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Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt
Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt

NoVA Native Patton Oswalt Set For Kennedy Center Debut

Patton Oswalt can be described as something of a Renaissance man in entertainment. He’s found success as an author (both books and graphic novels), actor (in films and on TV), voice-over artist (video games, animation and TV) and on the comedy circuit.

The latter is where his true passion lies, as the comedian explains that everything he does is geared toward allowing him to continue doing comedy live in front of an audience.

“Acting in TV and film is just a way for me to increase my exposure and get the chance to do more stand-up,” Oswalt says. “I love the creativity of the business. It’s a happier life for me to live creatively, and it’s something I am always going to do.”

Raised in Sterling, Virginia, Oswalt attended the College of William & Mary where he majored in English. The idea to try comedy as a career came sometime between his freshman and sophomore year, and once the bug hit, he never looked back.

“It wasn’t my game plan when I started, but it developed organically and by senior year, it was all I wanted to do,” he says. “Back then, DC was a fun scene, but it was much more predicated on who was making more money and who was famous. Creativity didn’t really come first. It was more about status.”

Looking for bigger things, Oswalt packed his bags and started making a name for himself in San Francisco on its rising comedy circuit. From there, he headed to Los Angeles and hit the big time.

“The circuit in San Francisco was amazing – it was the opposite of DC. It was more about who was doing original stuff. Then I went to Los Angeles and there were different scenes within the scenes, which was fascinating to me.”

Since 2003, Oswalt has appeared on seven TV comedy specials and released eight critically acclaimed albums, with his 2016 Talking for Clapping recording earning him a Grammy.

On July 21, the comedian will play two shows at the Kennedy Center as part of the District of Comedy Festival, making his debut in the historic theater. Although he has memories of seeing comedy legend Gallagher and old film noir movies at the Kennedy Center when he was younger, he never dreamed that he would one day perform there.

“It feels good to be back in the area,” he says. “It’s a little surreal as I started doing comedy in DC in 1988. It’s going to be fun to be back in my neighborhood. At the time, my dreams weren’t big enough to think about playing at the Kennedy Center. I was only looking to get a solid 10 minutes.”

Oswalt is planning all-new material for the night, working on some of what he expects to be part of his next TV special. But don’t ask him for specifics, as he warns, “You should never ask a comedian what he’s going to talk about!”

His one hint is that his fans can expect some strong truths about what he’s seeing in the world.

“Being onstage in front of a crowd is just a great adrenaline rush. I love how everything I say came from nothing but now it’s a living thing outside of myself, living creatively. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

Although many people know him from his first TV guest appearance – Seinfeld’s classic “The Couch” episode – his biggest claim to fame early in his career was playing Spence on the Kevin James CBS comedy The King of Queens.

“One of the co-creators of [The King of Queens] was watching an HBO special of mine, and just saw me as Spence. I felt very lucky to get that part.”

Oswalt will soon be headed back to California to begin work on two network TV shows he’s a part of. He currently stars as Principal Ralph Durbin on NBC’s comedy AP Bio, which was recently picked up for a second season, and he’ll enter his sixth season as the narrator for ABC’s The Goldbergs in the fall.

“Michael O’Brien created AP Bio, and his stuff is just on the outer rim of absurdity. The fact he gets to do it in the format of a sitcom is amazing, and I’m so lucky that I get to be a part of it. For The Goldbergs, I pop in about once a week and it’s really fun. It uses nostalgia as a Trojan horse into general emotion and empathy, and that’s what I really love about the show.”

Before his TV shows pick back up, catch him live when he headlines Kennedy Center’s District of Comedy Festival on Saturday, July 21. Shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m., tickets start at $49. Purchase tickets at www.kennedy-center.org and learn more about the comedian at www.pattonoswalt.com.

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

Photo: Chris Thomas
Photo: Chris Thomas

An Art Lover’s Oasis: NOVA Fine Arts Festival

A treasure trove of unique artifacts and unexplored creations awaits each visitor at the annual Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival at Reston Town Center this spring. From May 18-20, visitors can connect with over 200 artists and experience the beauty of handmade wares while simultaneously supporting the festival host, Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE).

Bring $5 as a donation to GRACE and receive a 52-page booklet including information on all participating artists and coupons for Reston Town Center restaurants, retailers and businesses. Festival director and GRACE’s associate curator, Erica Harrison, says many new and exciting changes are coming to the festival this year, including an entire extra day to explore.

By adding Friday to the schedule, Harrison hopes more people will be able to come out to the festival and the artists will have more time to showcase their work. In addition, the 2018 Awards of Excellence ceremony, which honors the best artists of the festival selected by a three-judge panel, is moving to Saturday night during the festival party.

GRACE supporters and contributing artists will mingle, drink and be merry at the party as they celebrate and discuss this year’s works of art. Harrison says the best part about the night will be a live performance from Baltimore-based artist Laure Drogoul.

“I think what’s really interesting about this year is that it’s a party for our sponsors and supporters, but we’re also trying to do this whole new creative performance art,” Harrison says. “Laure has a giant sculpture called the ‘Illuminated Fountain of Extinction,’ and it highlights a lot of the animals and species that have already or are in the process of going extinct, and I’m super excited about it.”

Although the party is by invitation only, you can sign up as a GRACE contributing supporter on their website to get the invite. Festivalgoers who are more interested in daytime activities can look forward to perusing a variety of handcrafted, supremely unique works of art including furniture, jewelry, ceramics, glasswork, paintings, house wares and much more.

To artists like Christina Boy, a German-American residing in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison, Virginia, the festival is a great way to connect with fellow artisans and reach out to potential clients.

“Everyone has their own artistic voice, and I believe that free events such as [this festival] are important for people to be exposed to a variety of different and unique work,” says Boy, who specializes in furniture design. “In a world that is becoming more and more homogenized, festivals like this keep it fresh and different, and help individuals find their own style instead of going for the mainstream.”

This is Boy’s second time participating in the festival, and she’s looking forward to displaying her handcrafted furniture including her signature piece, “Stool 33,” as well as benches, barstools with Danish cord seats, fun side tables and more – all designed with the spirit of spring in mind.

“Shows are a great way for people to see my work in person, as I believe it is crucial with furniture for them to be able to sit and touch the actual items,” she says.

The festival also serves as GRACE’s largest fundraiser of the year, providing the arts center with over half of its annual budget of $500,000 so that it may continue opening exhibits and offering programs at no cost to locals.

“We’re trying to bring more attention to the mission of the gallery by encouraging participation and making sure everything is accessible to the whole community, regardless of income,” Harrison says. “It’s really helpful to have the festival as a starting point; hopefully, people will come back and check out GRACE’s other programs and exhibitions.”

The festival is still going strong in its 27th year, and thanks to Harrison and her team, it’s growing even stronger. She looks forward to the festival’s bright future and many improvements over the next several years so that GRACE may continue to support artists and encourage artistic engagement in an even greater way.

“What I really hope people get out of the festival is that they make a connection – either with a specific artist or by responding to a piece of work that attracts them and becomes special to them. That’s something that you can’t really do with anything but art.”

The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival runs Friday, May 18 to Sunday, May 20 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. The festival party on Saturday, May 19 runs from 7-10 p.m. and is invite only. For more information about the festival’s participating artists and details on how to receive a party invite, visit www.restonarts.org/fineartsfestival.

Reston Town Center: 11900 Market St. Reston, VA; 703-471-9242; www.restonarts.org/fineartsfestival