and Rome’s most famous soldier. Told in the round, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the home life of these two lovers in the first-ever Elizabethan venue in North America. Director Robert Richmond (of last season’s highly successful Timon of Athens, Othello and Henry V) directs Cody Nickell and Shirine Babb in the title roles of a play that’s about the story behind the headlines.

“He really wants to see these people at home,” Nickell says. “He wants [the audience] to see into their personal lives.”

Under Richmond’s direction, the text has been stripped back to focus on the love between the titular characters as they struggle to keep their relationship alive in the world of politics, power, war and deception. First performed in 1607, the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra follows the story of the two lovers from the time of the Sicilian revolt to Cleopatra’s suicide. After the assassination of Julius Caeser, Mark Antony finds himself as one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire.

During his rule, Antony falls madly in love with Cleopatra, who is often regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most well-rounded female characters. As their love grows, (historically, the pair had three children), so does the pull of their responsibilities, and the two test where each other’s loyalty lies – with their empires or with one another.

“This is more than just a play about politics,” Nickell says. “This is a play about relationships. This is a play about people trying to connect.”

Folger’s upcoming production marks Babb’s third time playing Cleopatra, and her first time acting alongside Nickell. Her Cleo is a woman that the audience recognizes – ambitious, and scared to admit that she’s vulnerable and in love.

“Everyone usually comes into the theater expecting to see this icon – to see this temptress, this seductress, this woman who is set up to be this kind of siren,” Babb says. “I just wanted to make sure that every time I come to her, I see her first as a woman – not even as a queen.”

Nickell is excited to explore what Antony, the aging Roman soldier, desires.

“I don’t know what power he wants necessarily,” he admits. “‘I wish had the power to just be with her, I wish I could fix the Roman Empire.’ I don’t think he’s got the power that he wants – he’s struggling. What does he really want to do?”

Nickell and Babb bring a playful friendliness to the magnetic relationship of Antony and Cleopatra, one that reminds the audience of the excitement of falling in love, of sharing those small intimate moments – like that first electric touch, or the stomach flips from brushing back your lover’s hair, and that mix of excitement and fear if what is happening is forever, or just for right now.

Ultimately, this stripped down production of Antony and Cleopatra is about “life getting in the way of life,” as Nickell puts it. Over 400 years later, people are still struggling with the same things that Tony and Cleo battled in their personal lives: how to find and keep true love in the face of a civilization destroying itself right in front of our very eyes.

Antony and Cleopatra runs from October 10 to November 19 at Folger Theatre. Tickets are $35-$79. For more information, visit here.

Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-544-7077; www.folger.edu