Kaena Kekoa as Jasmine // Photo: Deen van Meer

Into A Whole New World: A Q&A with Aladdin’s Kaena Kekoa

“Jasmine knows what she wants and she is determined to get what she wants, she stood out to me because she is a sign of empowerment for young girls.”

Kaena Kekoa said to me over the phone as we discussed her role in Aladdin. The Broadway national tour of the play is making its way through cities across the country to bring a whole new world to each audience, taking the Kennedy Center stage on July 18. While many remember the classic 90s Disney film, the stage version has chosen to rewrite Jasmine in order to give her more “umph” as Kekoa says. On Tap was able to speak with her about her start in theatre and what it means to play such a well-known character.

On Tap: When did your interest in the theatre first begin?
Kaena Kekoa: I got into the theatre when I was 11, mostly church musicals and community theatre. I have been singing for most of my life. 

OT: What brought you to Aladdin?
KK: I went to an open call at the end of January 2019 in Honolulu, when I auditioned for the show. I had moved back home after college, they had an open call for Frozen, Lion King and Aladdin. I had no intention of going because I was already home and I missed it and wasn’t planning on leaving. I thought it would be a fun thing to do, I got called back for Princess Jasmine in mid-February, which felt so fast!

OT: Why were you interested in playing the part of Princess Jasmine?
KK: Honestly, I had no intention of doing any of it, it kind of just happened for me. She is a role model for young girls, especially in this time where girls need a strong independent woman figure. Especially on the stage, they get to come to the show and see her. She knows what she wants and she is determined to get what she wants. She stood out to me because she is a sign of empowerment for young girls. 

OT: In terms of the power dynamic, Jasmine tends to get pushed away as a female, how did you approach this?
KK: In the show, we give her some umph, she was written with more umph than the animated film. She has her friends who push her, we have three attendants instead of a tiger, who push her to run away. “Love comes to those who go and find it, and if you dream then stand behind it,” she really takes that on in this show. She is determined to find what she wants. Even though her father is telling her what to do, she is still determined to go out and be a better person for her people and for herself. She’s not just another Disney princess, she has developed [much more].

OT: Do you think Jasmine’s story as a character is important? Why?
KK: Oh most definitely! Mostly because she kind of wears the pants, she is the only Disney princess who wears pants, actually. She takes charge of her own life. In this production, Jasmine is one of the only female principles in this show and she is surrounded by men telling her what to do. [It’s] relatable to this day and age, and it’s a story for all, not just for the little ones. 

OT: Did you feel pressure playing this character that is so well known and well loved by anyone who grew up with Disney?
KK: Honestly, no. I love taking on a character and figuring them out and adding my own flavor to it, but I didn’t feel as much pressure with Jasmine. As a woman of color, I love to represent that on stage because it is so important. 

OT: Do you ever get pre-show jitters/how do you get past them?
KK: I definitely had pre-show jitters for the first month straight. I’ve never been part of a Broadway national tour. I had a mentor in high school who told me to turn my nervousness into excitement and that will give you the energy to go on stage and take people to a “whole new world,” [laughs] if you will. 

OT: What are your favorite productions, what is your dream role?
KK: Hmm, good question! A Chorus Line, everyone in the theatre can relate to the first song, “I Hope I Get It,” and that song runs through your head and the story overall, getting to know all the different characters and their stories is just so touching and moving. Honestly, I probably don’t have a dream role, I feel like they are the ones we don’t know about yet, whether they are written or not, I haven’t played it yet so I guess I wouldn’t know what it is. I can [also] tell you that Princess Jasmine is my dream come true. 

OT: What advice would you give to anyone coming into this business? Something you wish you had known?
KK: Hmm, I guess I would say to be kind to everyone, and I kind of knew to be kind to everyone, but it’s something that not a lot of people know how to do. There are so many people working hard behind the scenes making sure you are safe and that your show works, be thankful and say thank you and express that to everyone backstage. Express your gratitude, because if they weren’t there then you wouldn’t have a show. 

“Aladdin” will be featured at the Kennedy Center from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, September 7. For more information and for tickets please visit here.

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

Photo: Scott Suchman

Michael Urie Pulls Double Duty in DC

To say Michael Urie has a busy summer planned is somewhat of an understatement. 

After hosting the Drama Desk Awards on June 2, the versatile actor jumped head-first into a series of projects, that involved acting, directing and producing. 

“I do say, ‘there are not enough hours in the day’ about once a day,” Urie says. “I’m so lucky though that so many things have worked out. I’m not one of those actors who sits around and waits for things to come my way. I like to make my own opportunities and when you spend enough time plotting those, sometimes they come to fruition at the same time.”

Urie’s about to return to DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company to play Hamlet for the second-straight year, this time as part of STC’s Free for All series, running July 10–21 at Sidney Harman Hall.

“Playing Hamlet for most people is once in a lifetime, so to get a chance to do it a second time, I wasn’t going to let it go,” he says. “I wanted to come back because you learn every night, and I certainly wanted to keep playing and exploring what this guy’s all about. Already in rehearsal, I am figuring out things I didn’t quite realize the first time.”

Of course, he was busy during the year away from the part as well, appearing in Torch Song on Broadway from November through January and filming several episodes of the hit TV show, “Younger.”

“Every once in a while, I would think about it, and see if I still knew the lines, and a few weeks ago I started really thinking about who Hamlet is to me now,” Urie says. “I’m a year older, the world is a year older and our country is a year crazier. Our Hamlet takes place in this authoritative state, where a new leader is making a lot of changes and I think we will really feed our audience. I get the sense that the DC audience is truly listening, truly engaged and want to know what’s happening.”

Hamlet was a bucket-list role for Urie and he still feels he is getting so much out of the part this second time through.

“The feeling of accomplishment is quite unlike anything else. Not only is it an enormous role with extremely taxing language, emotions and athleticism, you feel the shoes that have been worn by so many greats before you,” he says. “That is a pride that is tough to describe. To know you are speaking the words that have been spoken by so many legends, it’s extremely exciting and daunting.”

At the same time, Urie will also be directing Studio Theatre’s production of Drew Droege’s Bright Color and Bold Patterns, which is being staged July 9 through July 28. The one-man show, starring Jeff Hiller, was a critical darling when it ran Off-Broadway last year, and the play is about gay marriage told through the perspective of the worst wedding guest of all time.

“Drew is an old-friend and this was a show that he had created in Los Angeles and I told him this was far more than a comedy monologue, so I worked with him to create the production and flesh it out,” Urie said. “We put together the production in New York and it was a big hit, and when Drew stopped starring in it, Jeff Hiller replaced him, and he is fantastic in this role.”

The play takes place on a patio in Palm Springs the night before a gay wedding and there are four guys attending the wedding, but you only meet Gary, someone with complicated feelings about marriage and especially this particular marriage.

“He speaks with three other characters who you don’t see or hear, but are there in the room. He’s not crazy, you just don’t meet them,” Urie says. “You gleam who they are by what he says and does. It’s exciting to watch someone create a world on their own.”

And that’s not all. On an off-day, Urie joined a cast of Broadway greats to read the Mueller Report for 24 hours straight, and he just finished producing Pride Plays, a festival of play readings at New York’s Rattle Stick Theater.

“It was a five-day LGBTQ theater festival that engaged nearly 200 artists in 19 different play readings,” he says. “That took up a lot of my time but it was very exciting and I was so happy that audiences got the chance to hear all of these plays. It was a very inclusive and representative cross-section of LGBTQ theater artists and it was very cool to meet so many people and introduce them to one another.”

For more information about Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Hamlet, visit here. For information about Studio Theatre’s Bright Colors And Bold Patterns, visit here.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Photo: Refik Anadol, courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Exploration Of DC’s Powerful, Impactful Art

In today’s social climate, art is the epitome of pushing the conversation forward. With many adversities dividing our communities, the use of mediums like design, sculpture and film allow the world to see a perspective through another person’s lens. Our nation’s capital is the epicenter of politics, diversity and community, so it’s no surprise that the District’s art reflects the same. New exhibits and installations are being created to highlight civil rights, social justice and political reform addressing the huge gap in peace and prosperity. We handpicked some of the summer exhibits and public works of art making a lasting impact in and around the city.

Photo: Tex Williams, courtesy of Hirshhorn

Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)

The Hirshhorn has always been known for its focus on contemporary art, inspiring people to step back and take the time to think over what is being presented. The same case follows here for “Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green).” Through July 24, the exhibit from Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is encouraging visitors to consider many sensory feelings – especially because curry from Beau Thai in Mount Pleasant is served as you watch the mural appear in front of you. We spoke with Dr. Mark Beasley, the Hirshhorn’s curator of media and performance art, about bringing this interactive exhibit to the museum and working with Tiravanija.

On Tap: What attracted you to Tiravanija’s work and why was it important for it to be showcased?
Mark Beasley:
[He’s] somewhat of a figurehead for the Thai artists that appeared in the 90s. He creates a social engagement with the audience. He facilitates a social space within galleries. The work is about activism and protest culture. It connected very well with the history of the city but also had two key threads: the serving of food as an art piece.

OT: What was the process like to bring this show to life?
MB:
The process in general was two-fold: food and drawings. With the food, we looked to find a collaborator in the city: restaurant Beau Thai. They worked with Rirkrit to come up with a recipe that he was happy with and seemed authentic to him. The 18 mural artists working for and with Rirkrit are drawing these images taken from the mainstream press of protests over the last 40 years both in Bangkok and Washington. At any time, there are [up to] three artists in this space drawing directly onto the walls.

OT: How does serving curry play into the overall sensory experience?
MB:
It is another flavor and ingredient in the room. It sets up a space of sociability. It is an immediate hook. You go and get food and sit, and then you are in a room of drawings so the discussion stems from there. In terms of sensory [experience], [it’s] very much this other vocabulary that most of us are not used to thinking of. We are not used to thinking through those textures or what that means to the space or a room. It brings part of Thailand into this space, into this museum.

“Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)” runs through July 24. Go to www.hirshhorn.si.edu for details.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Independence Avenue and 7th Street in NW, DC; www.hirshhorn.si.edu

Photo: Griselda San Martin

“The Warm of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement”

“The Warm of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement” at the Phillips Collection through September 22, presents a group of global artists whose work asks urgent questions about the experiences and conceptions of migration and the refugee crisis that many countries are living through. Through the lens of installations, videos and paintings, viewers are shown real and artistically created geographies creating tales of migration, while adding historical elements on top of them. Global artists Richard Wright, Isabel Wilkerson and Jacob Lawrence are featured in this exhibit, conveying the powerful message of migration that affects our world today. We chatted with curator Massimiliano Gioni, who gave us his interpretation of this impactful exhibit.

On Tap: How did you get started in this line of business? Why did you want to become a curator of art?
Massimiliano Gioni:
I was a teenager when I started getting interested in contemporary art and gradually, I wanted to spend my life being surrounded by it. Around 1990, when I entered the world of art professionally, I didn’t think curation was a profession. For a long time, I thought I would’ve had another life that eventually would’ve led me to art. I struggled for a while within the art community, but fortunately and beyond my wildest imagination, everything fell into place.

OT: What makes a piece of art something worth showcasing?
MG: 
It’s a combination of numerous things. On one hand, it’s the effect that it feels just right, that anything you do to it won’t compromise it, that nothing could be added to or subtracted from it, [that it’s] personal and individual to the point of being unconventional. On the other hand, it’s endlessly incomparable because every time you return to it, you learn something new and in return, you learn something new about yourself.

OT: Is there a specific impression you would like viewers to have of “The Warmth of Other Suns”?
MG:
There are three central questions in the show that they address. One is the representation of pain and misery. The second is the question of documentary and the repercussions – the way in which we can claim to tell the truth or represent a truth. And the third is the relationship between the individuals and the masses – between self and the multitudes of self.

OT: What inspired you to get involved with this exhibit? How has your background influenced your choice in curation?
MG:
This is my second show. I did a show in Italy two years ago called “The Restless Arms.” In the summer in Italy, we are used to seeing thousands of civilians die crossing the Mediterranean and in a sense, I felt that we had some kind of responsibility to engage in this issue through this exhibition. One of the reasons I went [with this exhibition] is to basically say, “No more.” Also, because of the diversity within this show, it presents a much more vibrant and open conversation [about] the multicultural idea of society in contemporary art.

OT: With the topic of migration at the center of this exhibit, what kind of realities have you faced curating these works of arts?
MG: 
I think the interesting aspect is that we are looking at certain realities as they are constructed through images – how contemporary art is addressing the concept of truthfulness and accuracy, and how images can contract reality. What I hope is that people will go through this exhibition and understand that the people we call migrants are not so different from ourselves and our own families.

Tickets are $12; exhibit runs through September 22. Learn more about “The Warmth of Other Suns” at www.phillipscollection.org.

The Phillips Collection: 1600 21st St. NW, DC; www.phillipscollection.org

Photo: courtesy of Torpedo Factory

Julia Kwon’s “More Than A Body”

“More Than A Body,” at the Torpedo Factory through August 4, represents Asian femininity within modern society. Enduring objectifications as a Korean woman, local artist Julia Kwon uses the art of textiles to address and open the conversation of cultural propriety within the United States. Her use of authentic Korean materials pays homage to her culture and allows her to focus on influences such as globalism and totalitarianism. Chosen from nearly 130 artists, Kwon’s exhibit highlights the fusion of authenticity and appropriations. Panelists Sandy Guttman, Michael Matason and Terrence Nicholson played a huge role in putting this powerful exhibit together. Before visiting, we caught up with Kwon to learn more about her experience creating this exhibit.

On Tap: How has your background influenced your work?
Julia Kwon:
I decided to study art seriously and make sense of the world through creating art. My work is directly influenced by the society that I live in. I discuss my experiences of being seen differently in the U.S. based on my gender and ethnicity. I also reference current sociopolitical events through the inclusion of contemporary logos to challenge the expectation of cultural purity.

OT: What inspires you as an artist?
JK:
Artmaking is the struggle to better understand myself, the world I live in, and what it means to live fully and justly. I am continuing to challenge myself to think of more effective ways to expose the problematic constructions of Asian femininity within the U.S. context.

OT: What objectification have you faced as a Korean woman?
JK:
I have experienced discrimination based on the way I look, which includes larger, systemic inequalities as well as microaggressions – whether that was being subjected to others gazes or racist and sexist comments. I’ve also felt the pressure to prove or perform cultural purity and authenticity, even from well-meaning allies.

OT: Why did you choose textiles to convey your message?
JK:
I became involved with textile art quite organically as it allowed me to effectively talk about my experiences of being seen differently based on my gender and ethnicity. I am drawing inspiration from Korean textiles because it is specifically Korean, yet the abstract designs allow the space for complexity, nuance and ambiguity. I use traditional Korean silk as well as fabrics that were created from around the world and found here in the U.S. to question the idea of authenticity and shift the focus to the influences of globalism, transnationalism and cultural hybridity.

OT: What would you say to other women about handling these kinds of adversities?
JK: I aim to present my specific point of view and experiences as a Korean-American woman, as well as to spark conversations and position us to experience a more sweeping glance at issues regarding gender, ethnicity and other categories. I want women and other people who have had similar experiences to know they are not alone in the struggle to be a distinct and multifaceted human being.

OT: If there is one thing that you would like your audience to take away from your work, what would it be and why?
JK:
Although they may be initially drawn to the work for its vivid colors and lush materiality, the content of the work seems to be what ultimately resonates with them. I have had viewers interpret the positions of the figures very differently and I welcome diverse readings of my work. The fabrics are not only covering, blocking and suffocating, but also protecting, hiding and mystifying the body. The figures are both burdened by the expectation of authenticity yet free to be comfortably themselves behind the constructed façade.

“More Than A Body” runs through August 4. Learn more at www.torpedofactory.org and about Kwon at www.juliakwon.com.

Torpedo Factory Art Center: 105 N. Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.torepedofactory.org


“Art in Action”
The Library of Congress hosts many historic and awe-inspiring exhibits of art, including “Art in Action.” This particular exhibit feels quite crucial to recognizing events throughout history in a more fun and engaging way; presented in an easily digestible format, it brings together those taking in the art and the world that they live in. Some notable artists featured include Shepard Fairey, Pablo Picasso and Helen Zughaib. Runs through August 17. Library of Congress: 101 Independence Ave. SE, DC; www.loc.gov

“Chicago Titan”
One might not think of finding a large Romanesque sculpture outside of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, but if you venture a bit from the city, you’ll find one nestled in the hustle and bustle of Rosslyn. “Chicago Titan” is a large sculpture created by Ray Kaskey, known for his large-scale civic art pieces that follow Greek and Renaissance themes. Look for it the next time you find yourself in Arlington. 1530 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.rosslynva.org

DC Mural Walking Tour
DC is often recognized as a place full of monuments and history, but it has become so much more. The DC Mural Walking Tour has become a staple, taking locals a step further into the variety of public murals in the surrounding wards and neighborhoods of the city. This tour makes the art both accessible and informative to the public and has much to offer expressively. Check the official website for more information on where to get tickets and what areas these tours start in. www.dcmurals.org

“I Am…Contemporary Women Artists of Africa”
The National Museum of African Art is putting a twist on their upcoming exhibit, featuring 28 female artists. While addressing topics like racism, identity and politics, it also shines a light on women empowerment and the African experience. This diverse approach to contemporary art opens versatile perspectives within the creative community. Runs through March 2020. National Museum of African Art: 950 Independence Ave. SW, DC; https://africa.si.edu

“Infinite Space”
We live with a sense that there will one day be an end, but we rarely stop to think of the infinite possibilities. “Infinite Space” reflects the concept wherein visitors can open their minds to endless ideas and opportunities, as well as the transformative ways of man and machine. The exhibit invites you to look through the lens of a machine and how it perceives the world as a human. If you’re looking for an experience that will both open and expand your mind, this is for you. Tickets are $16. Runs through September 2. ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com

“Lightweave”
One may not think of an underpass as having the ability to showcase a magnificent work of art, but “Lightweave” is a fun, interactive experience for everyone. This piece also brings the city to life because it takes all the varieties of sounds in NoMa and turns them into beautiful LED lights. “Lightweave” fully showcases the interactivity and accessibility of the city in order to bring a standard underpass to life. L Street Underpass: 2nd Street in NE, DC; www.futureforms.us/lightweave

“ReCOVERing the Classics”
Workhouse Art Center’s interactive exhibit showcasing redesigned book covers will have you reminiscing about the Scholastic Book Fairs of your childhood. This exhibit captures the importance of what is sometimes lost in modern literature. Runs through August 4. Workhouse Art Center: 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, VA;  www.workhousearts.org

“Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGTBQ Rights Movement”
Honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the Newseum pays tribute to the LGBTQ civil rights movement by highlighting the trials and tribulations that sparked the revelation of LGBTQ First Amendment freedoms. With the use of artifacts, images and historic publications, “Rise Up” offers a glimpse inside this fight for equality. Runs through December 31. Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.newseum.org

“Solaris Shelter for The Next Cold War”
Critically acclaimed artist Mark Kelner uses his artistic creation to make a fun, interactive experience at Culture House DC (formerly Blind Whino). His pop-up exhibit addresses the tension of war propaganda in modern America, and his funny sneer at modern advertisements creates a unique approach to using art as a way to address sometimes uncomfortable issues. Runs through July 7. Culture House DC: 700 Delaware Ave. SW, DC; www.culturehousedc.org

Ryan Hunter Mitchell (left) and David Cabrera (right) // Photos: Trent Johnson

Be Kind, Recline: SUNS CiNEMA Still On-Air

The On-Air sign hovering to the left of the door is off.

There are no films scheduled for the middle of a Tuesday, and standing on the sidewalk just beyond the red carpet and ropes that lead to the entrance, it’s hard to tell if the lights are on inside. The navy blue awning jutting from the pink bricks reads “SUNS CiNEMA” in vibrant cherry letters. Those words also hang on a large vertical sign in sight line for cars whizzing by.

The theater’s size isn’t indicative of the typical cinemas you’re used to – especially not the ones having a tough summer after an explosive start thanks to Avengers: Endgame. Rather, this building in Mount Pleasant once housed a cell phone store on the floor level with an apartment upstairs. Now, it belongs to movies and cinephiles.

Suns Cinema’s first showing came in 2016 after years of planning and crowdfunding by owners David Cabrera and Ryan Hunter Mitchell. Cabrera is on the short side, with curly dark hair and an extremely easygoing demeanor. Mitchell is tall and lanky with straight, long hair and thick frames; he looks like a mix between the best skater you’ve ever seen and every thrifter who swears they get their shirts from Goodwill.

Posters line both sides of the entryway. On the left is the original screening room, but now it’s used more regularly as a bar. The space contains several movie references, from zebra-adorned wallpaper as seen in Royal Tenenbaums to obscure newspaper clippings lauding a Polish auteur. The new and improved theater is directly above, even though it used to be just a guy’s living room.

The lights were indeed on earlier, as both Cabrera and Mitchell are clearing chairs from a screening held the night before. On Mondays, the first-floor room operates as it had for three years prior, but on the other nights, the upstairs space is center stage. With an operation so niche built on screening foreign art films, classics with cult followings and B movies, Suns is not only surviving but expanding and evolving – further proving that the city’s appetite for obscure films and unique experiences is only growing, just like the theater itself.

“We never imagined more than this size, and we still don’t,” Mitchell says. “We wanted to recreate the model of showing our friends movies.”

The allure of Suns is definitely the spectacle. There aren’t rows of stadium seats bolted to the floor or giant soda dispensers that look like they’re from the future. Instead, the appearance is distinctively dive-ish, with low lighting accompanied by a simple beer and cocktail menu. The seating is an assortment of beach and patio furniture interspersed with antique-looking theater seats. During screenings, people are in close quarters out of necessity – there aren’t empty showings very often at Suns.

“So, why should we exist?”

Michell asks the question rhetorically, shifting in a barstool.

“An element of that is a bar – it’s fun and social,” he continues. “You’re definitely experiencing a movie differently when you’re dealing with people in a place that’s cool to hang out and [you can] have intermission discussions. We’re kind of a one-stop shop for all of that.”

Cabrera and Mitchell tag team coming up with themes each month. The duo also edits, cuts and promotes trailers for films on the schedule. July’s focus is Creature Features, with movies like 1954’s original Godzilla, Troll Hunter, The Fly and the first two Alien flicks. There are few recent releases here, and the only blockbusters you’ll see are decades old.

“Maybe come for something you like, but also watch a trailer for something weird,” Mitchell says. “Hopefully, people come and think, ‘Okay, there must be a reason they picked this movie I’ve never heard of.’ And sometimes they aren’t worth seeing.”

Cabrera laughs, admitting they’ve promoted movies neither had seen and upon watching, became “horrified.” That’s part of the risk with this structure. When the friends set out to establish their own movie theater, they did so with a rough sketch of a business plan and literally no idea how to reach out to distribution companies.

“We kind of figured it out as we went along,” Cabrera says. “Figuring out distribution was very challenging, especially because there isn’t a tutorial or a website you can look up with how-to’s for owning a movie theater. We just got lucky.”

Even for single showings, dealing with distributors can be an expensive process – one that’s becoming pricier still. But most tickets at Suns costs about $8-$10, far less than mainstream admission. Bar sales help offset some of the more notable features (this is where the new second floor comes in). Since officially opening on May 11, the first floor now remains a bar on Tuesdays through Sundays.

“The charm of Suns was that it’s a bar and a small space, but that business model created a lot of confusion for people,” Cabrera says. “When your bar hours on a weekend are contingent on the length of a film, if you show a little bit of a longer movie, [then] people show up popping the door open at 10 p.m. and awkwardly leave like, ‘Oh, okay.’”

Outside of the Blade Runner-themed drink station tucked away in the corner, the second floor feels more like a traditional theater setting when compared to its downstairs counterpart, including elevated seats toward the back, dark walls and a larger screen.

“We’ve definitely been able to accentuate and play up the two roles separately,” Mitchell says of the dual bar-theater setup. “The constant flux was confusing. You couldn’t, like, shake a cocktail during the movie.”

Even with the bar open on most nights, the passion for these two is the experience they’re able to provide while movies are on the big(ger than a TV) screen. They aren’t mixologists or “cocktail-ologists,” as they say, although Cabrera does make a kick-ass drink.

He begins to pour shots of Malört as we speak. He’s standing behind the bar thinking about the specifics of his transformation from a casual moviegoer into a hardcore fan of the artform, and now an owner of a business whose life blood is fellow film enthusiasts. He thinks it was probably college, but then second guesses where he even stands on the pendulum of cinematic fanatics, figuring he’s not much different than anyone else who puts a DVD in and pushes “play.”

“[In 2007], I watched Breathless, which is a [Jean-Luc] Godard French new-wave movie, then this Czech movie called The Loves of a Blonde. I watched those within a week based on people’s recommendations. That made me curious about what else was out there and kind of created a new paradigm for me of movies as a broader medium. They could be this or this or this.”

Mitchell echoes the sentiment, adding how influential clerks behind the counters at video stores were for him. He also notes his affinity for punk music and B movies. He keeps up with blockbusters and popular films on a regular basis, but both tastes have grown tremendously out of necessity.

Suns wasn’t their first foray into curation.

In 2011, the influenced became influential as Cabrera and Mitchell began inviting swaths of friends for standard “movie nights.” With a blank wall, a bed sheet and a $300 projector bought on Craigslist, the pair hosted themed parties each requiring a certain level of participation from guests – whether it be contributing a pot of pasta for an Italian feature or margaritas for an art film from Mexico.

“You’d meet people on The Hill who were into indie music or who worked in bars, and we were friends with a lot of those people,” Mitchell says. “We’d invite them over for movies. It was a very unpretentious film club – not even a film club.”

The parties were natural. They had smart friends who shared interests in other forms of art, so why not share eclectic movies, too?

“I noticed we had a lot of friends who were really articulate and understood a lot about music,” Cabrera adds. “There was a language and an understanding to that. There didn’t seem to be that with movies in DC. If I would spend time in New York and you’d [name] a director, everyone’s like, ‘Oh yeah, totally.’ There’s more of a common knowledge because everyone has been exposed to it, whereas here it didn’t seem like that was the case as much.”

As they explain the lineage of Suns, it’s obvious not much has changed for either in this regard. Cabrera still suggests movies to patrons and Mitchell still has a day job as a hairstylist in the neighborhood, popping in and out to help. The two still do most of the work around the shop and bear all the responsibility for their triumphs and stumbles.

Suns Cinema is the ultimate living room for 30 or so people to get excited about movies, complete with a full bar and popcorn machine. Cabrera and Mitchell act as your guides before, after and during intermission, each vacillating between a Blockbuster employee of the month and friendly neighborhood bartender. How many films where a wild idea turns into a success story have they seen? Undoubtedly countless and probably in several different languages. But Suns Cinema isn’t a fictional place like the video store in Be Kind Rewind – it’s real life.

“I don’t think either of us had some dream of owning a movie theater,” Mitchell says. “The mission statement has stayed the same. The original idea is that we would put a sheet on our wall and invite our friends and anyone else to come watch movies that we thought were kind of cool.”

To learn more about Suns Cinema and their “kind of cool” movie showings, visit http://www.sunscinema.com.

Suns Cinema: 3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.sunscinema.com

Swan Lake by the American Ballet

Stage and Screen: Aziz Ansari, Swan Lake, Aladdin and More

THROUGH JULY 14

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
In 1930s Chicago, Arturo Ui would stop at nothing to become the next tyrant. Ui would’ve been just a stranger you met on the street, a neighbor in your local market; but influenced by greed, money and power, he conquered the cauliflower industry. Playwright Bertolt Brecht’s clear depiction of a modern-day Hitler is renewed in this production directed by John Doyle. Times vary. Tickets $25-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

TUESDAY, JULY 2

Aziz Ansari:  Road to Nowhere Comedic Tour
After a fall from grace following a sexual misconduct allegation in early 2018, comedian Aziz Ansari will return to the public eye in his first tour since the controversy. His argumentatively contentious allegation has created a new discovery in his comedic expression. Ansari uses his witty, sarcastic and socially progressive charm to push the conversation forward. The set will highlight his life after public scrutiny and what lies ahead for him as a public figure. There’s no doubt all seats will be filled, laughs will be heard and questions hopefully answered. This is the official return of Aziz Ansari as a comedic artist. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $30. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org/constitution-hall

TUESDAY, JULY 9

Pilobolus
Dance company Pilobolus continues to push the limitations of human physicality through performance art. Using the medium of poetic movement, this group continually challenges their bodies, whether stretched, bounded or morphed together, to better create a versatile view of humans in the physical form. Join in this interactive performance as they create a unique narrative using the only thing they came in with: their bodies. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $29-$69. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

THURSDAY, JULY 11 – SATURDAY, JULY 13

American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake
This timeless ballet classic involves a love story combining magic, romance and tragedy to tell the tale of Odette and Prince Siegfried. Based on reputation, American Ballet Theatre’s rendition has continually exceeded expectations, providing majestic movements in gracious unison that have left audiences in awe for generations. Under the choreography of Kevin McKenzie, Wolf Trap hosts this romanticized depiction of an essential classic. Starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $25-$80. Filene Center at Wolftrap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THURSDAY, JULY 11 – SUNDAY, JULY 14

UrbanArias: Juliet Letters
Elvis Costello’s Juliet Letters was drafted to create several musical interpretations of Shakespeare’s famed character Juliet. Filled with passion, despair and betrayal, UrbanArias will perform a series of narratives by Costello and Brodsky Quartet in a cabaret setting. The show features characters ranging in age and backgrounds to provide a dynamically dramatic performance to pay tribute to some of Shakespeare’s best written work. Thursday to Saturday shows at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $47. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Virginia; www.sigtheatre.org

THURSDAY, JULY 18

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 11 Tour
The Emmy winning RuPaul’s Drag Race continues to strut its stuff for the 11th season, and the starring queens don’t plan on stopping any time soon. The queens, dragged in style and grace, are once again ready to head down the runway and put on a show. Make sure your wigs are secure and edges laid, because this show is going to be one for the books. They are coming to break necks! Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $37. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

THURSDAY, JULY 18 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

Disney’s Aladdin
Come enjoy the hit Broadway musical Disney’s Aladdin, as it graces the JFK’s center stage. From the producers of The Lion King, comes the magic fairy tale of a young lad and his Genie. Tony Award-winning James Monroe Iglehart gives a performance of a lifetime bringing nothing but comedy, beauty, and magic to the stage as Aladdin’s very own Genie. So strap in your magic carpets, grab a lamp and be ready to discover a whole new world. Times vary. Tickets start at $39. Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SUNDAY, JULY 21

DC Improv: Murder Mystery Comedy Show
Die Laughing Productions is back in DC with another night of comedic fun. Taking it back to the 90s with “Hit Me ‘90s One More Time,” this show features comedians involved in a narrative pitting their characters against one another for the hottest concert ticket of the year, Ace of Base. This fun-filled night will have you laughing out of your seats and enjoying nostaligc flashbacks, all while trying to uncover a murder mystery. Come out and celebrate the 90s with the DC Improv group, and just maybe you’ll make it out alive! Starts at 7 p.m. Tickets $19. DC Improv Comedy Club: 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.dcimprov.com

Illustration: courtesy of "All Fantasy Everything"

Best Podcast Available All Fantasy Everything Selects DC For Live Tour

Podcasts are a dime a dozen these days. They’re easily created and just as quickly forgotten. Name a comedian, sports writer, author or filmmaker, and they’ve probably dabbled in coordinating a program discussing most anything. There’s plenty of reasons for these folks to give podcasting a shot: there’s money to be made and ears to grab, and it’s a great promotional tool for other types of programming, whether it be a standup special or an opinion column.

The brainpower behind “All Fantasy Everything” agreed with the sentiment. Founded by comedian and television writer Ian Karmel, the podcast is a show of three to four people sitting around fantasy drafting anything and everything: from Tom Hanks films to road trips.

“[Karmel] just wanted a way to interview people,” says cohost and comedian Sean Jordan. “He wanted a podcast where he could talk to his friends. He came up with the idea [and] shopped it around.Originally, people weren’t receptive. We did one together one day and it stuck.”

“All Fantasy Everything” debuted on the Internet in 2016 and is recorded weekly in Portland, Oregon with new episodes populating feeds every Friday. While episodes have featured a roulette of guests, including The Late Late Show host James Corden and NBA writer Zach Harper, the constant staples are Karmel, Jordan and standup comedian David Gborie. On July 13, locals will actually be able to sit in the same room as these folks as they live draft on Black Cat’s stage.

“It’s a very natural feel,” Jordan continues. “If you’re going to listen to people sit and talk, it has to have that real feel. We have running jokes, but I think one of the reasons it’s so good is because it sounds as if we’re just sitting in the living room watching basketball. It makes people feel at ease, as if they’re there.”

The format is predictable, which you’ll know if you’ve ever tinkered with any kind of fantasy draft. The hosts and guests each take turns picking something involving the theme, followed up by an explanation. The true magic of the show is in these unscripted moments where the listener is thrown into a full-fledged discussion either celebrating or dissecting the preceding selection. The ribbing is delightful and sincere and rarely, if ever, nasty or offensive.

“Sometimes there’s that feeling if someone is making a joke and it goes down the wrong road, it’s tricky because we’re three straight dudes,” Jordan says candidly. “We’re quick to wrangle it in. We just like to talk about how cool stuff is and how cool people are, and how often we cry.”

The transition from a studio or couch to a live crowd seems like a surreal thing for a podcast built upon the idea of shooting the shit among friends while debating which villain is more interesting or what fast-food items reign supreme among lit drive-thru menus. And while they do present differences in the flow of a normal show, the comedians aren’t afraid to ratchet it up for the crowd.

“[The live shows] are a lot trickier to rein in because the crowds are very hyped,” Jordan says. “When it’s a live show, I’m so excited and thrilled that anyone cares about anything I’m part of. I’m not sure anyone knows for certain that people will care about what they do, so when a thousand people are there to see them, you try to give them a show.”

Undoubtedly, the most intriguing aspect of the pod is the themes chosen. Jordan says they try to align it with whatever guest they’ll have, but often they opt for a general topic anyone could dive into without a huge amount of research.

“Even if you don’t know anything about it, it’s fun,” Jordan says. “Like vegetables – I hate vegetables. Sometimes, we’ll just decide randomly. It’s pretty easy. You don’t have to prep – just wing it. It’s just an excuse to sit around and bullshit, so it usually works.”

Themes for upcoming live shows – including the one in the District – have yet to be decided, but Jordan says they’ll be figured out beforehand. And though I tried to get the comedian to spill the beans on what it could be, he holds firm and doesn’t budge, only divulging the most generic of information.

“We try to keep it local but broad enough,” Jordan says. “It’s hush-hush for now.”

As of right now, there’s more than 100 episodes available to get listeners hyped for their DC show. So plug in your headphones while you prep for your own upcoming fantasy drafts, and pray we get a theme as wacky as celebrity sex tapes or stuff to do when you’re drunk.

“All Fantasy Everything” comes to Black Cat on July 13. Tickets $20. Stream the podcast at www.headgum.com/all-fantasy-everything.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Hello, Dolly!’s Analisa Leaming Provides Podcast Aimed at Motivating Artists

Broadway legend Betty Buckley is currently starring as the titular role in the national tour of Hello, Dolly!, playing at the Kennedy Center through July 7. The classic musical, with a book by Michael Stewart and songs by Jerry Herman, tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a middle-aged marriage broker in 1880s New York City, who navigates a colorful collection of characters in search of love. 

One of those characters is Irene Molloy, played by Analisa Leaming, whose Broadway resume includes stints in School of Rock, The King and I and On The 20th Century. She was also the understudy for Irene on Broadway, going on about a dozen times. 

When she got the call to do the national tour, she, her husband and dog packed up the car and began traveling from place to place. 

“I love that this show is light and fun and joyful,” Leaming says. “With everything going on in the world today, we get to be that two-and-a-half hours of joy every night.”

Being on Broadway was always something Leaming knew she wanted to do. In fact, when she was in sixth grade, her teacher inscribed in her yearbook, “I know I’ll see your name up in lights some day in Hollywood,” and she asked him to scratch the last part out and put “Broadway” instead.

Although her first Broadway show –  Rebecca – was cancelled the night before rehearsals started, and it took three years for her to get another chance, she stayed busy doing regional and Off-Broadway shows. 

In addition to her theater work on stage, Leaming is also passionate about promoting mindfulness and sustainability for artists who work in what can often be a stressful field. 

In that vein, Leaming hosts a podcast, “A Balancing Act,” which features conversations with other working artists about how to navigate the industry and create balance and happiness as a performer. 

“What happened to me with Rebecca is kind of like someone who gets drafted by the NFL, and [then] hurts their Achilles and doesn’t get to play; it’s that level of disappointment,” Leaming says. “It had been this thing I had been dreaming about my whole life. When it was taken away, I had to do some deep searching and what I found is that as artists, it’s very easy to wait for things to happen.”

She explains that includes waiting for calls about roles and always comparing yourself to others.

“I went on my search inward and I just had to share it with others so I created this podcast,” Leaming says. “What I found talking with other artists is that we all share these same fears. These are things that we don’t often talk about. It’s been very helpful.”

Among her guests have been Rebecca Luker, Gavin Creel and John Tartaglia. Tony winner Jessie Mueller will be on soon.

“Because it’s not a weekly podcast, I have plenty of time to edit and so I invite people to be as vulnerable as possible and if they want something taken out, I can totally do that, and I think that has helped create some really honest and emotional conversations,” she says. 

Now in its third season, Leaming originally did all the interviews in person, but being on tour, most of the interviews are recorded over the phone.

“I talk to these incredible people and learn from them and it helps me stay on my own path of where I want to be,” she says. “This is my way of changing my corner of the world.” 

“A Balancing Act” not only hears the stories of these artists, but gets tips on how they reduce stress and cope with the challenges that come with pursuing and maintaining a Broadway career. 

“What I’ve learned is how imperative it is for artists to have other things that we love and are actively doing, and being a more balanced person,” Leaming says.   

See Leaming in Hello, Dolly! at the Kennedy Center through July 7. Showtimes vary and tickets are $49-$159. For information about the show, visit here. Podcast episodes of “A Balancing Act” are available here

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

Photo: Jati Lindsay

HERstory Presents a Love Letter to Women in Hip-Hop

The culture of hip-hop has made it difficult for women to be respected the same way male artists are with its vulgar and misogynistic lyrics. Playwright Goldie E. Patrick’s “HERstory: Love Forever, Hip Hop” paints a picture of struggles women in the industry have experienced over time, while celebrating the legacies and trailblazers that have contributed to hip-hop culture. 

As the audience walked in and found their seats, a DJ played classic tracks, which brought people to their feet. WPGC 95.5 radio host Poet also walked around and asked the audience what hip-hop album or song made them fall in love with the genre. 

After seeing the production in its entirety, it’s easy to understand why that question was important. The atmosphere with classic hip-hop tracks playing brought people to their feet and set the stage for what the audience was going to learn. While a fun performance, it sparked an ongoing conversation on how the genre has positively and negatively connected people in various ways.

The production, performed on June 14-15, at the Kennedy Center pulls its inspiration from Common’s 1994 song “I use to Love H.E.R.” The narrative portrays hip-hop as a woman named H.E.R. who is in the hospital and in critical condition. The audience is introduced to four characters who all have some connection to the music, but through very different lenses. 

“HERstory” begins prologue by Ya girl, KK, played by Heather Gibson, who “spills the tea” on her social media about H.E.R. being in critical condition. As a former gossip columnist, Gibson’s character serves as a sort of female version of Perez Hilton. Her opening prologue proves how gossip on social media can negatively impact the public’s misconceptions on the personal lives of an artist, and how the media pits female artists against each other. 

Later on the audience is introduced to the four characters; Maxine, a die-hard fan; Eve, a passionate graduate student who has been in contact with H.E.R.; Lele, a music producer who’s worked with H.E.R.; and Isys, a former performer that has been H.E.R.’S life for some time.

The whole cast is successful on shedding light on issues, while still depicting the positive impact hip-hop culture has on female artists. Eve, played by Billie Krishawn, portrays an outsider and the youngest character. Unlike the other three, she is not in the industry, so all she knows is information filtered through the media or through her studies as a grad student. As the youngest and most optimistic character, through her the audience is reminded of how and why they first fell in love with the genre.

For more on playwright Goldie E. Patrick, visit www.goldiepatrick.com.

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

Awa Sal Secka (Shanti), Kevin McCallister (Caesar), Chris Hoch (Blackbeard), Christopher Mueller (Jake), and Lawrence Redmond (Samuel) in Blackbeard at Signature Theatre // Photo: Christopher Mueller

Blackbeard Costume Designer Helps Pirate Live His Best Life

For Signature Theatre’s world premiere of Blackbeard, the cast and crew has to look magnificent. The famed pirate, upon learning he is wanted by the British Army embarks on a fantastical journey across the globe to raise an undead-pirate army from the depths of the sea. To fully depict this fantastical spirit, costume designer Erik Teague was able to create a variety of colorful and outer-worldly outfits for this show, and he spoke to On Tap about his experience working on the production before the show begins its run on June 18.

On Tap: What brought you into costume design?
Erik Teague: I was that weird kid who loved comic books and movies, still true today, but the oddball component is that I really enjoyed opera. I thought I wanted to be an opera singer. As I studied, my love of music never changed, and I realized the thing that was exciting about the performance was the transformation. I finally realized,  oh wait I’m just a designer, okay great!

Illustrations: courtesy of Signature Theatre

OT: Did you know the Signature team prior, if not what was the collaborative process for you in terms of creativity?
ET: This is my very first time working with the team at Signature, they are a company I have long admired because of the ambitious nature of what they do. It is always interesting to come into a different artistic family than your own, this group of people has a long history of working together. I’ve had to figure out where to fit in, but overall it has been very good, we have been able to communicate with each other well and share ideas fluidly.

OT: Why did you choose to join the team for Blackbeard?
ET: An adventure fantasy musical that centers around pirates, I thought that was super exciting, and super in my artistic wheelhouse. Meaning there would be lots of sword fights and swashbuckling and swinging on ropes, which I find very interesting. Building costumes for these types of performances has different methods than other performances where you just walk across the stage and deliver your lines. The construction methods are different, it is always exciting to find out what a performer needs to be supported to do their choreography.

OT: What is your favorite moment of the show?
ET: There are a couple of good ones, but I will say the I am pretty proud of the zombie pirate horde. We have done some highly theatrical gestures, by a couple, I mean we have created a horde of skeleton pirates who glow in the dark by using tandem puppets. Three of them can walk in a line together, I worked with Kylie Clark, a talented artist who made the puppets, and helped to get them functional.

OT: What is your favorite costume in the show, if any?
ET: Definitely Blackbeard’s two coats, they are a wonderful show in contrasts. His first coat is very distressed and lived in, and looks like it could have walked off the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set. Versus the second coat, his afterlife coat. Blackbeard is living his best life in his afterlife. He has been beheaded as per the real history. He finally becomes the myth and legend he has been trying to live up to the whole time. I gave him the opportunity to look the best, [a] red velvet coat with black beading all over it, and black Venetian lace trimming.

Blackbeard opens at Signature Theatre June 18, running through July 14. For more information and tickets visit www.sigtheatre.org.

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

Vintage Tea Party // Photo: Dominque Fierro

Different Artists, Influences Come Together With One Voice

One Voice, an exhibition featuring numerous DC LGBTQ artists created an inclusive space for activists, art lovers and pride month participants for an intimate experience at the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel. Creatives like Tom Hill, Jorge Carceres, Dominique Fierro and Wayson Jones each displayed individual works that illustrate their viewpoints in the selection. 

The exhibit runs through September 2, and opened at the beginning of June for Pride Month. Though the art is free to see, there is a $5 suggested donation for The Trevor Project.

Walking into the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel near Dupont Circle, you’re immediately greeted by works from Hill, both bright and captivating:  “Scratch Where It Itches, In a Whirl,” draws you into the building, until suddenly you’re into the main lobby area, where an entire room is utilized. Throughout, each artist is generously given their own separate gazing area, which allows the viewer to better take in and interpret the message behind the work. 

A DC native, Hill has always been an advocate for civil rights. From a young age, he’s been driven to bring peace and prosperity to those fighting for equality, which has given him a unique outlook on life, one that eventually brought him to his career in art. He’s specifically interested in what it means to be “queer,” in the modern era. Hill uses male figures, accents of glitter and striking acrylic. He draws his audience in with the intention to question the life of a man living in the gay community. With bold lettering and their own individual message, he defines it as sublime and multi-dimensional. Particularly placed within the exhibit, it casts light on the depiction of the queer man. 

As you make a lap around the exhibit, you also run into the work of Fierro, who uses photographic depictions of vulnerability. The black and white images of “Vintage Tea Party and Raw” have dire emotion, where you see women covered by shadows who appear timid and irrational. The presentation provides no particular direction, you observe in caution as though they were in the room with you. Fierro uses uncomfortable scenes to truly captivate her impression: their souls and she uses photos to show their world.  

Lastly, Wayson Jones places an element of surprise within his gallery. Surrounded by vibrancy, his luminous and eerie paintings rein over the room, stricken with curiosity an observer could even question the reality behind the creations. Does it relate to his identity? How does it portray to being in the LGBTQ community? And what type of impressions would this make on the everyday person?  But as he exclaims, the art is up for interpretation. His portrayal of black shaded figures within a white materialistic background; “Ancestor, Death Threat, Boxed In,” abides by his idea of a distaste for the mistreatment of his community. Members of the black and LGBTQ community have faced years of discrimination and supreme adversities.

These are all very different artists with unique influences who came together for this one night to help form a powerful message with a variety of perspectives influenced by nostalgic sentiments, nature and civil rights. Though each are strong and loud enough on their own, the impact of these works under one roof is undeniably heightened as they intersect and compliment to form “One Voice.” 

“One Voice” runs through September 2.  Learn More about the exhibit at here.

Kimpton Carlyle Hotel: 1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; 202-234-3200; www.carlylehoteldc.com