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Stage and Screen: March 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Blood at the Root
Blood at the Root is the story of what happens when a black student chooses to occupy a primarily white space in her high school, driving hate, violence and chaos among her classmates. The play, inspired by the Jena Six court case in Louisiana, examines the link between bias, justice and identity and asks audiences to consider what is lost when implicit biases shape our view of – and adherence to – justice. Written by Dominique Morisseau, the play is described as moving, lyrical and bold. Various dates and times. Tickets $40. The Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC; www.anacostiaplayhouse.com

FRIDAY, MARCH 1 – SUNDAY, APRIL 14

JQA
The latest offering from award-winning playwright Aaron Posner, JQA is an imaginative and thought-provoking story that illustrates conversations between John Quincy Adams, who was known for his integrity, statesmanship and arrogance, with other American leaders including Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson and his own father John Adams. Described as provocative, haunting and hilarious, JQA received an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Various dates and times. Tickets $92-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. NW, DC; www.arenastage.org

MONDAY, MARCH 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Confection
The newest offering from New York-based Third Rail Projects is an immersive, multisensory dance and theatre performance staged throughout the Folger Reading Rooms. Inspired by the richness of the Folger Library and the lavishness of the 17th-century aristocracy, the performance examines the power of appetite and desire. Directed by Zach Morris and Jennine Willett, Confection is a story of opulence and consumption that not only invites audiences into the Folger’s magnificent Reading Rooms, but also invites them to enjoy bite-sized treats made by local pâtissiers. Various dates and times. Tickets $40-$60. Folger Shakespeare Library: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

FRIDAY, MARCH 8 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 22

Into the Woods
Ford Theatre’s Into the Woods is a darkly funny reimagining of several beloved fairy tales from the minds of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The play follows a baker and his wife on a quest to break a witch’s curse, which leads them into the woods where they cross paths with timeless characters like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a pair of lovelorn princes. The play has won Tony Awards for score and script, and this Peter Flynn-directed rendition promises to inspire both laughs and introspection. Various dates and times. Tickets $28-$81. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fords.org

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 – SATURDAY, APRIL 6

Hands on a Hardbody
Featuring a score by Amanda Green and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Hands on a Hardbody tells the story of 10 Texans competing to win a new truck. The contest is hilarious and hard-fought, and characters learn that perseverance, determination and hope can lead them to their American Dream. The play has been described as a quintessential American musical, and features a diverse cast of characters highlighting the intersectionality of the American identity. Set to a score featuring blues, country and R&B, Hands on a Hardbody is a quirky play that promises to enliven the District in its regional premiere. Various dates and times. Tickets $62. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, MARCH 14 – SUNDAY, MARCH 24

The National Geographic Society Environmental Film Festival
The Environmental Film Festival returns to the District for its 27th year. Sponsored by National Geographic, featured films tackle important environmental issues like overfishing and climate change in addition to presenting visually stunning tales of adventure like the Academy Award-nominated Free Solo, which follows Alex Honnold’s free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan. The festival includes 11 days of documentary film screenings at more than 25 venues. Details on the films, schedule and tickets are available online. Tickets $12. Times and locations vary. National Geographic Society Environmental Film Festival: Various locations in DC; www.DCeff.org

MONDAY, MARCH 25

Bon Iver & TU Dance’s Come Through
In the first event of the Kennedy Center’s DIRECT CURRENT season highlighting contemporary culture, Bon Iver and TU Dance’s collaboration Come Through fuses genres and mediums. Over a soundtrack featuring new music from two-time Grammy winner Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, nine-member dance troupe TU Dance will mix varied styles such as classical ballet and modern dance. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

TUESDAY, MARCH 26 – SUNDAY, MARCH 31

A Bronx Tale
Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, A Bronx Tale has been described as Jersey Boys meets West Side Story. Set in 1960s New York, the musical tells the story of a young man who must choose between his father’s love and his ambition to be a “made man” in the mafia. The score is comprised of 60s-era doo-wop, and the play contains several ensemble dance numbers. A Bronx Tale features numerous actors and actresses from its time on Broadway, and offers audiences opportunities to laugh, cry and tap their feet. Various dates and times. Tickets $54-$99. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

Image: Courtesy of Records Collecting Dust

Records Collecting Dust Sheds Light on Artists From Forgotten Era

Part of the appeal to old metal and punk records is the DIY attitude those bands put into recording the music. Instead of sounding pitch perfect and fresh out of a studio, these tracks could have been blaring live from a nearby garage, and that appeal is part of the authentic edginess.

Jason Blackmore is an integral part of this scene on the West Coast. When searching for a new project to deep dive into a few years ago, he resisted the notion of starting another band from scratch, and instead looked toward the past for inspiration. Though he had zero experience in film making, he embarked on a journey to document pieces of an era that helped shape him into a man. The result was the well received Records Collecting Dust, a collection of interviews with greats from the 1980s hardcore punk scene from the West Coast.

For Part II, Blackmore shifted regional focus and ventured east, highlighting Boston, New York and DC. Tonight at Black Cat, the film will be shown in the District for the first time, and it features 28 interviews with legends of the genre such as Ian MacKaye of Fugazi.

Tonight’s screening will also feature a Q&A with Dave Smalley, Dante Ferrando and Mark Haggerty. Before the play button is pressed, we got a chance to speak with Blackmore about his passion for the project, his DIY filmmaking and whether another one is on the horizon.

On Tap: When did you decide you wanted to make this documentary? And why did you focus on this specific genre of music?
Jason Blackmore: I’ve played in bands since the 80s, and was looking for a different avenue to express myself through music and came up with the film. I figured being located in San Diego, with almost no budget, it was a good place to start. There are a lot of folks from the Southern California area in the punk rock scene. My primary focus was always the 80s hardcore scene.

Yeah, in the future I could see myself covering different genres of music. I’m 48, so the hard core punk rock scene is very significant to me because it was the soundtrack to my adolescence and a lot of things happen when you’re 13, 14, 15. The people I’m talking to changed my life, and it’s my tip of the cap and love letter to those people.

OT: How did you know who you wanted to speak with, and what were some of the first steps with getting in touch with everyone?
JB: With the first film, I already knew some of the people just because of my history in music, and me living in San Diego. At that point in time, I had casually met a lot of the people, and became acquaintances and friends with some of these guys. Naturally, by the time I got to this one, some of the people had seen the first film and were eager to get on board and do an interview for the film, because they were aware of it.

OT: What was the response when you reached out?
JB: Oh yeah, it was great, absolutely. Just bringing up the topic of music, they were more than happy to talk about it, just music. By the time I got to the new one, people were thanking me because people were beginning to forget about this era. I had people thank me for making the film and documenting a period of time being lost; it’s a time capsule sort of thing. Maybe in 30-40 years, some people will see this film and learn something from it.

OT: Do you ever get intimidated talking to these musicians you respect so much?
JB: Honestly, you know, I’m more excited. It’s a little selfish, because I get to sit in these guys’ living rooms and talk about music and records. Who wouldn’t be excited? But yeah, there was a little nervousness at first. I was very honored to speak with all the people I could, and the fact that they opened the doors and allowed me in, I was very honored.  

OT: How many hours of footage did you have to sort through, and how difficult was it to figure out how you would shape the narrative?
JB: The first film was my first film ever and I have no background or education in this kind of thing. If you want to do something, do it, figure it out and go. So the first film was a learning process, and I asked too many questions and had so much footage and it was very painful. I asked 12 questions for the first film and I could only use half of them. For this film I asked less, and interviewed less, so I learned.

OT: Were there any huge differences from making the first and second film?
JB: Not especially. A lot of the people in that age range are speak of the same influences. A lot of Rolling Stones and Beatles, and that kind of stuff. Those bands are talked about a lot, so there are some recurring themes, but I definitely learned how to be more focused and ask less. I interviewed 28 people for the new film, down from 38 in the first. I learned the hard way, because we could have made an eight-hour film for the first one, but who’s going to watch that?

OT: Why decide to make a bonafide documentary, why not a web series or something along those lines?
JB: There’s all these different approaches to it, and it’s probably my age, because instead of making this an online series it seemed more official and more genuine to make a full documentary film. When you make an album, you put a lot of soul and passion into it, and that’s how I felt about making this film. To me, that is more real than watching something on your phone for five minutes. That’s the reason I’m booking in theaters. It will be available online, but for me growing up in the 70s and 80s, you’d go to the theater and see a film and I like that.

OT: Is there a part three on the horizon?
JB: Yeah, Part III would be the Midwest, but this has been the past six years of my life and I definitely want to hang out with my wife and not make a film at the moment. It’s very time-consuming. We’ll see what happens.

Doors for the event open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets to the screening are available here. For more information about the film, check out the website.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4527; www.blackcatdc.com

Photo: National Building Museum

Building a Story: The Architecture and Design Film Festival Comes to DC

The Architecture and Design Film Festival kicks off on February 22 at the National Building Museum. Founded in 2008 by architect Kyle Bergman, the festival is about more than showcasing beautiful buildings and the architects behind them.

“We look for an interesting and engaging design story as well as a human story; that’s our sweet spot,” Bergman says. “As architects and designers, we talk to ourselves all the time, but film allows that dialogue to go broader and wider.”

Frank Gehry Maggie's Center.

Frank Gehry Maggie’s Center.

That’s certainly true of this year’s lineup. Building Hope: The Maggie’s Centres (2016) is a perfect example of a film with more than one story to tell.

“Was it in essence a film about cancer, or a film about architecture? Obviously, the answer had to be that it was about both,” says the film’s director, Sarah Howitt.

In 1993, a cancer patient named Maggie Jencks was informed that she only had three months left to live and had nowhere to go to process the news but a plastic chair in a hospital corridor. She dedicated the final year of her life to founding care centers for cancer patients that are beautiful, welcoming and comforting – a far cry from that cold hallway.

Howitt worked hard to make sure both the human and design sides of the story were represented:

“Using moving drone and gimbal shots to show the buildings off at their best, and the words of the buildings’ users under some of those shots, helped to strike the balance and bring both strands of the story, literally, under one roof.”

Howitt says making the film changed the way she thought about how architecture affects our daily lives:

“I really had never thought about architectural spaces in such a profound way before, and I’d certainly never been in buildings as special as these ones. ‘Special’ modern architecture for me was always something applied to iconic buildings, not buildings meant for ordinary people just to spend time in, and certainly not on the grounds of a hospital.

She also added some thoughts on how the Centres moved her even as she was filming:

“I still find myself drawn to the Maggie’s Centres. As a filmmaker you often try very hard to be something of a dispassionate observer. Of course, the truth is so much complicated than that. Working with the Maggie’s Centres charity though, you cannot fail to care about the work they do. I hope any viewer will appreciate the work they do and tell others about them.”

Building Hope isn’t alone in its innovative and people-focused approach to telling design stories; Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016) is a true David-and-Goliath story about a fight for the soul of New York City itself.

Jane Jacobs was a reporter and the author of seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The film looks back at her campaign to protect what are now some of New York’s most iconic neighborhoods from power-hungry urban planner and “master builder” Robert Moses, who sought to build a road through the heart of Washington Square Park.

“I saw the book in a bookstore in Greenwich Village, so I bought it and immediately saw why the book has never been out of print since 1961; it makes you see a city differently,” says the film’s director, Matt Tyrnauer. “The power and effect of that book was extraordinary and Jacobs’s activism combined with her brilliance as an observer and chronicler of the city was not well known, so seemed like a ripe subject for a documentary.”

The guiding principle of Jacobs’s book and her community activism was that cities are made by the people who live in them – not bureaucrats.

“Thousands upon thousands of individuals going about their own business come together in this kind of chaotic order to make the city; it’s not the urban planner sitting in their office,” says Tyrnauer. “Cities tend to plan themselves if you let people do it.”

Tyrnauer says we can learn a lot from Jacobs:

“Her activism was very thoughtful and very well-plotted. It took a long time to gain results, but she was dogged and relentless,” he says. “She had several significant successes against an entrenched, egotistical and imperious bureaucrat in Robert Moses, who seemed to be an insurmountable foe before Jacobs came along.” It’s an inspiring story for inarguably turbulent times.

Photo: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

The National Building Museum is an ideal setting for a festival celebrating architecture, but it does present a few challenges: namely, the acoustics in its iconic Great Hall. The essential question for Kyle Bergan (again, the festival director) was:

“How do we show a film there in a good way, because the space is so grand? The solution? Wireless headsets, creating a drive-in movie theater vibe: visitors who haven’t bought tickets can still watch the film without sound, adding a new dimension to the museum experience during the festival. The festival will also feature a lounge where attendees can view short films and even try on a VR headset – seeing a new way to experience the world around us and the buildings where we live, work, and play.”

Bergman says that at the end of the day, the festival is about bringing the untold stories of architecture and design to people who wouldn’t otherwise get to experience them. “It’s not just [about] coming to see the films,” says Bergman. “It’s engaging with people and creating a dialogue.”

The festival runs through February 25. For tickets and showtimes visit: www.nbm.org

National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; 202-272-2448; www.nbm.org