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Light It UP! Scores Funding For Alexandria Basketball Courts

It’s truly amazing what a group of citizens can do when they partner up on something they care about – even if it’s something as simple as installing lights at outdoor basketball courts.

Started by Alexandria, Virginia natives Chris Denby, Bruce Falk and Mike Porterfield, community group Light It UP! (LIU) has gained enough support to partner with the City of Alexandria to provide lights at the basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park. Through fundraising efforts in the area, the group’s connections with Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and councilman John Taylor Chapman, and sheer patience and determination, this $150,000 project has become a reality.

In 2016, the trio noticed there was inequity at the brand-new facilities at Potomac Yard, whether they were just passing by or in Porterfield’s case, picking up his son from the park just after dusk. There were lights on the tennis courts but not on the basketball courts. His son was shooting baskets in pitch black, but light was coming from the tennis courts, which didn’t seem right to him.

“As I’m waiting for him, I’m texting [Mayor] Wilson because we all know he’s dialed in,” Porterfield says. “He responded saying, ‘You’re a little late to the party; there’s already two guys [Falk and Denby] who are on it.’”

Mayor Wilson, along with the Alexandria City Council, supported the creation of a public-private partnership to help fund the new project, giving the guys the freedom to really make it happen.

“From there, Mike was a huge help, spurring us along with connections, energy and fundraising expertise that Bruce and I didn’t have prior to this,” Denby says. “We also took advantage of a lot of the opportunities [nonprofit] ACT for Alexandria provided to get well-known in the community. Their fundraising efforts were great and gave us some more clout.”

ACT for Alexandria’s annual Spring2ACTion event aims to strengthen the local community as a “giving day” to support all the nonprofits doing incredible work locally, which benefited LIU’s progress as well.

“We got some camera time, and experienced good camaraderie with people organizing Alexandria-specific events,” Falk says. “John and Justin came out to dunk on our mini-hoop; those things also lead to productive, positive photo ops that we can leverage on Facebook and elsewhere – things that are individually small but amplify one another.”

LIU is all about extending the use of the basketball courts and their overall time availability, but there’s also increased opportunities for local rec leagues and others that might be able to take advantage of the courts in a structured way “that’s beneficial to specific organizations and the city in terms of revenue and maintenance,” Falk says. “We think of it as a positive feedback loop.”

Of course, only time will tell the long-term impact LIU will make, but it’s clear the project is creating opportunities for the overall community.

“The legacy of what this could be [includes] more kids who are staying occupied, doing healthy activities and not hanging out playing video games when the weather is good,” Denby says. “You’ll get adults that are staying fit, staying happy and they’re outside being good citizens for good health. There’s no measure for that, but you know that it’s going to be the result.”

Falk touches on an invisible benefit for people that have been going by Potomac Yard, seeing lights from the tennis courts and darkness on the basketball courts.

“For people inclined to make use of the basketball courts, there was an implicit message that they are somehow less important, or their needs are somehow less important,” he says. “Now that the lights are going up, we are showing the city values everybody equally.”

Not only that, the usage of the courts will increase significantly, raising an excellent point about the numbers of the sport.

“In basketball, you’re going to get at least 10 people playing and sometimes more,” Falk says.

Denby adds, “There’s always someone saying, ‘I got next game.’ The force multiplier is huge. You’re rotating through [players] on a good day.”

The lights have been ordered by the City of Alexandria and the LIU team is waiting eagerly for the installation date. Signage is being finalized and funds are completely transferred. Now all that’s left to do is host the unveiling later this spring.

“The unveiling should be awesome,” Falk says. “[We’ll] have two rec kids’ teams, and we’ll have them play under the lights. We’re excited be able to recognize all our donors and major supporters.”

Light It UP! is successfully bringing lights to the community basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park thanks to PARKnerships with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA).


To learn more and receive updates about the LIU project, visit www.fb.com/pg/lightituppotomacyards.

Photo: www.studiotheatre.org

Queen of Basel’s Playwright Discusses Adaptation and Influences

Any time a contemporary artist decides to tackle and untangle a literary classic, the task is often monumental. However, when said artist then decides to mix and mold the already established characters into representations of the modern world, an adaptation is in the midst.

Critically acclaimed Hilary Bettis not only took hold of the characters and story from August Strindberg’s 1889 novel Miss Julie, but completely flipped it on itself. In an effort to provoke thoughts from diverse audiences, Bettis adapted the story from the troublesome Strindberg into the play Queen of Basel.

The play charges head first, focusing on societal aspects of power, race and class. Performances of the play are now in their last week at Studio Theatre, and before the Queen’s run ends, we spoke with the passionate Bettis about adapting the story, her process and the influences she draws from.

On Tap: How did you select Miami as the backdrop for this modern take on a classic play?
Hilary Bettis: Queen of Basel was originally commissioned by Michel Hausmann at Miami New Drama, with the goal of taking a familiar classic text and reimagining it specifically for a diverse Miami audience. So the backdrop was part of the assignment. Most of America likes to brush poverty under the rug – we don’t like to look at it. We live in gated communities or “gentrifying” neighborhoods, trying to separate ourselves as much as possible, but in Miami it’s so in your face. You literally have homeless encampments across the street from million-dollar condos. After spending time in the city, Miami felt like the perfect setting to explore a modern-day take on a play about wealth, class and power in 2019 America.

OT: What was most difficult when creating Queen of Basel?
HB: [August] Strindberg. Full stop. Aside from the original Miss Julie written as a total fever dream with messy internal logic and structure, which made trying to build a plot complicated, I fundamentally disagree with Strindberg’s view of humanity. He viewed women through the Madonna-whore lens. He believed “white” male sexuality is the epitome of strength. In his author’s preface Strindberg says, “Miss Julie is a modern character. Not that the man-hating half-woman has not existed in all ages but because now that she has been discovered, she has come out in the open to make herself heard.” And, “Jean is superior to Miss Julie because he is a man. Sexually, he is an aristocrat because of his masculine strength.” And, in his reference to Kristine (who he calls the “female slave”), “if my minor characters seem abstract, it is because ordinary people are abstract in their occupations.”

I believe ordinary people are unique, complicated and deserving of dignity. I believe sexuality female or male – doesn’t define the character or value of a human being. I believe men are capable of vulnerability and gentleness. I believe women are capable of strength and intellectual ideas. I believe people are equal in their flaws, their need for intimacy and love, their desire to be seen and valued. I believe choice comes out of circumstances. If we can understand the reality of a person’s life, we can find empathy – especially in the darkness.

OT: What will audiences discover or re-contemplate about race and power through Queen of Basel?
HB: The responses to the play have been utterly fascinating. People either love it or don’t know how to process it. The play really digs into the fluidity and messiness and ambiguity of privilege. All of these characters have power in some ways and are oppressed in other ways. They’re all victims and perpetrators. The play is designed to make an audience uncomfortable. My hope is that discomfort sparks conversation.

OT: Why the Latinx influence?
HB: I’m Latinx – my mother is Chicana – so everything I write tends to be through that lens. I was commissioned to write a bilingual adaptation for a Miami audience – so embracing Cuban, Venezuelan, Haitian [and] Colombian communities felt necessary. I also think America tends to think of Latinx as a monolithic culture; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Imperialism, slavery, Jewish people fleeing Hitler, genocide against natives, dictators, death squads funded by the U.S. and the empires built on that heritage – also plagues much of Latin America. I wanted an audience to see the nuance and diversity of communities within Latinidad.

OT: How did you and José Zayas get connected and how has it been working with him on this project?
HB: José is my theater soulmate. We’ve know of each other for a few years now, always wanting to work together, but the timing was never right. We finally got to work together at the Alley Theatre’s All New Festival last January on this play. We connected and got each other right away. He understands my voice and what I’m really after in my work and he challenges me to dig deeper, he never lets me settle. He’s really an actor’s director who knows how to make everyone feel empowered.

OT: What did you learn or discover during your creative process?
HB: So, so, so much, I was literally rewriting up until opening. This play is an actor’s play – three people in a room for 75 minutes bearing their souls and flaws and vulnerabilities – I really wanted the cast to have a point of view and a voice in our entire process. We had a lot of conversations about power, gender, race [and] how we navigate that onstage. How we portray these people with empathy, while remaining honest about their flaws.

But what’s fascinating is how Julie’s wealth sort of erases everything else about her. Audience’s are much more likely to forgive John and Christine than Julie, even though Julie is in just as much pain and turmoil.

OT: How has the current immigration conflict impacted your storytelling in Queen of Basel?HB: Immigration is something I write about in almost all of my work. The history of America is the history of immigration, and each generation has its immigrant story. Because I set out to write for a Miami audience, understanding the conflict in Venezuela, Castro’s Cuba and Baby Doc’s Haiti were vital to understanding the very fabric of Miami. Michel Hausmann, who commissioned this, is a Venezuelan ex-pat who fled the country after his theater was tear-gassed by [Hugo] Chavez. His family were Jewish refugees fleeing their homeland. The cycles of oppression, how we wield it in small and large ways, is the spine of this play.

OT: Aside from Strindberg, where else did you draw inspiration for this story?
HB: Certainly my own life. I’m mixed, white and Mexican, so I often struggle with where I fit in the world. All three characters are juggling multiple identities, so that part is very visceral and personal. And I’m a woman, so misogyny is personal. All of my collaborators have inspired me.

Queen of Basel is showing at the Studio Theatre through April 7.  Tickets are $20-$97, and available here.

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

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Photo: Salina Ladha

Homeshake Only Plays the Hits

The Black Cat main stage is buzzing on March 25, and the opener, Yves Jarvis, hasn’t even gone onstage yet.

This is the second year in a row Homeshake, solo project of Montreal, Canada-based Peter Sagar, performs for a sold out crowd in DC. His show last year, which we also covered, was at Union Stage on the Wharf and next year, he should probably play the legendary 9:30 Club.

Much like yesteryear’s show, the crowd is generally young. (However, there are some old heads spaced throughout the room.) Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t shut up during the opener. To be fair, Jarvis didn’t set himself up for success. There was little indication that he was going to be playing, and he performed most of his songs on an acoustic guitar.

There’s little wrong with an acoustic guitar, but there’s a also a time and place for it. Like the Best Damn Open Mic night at Boundary Stone. (Disclaimer: I work there.)

Anyway, he gets off the stage at some point. Nobody knows when, and Homeshake comes on sometime after. Finally, the crowd tunes in.

Sagar starts off with “Early,” the opener off his latest record Helium (2019). It’s a down-tempo instrumental played on keys and sets the tone for the record as a whole.

Helium has a similar feel of the first Homeshake record In the Shower (2014), but with the hi-fi quality of Fresh Air (2017). It also has some standout singles, e.g. “Like Mariah,” which literally slaps, and “Nothing Could Be Better.”

The record was panned by Pitchfork, though some might call this a badge of honor. The reviewer gave the record a 3.5/10, reasoning that it has the “snap of limp celery.” He’s right actually, but I still listen to the record. It’s “cat in your lap” type music, a morning go-to alongside the infinite bisous record period (2019).

In admitting that I like the music, I’ll concede that the live show is not worth going to. I should have known this because I was in the Union Stage crowd last year, when Homeshake played and I didn’t like the show then either.

The formula: is open with a track off the latest record, move into singles off of the previous record and then move back to selections from the latest record, all while playing songs exactly as they were recorded.

This is to say that beyond a joke or two, the live show doesn’t  add much to the experience of the music. If you’ve heard the record, then you’ve heard the live show. Nothing will surprise you.

Some people enjoy concerts like that, and that’s fine. Sunday night at Black Cat, the crowd ate it up, much like they did last February at Union Stage. However, I like to be surprised by a live show. 

For more information on Homeshake, follow him on Twitter.

On Tap Media + DC Fray Join Forces

We have some big news to share!

As On Tap Media continues to look for new ways to grow and expand our editorial and events footprint, we’re excited to announce that we’re teaming up with DC Fray, a DC-based social sports, events and media company. By joining forces, we’ll expand our coverage of what the DMV has to offer and bring amazing new experiences to both of our communities.

Much more to come about this news over the next few months, but for now all you really need to know is lots fun and exciting things are coming your way. In the meantime:

  1. Check out our Instagram and hit up our story today to learn a bit about our new team members.
  2. Check out the latest edition of our magazine, and our SXSW 2019 coverage.
  3. Learn more about Fray’s spring leagues and sign up here.

For our full press announcement, click here.

OT Team


On Tap Team

Fray Team

Fray Team

Photo: Francisco Campos-Lopez

A Q&A With Washington Performing Art’s Jenny Bilfield On The Portals Of Art and More

Jenny Bilfield was once told to work as a receptionist and luckily for the DC area, she ignored this request. Instead, the President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts listened to the impactful women in her life telling her to be ambitious, develop a powerful work ethic and to channel her experiences along the way.

At the helm of the local art organization, Bilfield has steered toward community and education programs, ensuring people receive the same inspiration and motivation as she did in her formative years. We talked to Bilfield about her love for all things art, her trials and tribulations in the professional world and why it’s important for young people.

On Tap: How did you get your start in the arts?
Jenny Bilfield: I started playing the piano by ear when I was three, and composing when I was 10. I was the only person in my family with artistic ability, but my mother loved the arts, especially contemporary art, music, theater and so we attended everything. I’m sure my very early exposure and encouragement conditioned me to be open to a variety of art forms, sounds [and] environments.

OT: Why is art important to you and when did you know you wanted to have a career in the field?
JB: For me, the arts provide portals to history, emotion, experience, human understanding; they enlighten, engage, inspire [and] educate. I have learned so much through the work of great artists. Artists have an arsenal of tools to synthesize and express the complexity and beauty of our world in ways that engage the heart and mind, afresh. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the arts from the time I was pretty young – I decided when I was around 17 or 18, that I preferred making music happen (promoting and programming it) more than I liked the solitary confinement of a practice room. An internship coordinating a Beethoven Festival on Long Island one summer, clinched it for me.

OT: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
JB: I started working in 1985 in New York City – 20 years old, right out of college. I encountered a number of challenges early on: the assumption, from prospective employers (male) that I was going to work only until I met a man and got married. In addition, I was told I needed to choose a path, marketing, fundraising, PR, programming, etc., and that my desire to lead or run an organization was both unrealistic and hasty; organizational leadership wasn’t a track, they insisted. It took me a few years to actually run an organization, but I did have very interesting roles before I got to that point: coordinating special projects and programs for Merkin Concert Hall, working as Philip Glass’s assistant, etc. Several organizations I worked for early on weren’t especially large or stable, but I learned by doing and took some pretty important risks in order to develop my leadership chops and operational capacity across all areas of management and programming. I also developed a strong stomach for the organizational volatility that comes with working for a small institution.

OT: What are you most proud of achieving in your career? How do you set goals, and what are some that you’re working on now?
JB: A great question and opportunity to walk down memory lane! I am proud of the expansive work I’ve done on behalf of living composers – founding the New Music Orchestral Project and bringing 40 new works to life through performances and reading sessions; my leadership role at Boosey & Hawkes during, which I developed composer-focused initiatives and catalog acquisitions, partnerships that measurably grew our composers’ profiles, work and opportunities globally (and our overall catalog) while generating new revenue for the company to currently at Washington Performing Arts, developing programs (connecting mainstage, community-engagement and educational) that have provided artists with transformative platforms for their most special projects and facilitated deeper connections with audiences. I do this alongside a great team and with strong board support, and find it incredibly powerful to curate programs in DC, drawing upon the cultural resources and partnerships in this city. Those partnerships have enabled us to shine a spotlight on key themes and moments in American history – something we are aiming to do more of.

OT: What advice would you give to women pursuing careers in the arts?
JB: Personal advice: as you consider a life partner, be sure that the person you’re with is fully invested in your career and your success [because] this field requires a high level of work, life integration and if you’re on a leadership path there will be many demands placed upon your time. Professional advice: develop quantitative skills and be comfortable with data and numbers, even if you don’t expect to be a CFO or Marketing/Development Director. If invited to join a board, join the finance or governance committee; if you have experience in this area, you will be steps ahead of your peers whether you oversee programming, education or operations.

OT: Did you get any advice from someone when you were first beginning your journey?
JB: From two men – advice to work as a receptionist at an organization for several years and then apply for another entry level job within the organization; I did not take this advice. From several women: be ambitious, prepared, develop a good work ethic and use my experience.  This advice, I did take. I had quite a number of anti-role models, and quite a number of true role models. It’s important to meet and speak with a lot of people to see, hear what resonates.

OT: How is Washington Performing Arts working to empower women in the workplace and on the stage?  
JB: Our leadership team is 50 percent women (we have many on the wider staff, in fact), with a similar proportion on our board and junior board. We have a dynamic women’s committee too – and some of the most well-established, respected women in our field got their early start on the staff of Washington Performing Arts. On stage, we seek to foreground talent across many musical genres and styles and have found ample opportunities to highlight women – as performers, curators, composers, artists in residence.

OT: Why do you think arts education is important in schools?
JB: First and foremost, because I think arts exposure and participation enables us to access what is ambiguous, personal and very human in ourselves. The reason it’s important to have arts education within the schools (versus only as an extracurricular) is that when it’s included during the school day – as part of the curriculum – it becomes an educational priority, on par with other subjects. Whether its value is measured by social and emotional development of our children or by improvement in behavior or math skills, the arts can have a powerful impact.

OT: What excites you most in the DC arts scene right now?
JB: I really like my colleagues who are leading peer institutions and have found an abundance of creative, collaborative opportunities. Many of our institutions are committed to new work, arts education, and to forging meaningful relationships with community-based artists and organizations – social responsibility alongside a commitment to artistic excellence. So, it’s an interesting time to be in Washington as both artist and audience member.

For more information about Bilfield or Washington Performing Arts, visit www.washingtonperformingarts.com.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Waco Brothers Keep Crowd Alive During Late Set

The clock crept toward 1 a.m. Thursday morning after a long day at work and a full night rocking SXSW.

Sleep beckoned, but the pesky festival app on my phone wasn’t having it.

At 12:45 a.m., the app dinged and reminded me the Waco Brothers – cowpunk pioneers and Bloodshot Records legends – were due onstage in 15 minutes at the Continental Club, perhaps Austin’s most revered live music venue.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Walking in the door of the venerable institution on South Congress south of downtown, a blast of guitar-fueled adrenaline shot straight through my fatigue. Onstage, Waco Brothers were swinging electric guitars, accordions, mandolins, and even legs and arms as they blasted into their Hank Williams-meets-the-Ramones sound. Jon Langford, a Welshman and founder of punk legends the Mekons, launched the Waco Brothers two decades ago.

The guys may be grayer, but they show no sign of slowing down. Langford announced the Waco Brothers first played Austin in 1996, a time when some in the audience hadn’t even been born. This band was about to show the kids how it’s done.

“Had Enough,” a drum-thumping call-and-response tune about reaching the end of your rope, somehow played like an inspirational anthem. “Harm’s Way,” a propulsive country-rocker, revealed the Brother’s sharp songwriting skills and ability to infuse punk and country – two parts loud and one part melody.

Halfway through the set, a raven-haired woman in shorts and cowboy boots jumped onto a platform on the side of the stage a few sets in and started wind-milling her arms, exhorting the already enthusiastic crowd to make even more noise. Done!

The late-night crowd’s engine revved even higher when indie rocker Ted Leo joined the Brothers onstage for a couple of jams. You just never know what will happen onstage at a SXSW showcase. With that, I made my way to the exits, a weary smile plastered on my face and the exuberant sounds of the music ringing in my ears.

For more information about the Waco Brothers, click here.

Photo: Michael Coleman

DC Locals Gather at WeDC House in Austin

On the opening weekend of Austin, Texas’ international musical extravaganza known as SXSW, DC was definitely in the house – the WeDC House.

Some of DC’s hottest musical acts joined city officials, unofficial city ambassadors and hundreds of curiosity seekers for a three-day party celebrating not only the unique musical identity of the nation’s capital, but also the city’s reputation as an emerging hotbed for technology and innovation.

The DC crew set up shop at Bangers, a hip, indoor-outdoor space on Rainey Street, the epicenter of SXSW. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Austin with glittering views of the global tech hub’s rapidly expanding skyline, the District party jumped off Sunday with a distinctly DC Funk Parade theme featuring Cautious Clay, Innanet James, Sneaks, Malik Dope Drummer and DJ Mane Squeeze. Monday’s showcase was a who’s-who talent including Dubfire, SHAED, RDGLDGRN and Will Eastman.

Innanet James’ banging set was a highlight of Sunday’s party, and closed with his feel-good jam “Summer,” which had the crowd on its feet. Afterward, the Silver Spring native told On Tap he was honored to be a part of the DC-branded event, and even prouder of the music scene percolating in the nation’s capital.

“I’m real proud of it, you know what I’m saying,” James said. “It’s so good to see the number of artists coming up. I’m happy for everybody to be finally getting our stamp. It’s cool because the door isn’t all the way open but with everybody coming up next, we’re kicking the door open.”

While the WeDC House celebrated DC music, city officials – including Deputy Mayor Brian T. Kenner – were working the crowd, chatting up tech executives and selling the city as America’s “capital of inclusive innovation.”

After Sneaks’ laconic and mesmerizing rhymes further captivated the audience, Kenner took the microphone and hyped DC as a tech and innovation center to the influential crowd. Then the enthusiastic deputy mayor – brimming with excitement about possibilities for his hometown – sat for an interview with On Tap, in which he explained the city’s mission at SXSW.

“We’re pitching,” Kenner explained. “A couple of weeks ago we were in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland talking to technology companies who were thinking about expanding and asked them to think about Washington, DC. Now we’re in Austin and we want to remind people why they should think about [DC].”

While the Rainey St. event and cutting-edge music drew crowds and matched the party theme of SXSW week, Kenner said city economic development officials were all about business. Indeed, On Tap spied Keith J. Sellars, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership, deep into a long conversation with one tech executive during Cautious Clay’s intense and eclectic set.

“What you see here is the front of the office,” Kenner said gesturing toward the party. “But the back of the office is meetings and tracking of all the engagement we have coming in here. It’s a story we’re trying to curate here. We want people to know we’re a cool city and the word is getting out.”

Editor’s Note: Though the above story isn’t solely about SXSW’s music, the majority of our coverage this week will indeed focus on the tunes. Hope you enjoy! Follow our adventures on Instagram @ontapmagazine, and for more be sure to follow our music troops on the ground: @monicaclarealford, @mkkoszycki and @colemancoversaustin

Photo: https://keegantheatre.com

Hands On A Hardbody Depicts Struggle For Opportunity

Many catalysts that preclude the American Dream are found in education, employment or on a lottery ticket. In Keegan Theatre’s musical Hands on a Hardbody, 10 Texans vie for a cherry-red Nissan Hardbody, the physical manifestation of the dream and a chance to ascend America’s social and economic ladders.

The rural Longview, Texas provides a unique backdrop of this contemporary play as the 10 characters are forced to outlast one another by keeping a hand on the truck, with the last person standing receiving the coveted keys. Deriving from the 1998 documentary of the same name, co-directors Elena Velasco and Mark A. Rhea rise to the occasion, as their rendition of Doug Wright’s fictional story facilitates essential discourse on the American plight.

“Economical struggles don’t know race, necessarily. But they are impacted by race. It maybe doesn’t know ethnicity, but it is impacted by ethnicity. It doesn’t necessarily know gender or your relationship status, but it’s all affecting it,” Velasco suggests.

Most Americans have experienced the thrill and endorphin spikes associated with winning games or conquering competition. Perhaps you recall losing yourself in the midst of some effort to come out on top, to triumph. The phrase “every man for themselves” is a relatable American trope.

“Being able to rise and make a living wage, have a family and be valued as a citizen, all these things come out in this musical and the documentary,” she says.

As audiences explore a variety of conditions lived by those on the broad spectrum of American identity in the play, a diversity of themes are depicted. With each dance number and tune sung, a layer of understanding is creatively drawn, revealing cultural weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

“Mike is a Texan at heart, that’s where he grew up,” Velasco conveys, explaining the appeal in producing Hands on a Hardbody. “I wanted to see what Mike felt was compelling. I latched on to this notion that it was a representation of America. [At least] that’s how it was promoted by the original creative team, ‘An All American Musical.’”

In the original production by California’s La Jolla Playhouse in 2012, the cast was predominately white.

“When I looked at it and I thought about some of the character descriptions, I recognized it as an opportunity to really reach in and try to represent what America is to me,” Velasco says. “[I wanted to] try to reach out and find the diversity that we have here and how there are many voices that aren’t necessarily represented in the original casting, but could be represented in this production.”

Capturing the diversity of America was fundamental to the relevancy factor in bringing this production to the DC.

“It needed to speak to a DC audience, as well as reflect what Texan roots are,” Velasco continues.“[Fortunately], what it means to be a Texan is reinforced in the songs.”

In the ballad, “If I Had This Truck,” the truck’s significance in Texas culture is outlined, but so is the overt reference to the importance of opportunity.

“When listening to the lyrics, outsiders wouldn’t know what this means, but a truck is access to things. It’s an opportunity to get a job, start a business. Driving behind that [truck] makes you more economically successful. When you start to examine what this [truck] means to a particular community, you almost realize that this [competition] is a voyeuristic act that exploits people who are quite desperate, and down on their luck.”

Having directed more than two dozen plays and musicals over 20 years, Velasco rebukes the notion of having perfected her craft.

“I hate to think that I’ve ever conquered a challenge because it would make me think that I’m done with my work and I don’t think I’m done yet.”

Hands on a Hardbody is showing at Keegan Theatre through April 6. Tickets $52-$62. To purchase tickets visit the Keegan Theatre ticket portal.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside Richard the Third’s Doom Rock Inspired Soundtrack

Shakespeare and doom rock are not two things one would associate. But in the world of Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Richard the Third the two are intrinsically linked, thanks to composer Lindsay Jones. A lifelong lover of music, Jones has been playing since he was a teen and is entirely self taught. While working as an actor in Chicago, he began scoring plays as a side gig. Combined with his passion for music, it quickly became a legitimate career that’s seen him score a host of successful productions throughout the country. Now,  25 years into his career crafting innovative compositions for theatre, Jones lent his talent – and love for doom rock, punk and metal – to the score of STC’s dark performance.

OT: How did you come to work with Shakespeare Theatre Company on this play?
Lindsay Jones: When I first sat down with [artistic director] David Muse, he told me he wanted [the score] to be punk rock. I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of punk rock, but I never get asked to make punk rock. There just aren’t a lot of theatres in America looking for punk rock soundtracks. As he described it to me, he said he wanted it to start out very punk and full of energy, but as the play went on, to get distorted and ugly and dirty.

OT: How did you or the others involved in the play decide to approach the score using doom rock?
LJ: I started thinking of using doom rock, which is slow, and dirge-y but still super distorted – the soundtrack of your nightmares, basically. I wanted to start with punk rock [that became] doom rock as it went along. But it occurred to me that in the structure of Richard the Third, in the beginning of the play Richard says, “I’m planning this takeover, I’m going to slowly methodically knock out all of my enemies til’ I get to be king.” There’s not a lot of fast stuff in there. Once Richard is king, everything starts falling apart and becoming more frantic and crazy. Halfway through I realized I was doing this in reverse – it should start slower and speed up as it goes, so that’s what we did.

OT: What other elements played into the score’s composition?|
LJ: As I was walking out of David’s office after our initial meeting, he told me he had this other idea for the actors to be playing body percussion along with the music. I didn’t know how that was going to play itself out. They hired an amazing movement choreographer named Stephanie Paul, who in rehearsal worked with the actors to create complex sequences where they’re playing on their bodies with knives and sticks – all sorts of things. They’re pounding out complicated rhythms while sequences are happening. So I would watch videos of the actors doing these movement sequences, figure out what the BPM was and then create music that fit.

OT: That’s an incredibly unique element – and incredibly challenging to work with, I can imagine!
LJ: Rock music doesn’t usually have a lot of space for additional percussion. The whole idea is it’s super loud and regressive. The first challenge was just fitting everything in. We ended up [putting microphones on] the stage and performers, so I could pick up [the percussion] and amplify it to the same volume level as the recorded music.

The other challenge, which probably took us the longest time to sort out, is that these actors worked for several weeks creating percussion sequences and got pretty good at it, but they weren’t initially trying to perform these sequences along to anything else [like music].  As soon as I show up with recorded music at a certain tempo every time no matter what – it was a lot of telling them to start at a certain beat, keep up with a certain rhythm, listen to parts of the score – so they could hear the rhythm they have to keep up with.

So we’re telling them “okay actors, you’re going to speak, you’re going to play rhythm on your body and you’re going to attempt to stay completely in time with this recorded piece of music that’s playing along.” I have to give the cast a tremendous amount of credit. It was tricky but they hung in there, and wanted to make it work. When you see the performance now, it all seems like second nature. But at the time of putting it together, we definitely had moments of thinking “oh my god, what have we done?”

OT: How have your audiences received the score?
LJ: People who are casual theatre fans are really excited by it. The reviews have either said “wow, this is a totally crazy interpretation of this play and I really enjoyed it” or “oh my god, what did they do, I don’t know how I feel about it!”

One of the reviews called the score “post-Wayne’s World,” so if your relationship to hard rock music is Wayne’s World, I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help you.

OT: Scoring any play, but especially a Shakespeare classic like Richard the Third, is no small task. Why do you think this job is so important, and what keeps you in this industry?
LJ: I’ve started teaching how to write theatre compositions recently and one of the things I like to tell my students is that music is really the emotional context by which you’re going to receive drama. This speech I’m giving right now about how music affects – you could imagine that while I’m giving it there’s a slow building underscore that’s really inspirational and exciting. That’s going to totally frame the context by which you’re getting this information. If I gave the same speech with dark scar music, it completely changes the context by which you see it because now you’re imagining something terrible is going to happen.

Music is incredibly powerful and influential. When you’re given the responsibility of creating music that’s going to match live drama, you really have a great responsibility to try to make the music as close to what the action is as possible, so that the audience is receiving the clearest and most expressive form of the story.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third runs through Sunday, March 10 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Tickets $44-$102. For more on composer Lindsay Jones, visit www.linsdayjones.com. You can find the punk, metal and doom rock songs that inspired Jones’ compositions below.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Richard the Third – tracks and influences

Track: Richard III 

Influence – Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath 

Track: This Is War

Influence – Boilermaker by The Jesus Lizard

Track: To The Sanctuary 

Influence: Bliss In Concrete by Pelican 

Track: Full Speed Ahead 

Influence: Otsegolectric by Static-X 

Track: Zadok The Priest 

Influence: The Prophet’s Song by Queen 

Track: A Needless Coward 

Influence: This Isn’t The Place by Nine Inch Nails 

Photo: Courtesy of Black Girls Rock!

BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Comes to The Kennedy Center

After more than a decade since its inception, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has become an unstoppable force in the fight to empower black women in the arts and in the world. In its latest venture, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has partnered with The Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture to launch the inaugural BGR! Fest beginning on International Women’s Day.

“I think it’s going to be pretty awesome,” says Beverly Bond, founder and CEO of BLACK GIRLS ROCK!. “It’s really a great gathering of black women artists. Black women don’t always get those mainstage platforms. The combination of everybody we have on the show, together in this one space during International Women’s weekend, is going to be a powerful statement.”

The three-day event features a free welcome party with celebrity DJs Mc Lyte and Bond herself, a book talk, panels, a concert with headliner Jazmine Sullivan, DC’s own Maimouna Youssef and more.

“The crazy part is that the panel sold out before the concert,” Bond says. “And Michaela Angela Davis, who is actually one of the panelists, had to stop for a minute and say, ‘You know what? I appreciate that the panel sold out before the concert! Black women are here to fix it!’”

Bond worked closely with The Kennedy Center’s Director of Hip Hop Culture Simone Eccleston while producing BGR! Fest. It wasn’t the first time they’d worked together.

“This is the second touch point with BGR,” Eccleston says. “Back in 2014, the center had a multi-week festival celebrating hip-hop culture known as the One Mic Festival. As part of the three weeks of programming, there was a collaboration with BGR to present Rock Like a Girl.”

After connecting at the One Mic Festival, Eccleston and Bond established a professional relationship and a genuine friendship. It was only a matter of time before they found a mutual cause to bring them together again.

“Within the Hip Hop Culture program, one of our specific areas of focus has been celebrating women,” Eccleston says. “We’ve continued with that throughline over the arc of the season, and it would only be fitting that Beverly Bond be back and for us to have BGR!Fest.”

The timely collaboration between BLACK GIRLS ROCK! and The Kennedy Center on International Women’s Day weekend signifies the recognition of black women and their contributions to arts and society.

“The goal of the program is to provide audiences at large with an understanding of the breadth and depth of the culture and its impacts, not only on contemporary society, but its role in

shaping culture,” she continues. “If we’re talking about communities that have shaped culture and sparked innovation, you cannot have that conversation without having black women at the center of it.”

While the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! organization has achieved great success and popularity, the movement has inspired black women and girls to assert themselves with its now famous namesake phrase.

“I want them to know that black girls rock,” Bond said. “If they’re taking away one thing, it’s to support our art, support our artists and to help elevate our voices.”

Join BRG! Fest at The Kennedy Center on March 10 at 8 p.m. Concert tickets are $59-$119 and available at here. Learn more about BGR! Fest here.

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