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Woolly Mammoth Botticelli in the Fire

Stage and Screen: The Remains, The Tempest and More

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 9

An Iliad
The Iliad is one of Homer’s great tales, culminating in a heartbreaking battle between Prince Hector of Troy and Brad Pi…I mean Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in fictional history (any time your name becomes nomenclature for a pesky body part, you know you’re a legend). Conor Bagley’s version at Atlas Arts is a modern retelling, settling on a more personal story between the two powerful mortals. While the description throws a ton of adjectives to focus on, the one highlighted heavily is that of rage and why the intoxicating feeling is so hard to control but easy to unleash. Tickets are $15-$25. Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab 1: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 16

Laugh Index Theatre’s Annual Comedy Festival
This festival is a smorgasbord of comedy, featuring a variety of acts from all over the country. Over the course of a few weeks, and at several venues, there will be improv teams, sketch teams, musical comedy, stand-up (duh) and podcasts all dedicated to making you laugh. So no matter what tickles your fancy, your funny bone will be scratched (no not the area on your arm, don’t be weird). Performances at various locations. Ticket prices vary. LIT Annual Comedy Festival: Various locations around Washington, DC; www.laughindextheatre.com

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 24

Botticelli in the Fire
What do artists do when faced with a populist takeover of the societies their work reflects? There’s no right or wrong answer, as those kinds of regimes often are accompanied by attempts to censor or deride anything seen as contentious. Does this sound relevant? Yeah, that’s what Woolly Mammoth’s Botticelli in the Fire wants you to take away, as it draws comparisons to the current political climate and that of the famed artist during the populist revolution in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence. Faced with numerous choices throughout, Botticelli must make decisions with no easy answers. Tickets are $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net 

The Remains
Yes, The Remains does sound like the title of a straight-to-video knockoff of HBO’s The Leftovers (fun fact: Nick Cage actually stars in this very thing, a little remake titled Left Behind), but Studio Theatre’s play is anything but. Instead of a story centered around people vanishing into thin air (*snap*), this story focuses on the 10-year marriage of Kevin and Theo, who host a dinner party to celebrate their newly renovated condo. As families tend to upon gathering together for an occasion, philosophy and truth come to the forefront, pulling the curtain on their thought-to-be perfect union. Learn more about the production in Keith Loria’s story on page 6. Tickets start at $20. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 1

The Tempest
A classic comedy by the classic hitmaker William Shakespeare, The Tempest is a veteran of the theatre scene and one which commands a certain respect. I have little doubt the folks at Avant Bard will deliver the show with their own offbeat twist. The story is filled with love and magic and of course, riddled with conflict. It wouldn’t be a Shakespeare special if it didn’t also contain a smidge of tragedy as well. Tickets are $30-$35. The Gunston Arts Center: 2700 S. Lang St. Arlington, VA; www.wscavantbard.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 23

Switch
If you thought the most intriguing body-switching tales involved those of kids and their parents (as seen too many times in pop culture, so excuse me for not listing), you’re wrong. Switch takes the premise and flips it on its head, as the story involves a couple who wake up in one another’s bodies following sex. What follows is the two deciding to explore their boundaries with their gender-fluid friend Lark. Written by Brett Abelman and directed by Megan Behm, this play depicts a world “where sex, gender and sexuality intertwine.” Tickets are $25. Trinidad Theatre at Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 22

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
The Temptations are arguably one of the greatest musical acts of all time, so it’s nice to see their story get the recognition it deserves as Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations comes to the Kennedy Center this month. The performance is biographical in nature, following the five young men who would eventually emerge from Detroit, Michigan as The Temptations. The play was penned by Dominique Morisseau and features hits like “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Tickets start at $59. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 – SUNDAY, JUNE 24

RebollarDance
Erica Rebollar returns to DC to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her works with a new piece titled Variations. According to Dance Place, this piece is a meditation on the choreographic method, or theme and variation. All that being said, this seems like a very meta dance piece, as the focus is about the construction of an actual dance choreography. Though art about art can sometimes be confusing for neophytes, this performance is likely to avoid the possible pitfalls and be enjoyable for all. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Lydia Daniller
Photo: Lydia Daniller

BOYS IN TROUBLE Tackles Toxic Masculinity Through Dance

BOYS IN TROUBLE is a dance performance, but it’s not only a dance performance. The show is radically different than what most modern dance is – abstract movements perpetually difficult to follow for the untrained eye. Instead, this piece is based on storytelling, and it’s deeply understandable and relatable.

“The first thing people need to know is it’s not boring modern dance,” choreographer Sean Dorsey says. “Most people feel like they don’t ‘get’ modern dance, and for good reason. It’s pretty inaccessible!”

The actual product isn’t the only aspect that sets BOYS IN TROUBLE apart from what you might normally see at Brookland’s Dance Place, the show’s DC host on May 19 and 20. Much like Dorsey’s other works, the project focuses on masculinity from a transgender and queer viewpoint.

“We do this through full-throttle dance, highly-physical theatre and vulnerable storytelling,” Dorsey says. “One minute we’re flying through the air doing super technical and rigorous dancing, the next minute we’re delivering dialogue and irreverent humor, and the next minute we’re doing movement with storytelling.”

This kind of subject matter is a reflection of previous works by Dorsey, who is seemingly unanimously titled the first acclaimed transgender modern dance choreographer. His company Sean Dorsey Dance is located in San Francisco.

“As a trans person, I grew up without ever seeing a single other transgender modern dancer, let alone a choreographer. I’ve been so alone on this journey in many ways, all the while facing harsh barriers, judgement and questions from the world. This project pushed me to unleash some defiant energy and righteous, proud anger – and sass.”

With the titles and recognition, Dorsey feels a deep sense of responsibility, creating a huge amount of pressure each time he begins to craft a new work.

“I had to dance myself into being. I had to insert trans bodies and stories into dance. I care so deeply for my people – for my trans and gender-nonconforming communities – that I often take on too much, and work too hard.”

A piece with this kind of emotional weight doesn’t form overnight; Dorsey began initial research on the project three years ago. A year later, he began hosting free community forums on masculinity, led transgender-supportive dance classes and taught self-expression workshops for anyone willing to partake.

“The themes that arose in these communities guided me as I built the show, which is also built around the dancers’ own experiences and life histories,” he says. “After working for two years creating a show, you wait for a moment when you know that the piece is complete. There were several deep themes related to masculinity that I really, really wanted and needed to get into – sections that explore shame, body shame and questions of self-worth. These lie under everything that is toxic about masculinity.”

While the process of developing what would eventually become BOYS IN TROUBLE began years ago, Dorsey is not surprised that the topics he chooses to tackle are still wholly relevant to society. In his view, these issues have perpetually existed within society’s collective subconsciousness.

“When I started this project, I could not have imagined how timely and even more urgent it would become. Here’s the thing. Toxic masculinity, racism and white supremacy, transphobia, body shame and gender norms – none of these things are new. These things have plagued us ever since this country was founded on invasion, genocide, slavery, segregation, internment, and the criminalization of trans and queer bodies and love.”

All of Dorsey’s dance is uniquely educational about the transgender experience and has been performed all around the country on several tours, but he still feels a lack of acceptance from his own community on a wider scale. Though his work is routinely critically acclaimed and celebrated, he still sees barriers within the medium – walls he hopes to eradicate, one piece at a time.

“In ways, the dance field has not changed,” he says. “The field still actively excludes trans and gender-nonconforming people. I am now asking the field to call this a crisis. The barriers are massive and numerous. My national education program, TRANSform Dance, addresses these, and through trainings, workshops and performances, we are working with the field to change.”

One of those performances is BOYS IN TROUBLE, and Dorsey is excited for the District to see his work.

“If you love the theatre, I guarantee you will be moved deeply and laugh out loud. You will leave with your heart cracked open and transformed. It’s a very, very powerful show.”

BOYS IN TROUBLE will be performed at Dance Place on Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Learn more at www.danceplace.org.

Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; 202-269-1600; www.danceplace.org

The Scottsboro Boys

Stage and Screen: May 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 20

Snow Child
Arena Stage adapted Eowyn Ivey’s Pulitzer-finalist novel, The Snow Child, for the stage with the world-premiere musical Snow Child. Facing the loss of their unborn child, Jack and Mabel move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to restart their life together. During a long, hard winter, the fissure between them grows until it seems impassable. But everything changes once a wild, mysterious girl visits them from the dark woods that surround their small cabin. Matt Bogart, starring as Jack, wants audiences to deeply contemplate Snow Child’s themes before they leave the theater. “I hope that audience members will see some of their own life experiences reflected in this piece, and that we are successful in reiterating what is taught in these old folk tales,” Bogart says. “This folk tale has to do with the impermanence of nature – how nature can sweep in and change your life, how losing a child can change your life, and how gaining a child, whether it’s born into this world or if you create it in your mind, becomes [a form of] healing.” With Alaskan folk music, a puppeteer and a winter wonderland set, you’ll find yourself alongside Jack and Mabel as they struggle in the Alaskan wilderness. Tickets are $65-$80. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 27

1984
In this captivating adaption of George Orwell’s 1984, the crushing realization of a dystopian future is inescapable. In a world with an authoritarian government monitoring every action, expression and thought of the masses, individualism is crushed and challenging the established regime leads to torture, prison and death. Be careful what you think. Big Brother is watching. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 2 – SUNDAY, MAY 6

Hamlet
For the first time since 2007, the legendary Royal Shakespeare Company returns to the Kennedy Center to tell the age-old tale of searing tragedy, murder and revenge. After a student is called home from university to find his father brutally murdered, he sets out on a mission to expose the truth on a journey of madness, murder and lost love. Rising star Paapa Essiedu makes his debut in the U.S. with his lead role in Hamlet. Tickets are $39-$129. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, MAY 5 – SUNDAY MAY 27

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now
Father and small business owner Hank struggles to keep his legendary rock club open in 1992 Chicago. As Hank refuses to confront the reality of where rock music is heading, his daughter starts dating a rising DJ star, forcing her father to acknowledge the truth of a different era. Explore themes of family troubles, affection for a bygone decade and the pure awesomeness of 90s rock with the DC premiere of The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Tickets are $35-$45. The Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, MAY 12 – SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Saint Joan
Focused on Joan of Arc’s simple, illiterate, village-girl nature, George Bernard Shaw takes a different approach in telling this classic tale of martyrdom. Instead of portraying her as a witch, a saint or a heretic, Shaw emphasizes her individualism during her journey to liberate France from English control after over 100 years of war. Only four actors play over 25 roles in this engaging, bare-bones production, which The New York Times described as “irresistible” and “a force of nature.” Tickets are $35-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

THURSDAY, MAY 17 – SATURDAY, MAY 26

Spook
Just an hour before his scheduled execution, ex-police officer Darl “Spook” Spokane is to give a live televised interview from death row. Convicted for murdering five of his fellow officers during what they call the “Morning Roll Call massacre,” Spokane is to explain himself with the entire country watching. There’s a catch: this will be the first time he’s uttered even a single word in three years since the mass shooting. You’re going to want to hear what he has to say. 8 p.m. all dates. Tickets are $20. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, MAY 22 – FRIDAY, JULY 1

Camelot
Amongst magical forests and castles of grandeur, four-time, Tony Award-winning musical Camelot explores the struggle for civilization and goodness in a society that’s accustomed to violence and hate. It is one leader’s integrity, courage and empathy along with his Knights of the Round Table that will change the course of history. With a doomed romance and an incredible score on top, this musical has won the hearts of theatre enthusiasts for generations. Tickets are $59-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

The Scottsboro Boys
Along the lines of Kander and Ebb’s iconic musicals Chicago and Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning duo delivers yet another breathtaking musical. The Scottsboro Boys is a critique on racism and injustice in the South, revealing the true story of nine African-American teenagers who were falsely accused of a crime, quickly tried and sentenced to death in complete disregard for due process. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, this musical transforms a disgraceful moment in American history into a platform for change. Tickets start at $40. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus

Waitress: Serving Up Music and Pie

In 2006, an up-and-coming independent film writer and director by the name of Adrienne Shelly was tragically murdered at the age of 40, just three months prior to the acclaimed release of her movie Waitress.

A decade later, a musical inspired by the cult fave came to Broadway and wowed the theatre community, garnering four Tony nominations in the process. The play’s all-women creative team boasts a book by Jessie Nelson, original music and lyrics by the six-time Grammy-nominated Sara Bareilles, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin).

A touring version of Waitress will be staged at National Theatre for a three-week run starting May 15. In this production, actress Desi Oakley takes on the role of Jenna, the part that earned Jessie Mueller a Tony nod and brought Bareilles to Broadway for the first time.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Sara Bareilles has been someone who I have looked up to and respected for her music career since she began, so knowing that she wrote a musical was kind of like my two worlds combined, as I’m a singer/songwriter myself,” Oakley says. “When I heard about the show, I thought it was a genius idea and I didn’t think something could be so magical.”

Waitress follows the journey of Jenna, an expert pie maker, who longs for a life away from her job as a waitress, small town and loveless marriage. The solutions to all her problems might be in a baking contest in a nearby county or the town’s new doctor, and her fellow waitresses are more than happy to butt in and provide their own recipes for Jenna’s happiness.

“The story is really important to be telling in this time, and the songs have a lot of purpose,” Oakley says. “This is a story about a woman from a small town who has forgotten her dreams because of her life circumstances. Through this journey of her eyes being open, she learns her true self and is reminded that her dreams are worth fighting for. It’s a story of friendship, love and self-acceptance.”

Oakley has appeared on Broadway in a trio of shows – WickedLes Misérables and Annie – and has toured with national tours of Evita and Wicked. She saw Waitress early in its run on Broadway, but never dreamed Jenna would be a part she would one day play.

“A lot of times when I see a show, I think, ‘I’d love to do that show,’ but it wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye. I just let the story affect me as an audience member. I think it makes a lot of sense now, but when I was watching it, I just let the story work its magic.”

Once cast in the part, Oakley stayed away from listening to the cast recording. She says her voice is prone to mimic, and she wanted to offer he own take on Jenna.

“I went back to the feel of what I heard and what I knew from listening to Sara. I read the script again and took a dive into the story to prepare.”

Another thing she did was rewatch the 2007 movie version of Waitress.

“I had seen it and loved Keri Russell in it, but hadn’t remembered a lot of it,” Oakley says. “We’re dramatizing the story onstage, so there are a lot of differences and a lot of heightened moments. I really like how Diane Paulus has staged it.”

The production’s changes in costumes, lights, sets and sound make it seem in many ways like a film. Oakley feels that’s a great nod to the movie, and fans of that version of Waitress will not be disappointed in the musical.

Oakley is enjoying the tour, as she loves traveling to different parts of the country and seeing and experiencing new places. She’s contracted for the tour through at least the fall, and is thrilled to be making the character her own.

“My favorite thing is how real Jenna is,” she says. “I hardly ever leave the stage, but if I’m a little tired or stressed or anxious, that’s okay because those feelings work in Jenna. The more real I get, the more she will continue to be real. I’m embracing that and accepting myself, just as Jenna is in the story.”

When not onstage, Oakley is pursuing a career in singing and songwriting.

“It’s hard to make time for both, and right now, my focus is on this tour. I’m writing when I can, but my second album is on hold. Nothing fuels me like sitting down at the piano, so my heart will eventually lead me back to it.”

Oakley’s original music can be found on Spotify and iTunes. Waitress runs at National Theatre from May 15 to June 3. Tickets start at $28. For more information, visit www.thenationaldc.org.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Lucky Steals Show in Waiting For Godot

Hope and despair, slapstick comedy and profound philosophical musings, each are abound in quick succession in Samuel Beckett’s iconic and mysterious play Waiting for Godot.

Irish acting company Druid is performing their rendition of the hard-to-interpret play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through May 20. The metaphorical mystery in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot leaves an endless amount of room for interpretation, but Druid’s rendition is certain to keep audiences laughing as much as it will make them think.

The play tells the story of two tramps, seemingly stranded on a barren countryside road. Vladimir (nicknamed Didi, played by Marty Rea), a usually cheerful intellectual and Estragon (nicknamed Gogo, played by Aaron Monaghan), the wearier of the two. The pair bicker, play games and tell stories endlessly, while they wait for the arrival of someone named Godot. During the eager, sometimes hopeless, wait, the tone alternates between heartbreaking and hilarious.

“I think Beckett wants us to go through all the different emotions in this play. There are some very sad, emotional moments and kind of a despair at times but then he does the opposite, there’s great hope and great love and great laughs at times at ourselves and our existence,” actor Garrett Lombard says.

The two tramps, draped in shabby clothes and plagued with ill-fitting boots and itchy hats, encounter only three other characters: Pozzo (Rory Nolan), his slave named Lucky (Lombard) and an unnamed boy (Malcolm Fuller).

The tramps wonder about and at times judge Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky, who is constantly burdened with a stool, a basket, a suitcase full of sand and a rope around his neck.

“[Lucky is] a very subservient character, very low-status kind of guy, and he basically wants to please his master by doing his job of carrying his bags and giving him his coat and his stool and his whip and whatnot as best as he can,” Lombard says.

Perhaps the character most difficult to interpret in Waiting for Godot, Lucky stumbles around the stage, answering to Pozzo’s every beck and call, without saying a word – until his famous, breathtaking monologue that earned a raucous round of applause from the awestruck audience.

“He comes out with this incredible, mad, long, stream of consciousness speech, about the human existence and what we have ascertained about trying to explain this and trying to explain the universe and ends up, during the speech, almost losing his mind completely,” Lombard says.

The monologue nearly drives Pozzo, Didi and Gogo out of their minds as well.

This landmark moment makes preparing for the role of Lucky a colossally strenuous process. In addition to his monologue, the character spends most his time either hunched over or flopping down in exhaustion. According to Lombard, prepping for the character required a lot of stretching and staying in the best possible shape.

Apart from the physical aspects, the getting in the mind of the character was an isolating process, Lombard says. Lucky is constantly serving Pozzo and does deliver an enormous speech, but he never actually banters with other characters.

“It’s a bit of a lonely process. You don’t get to have the kind of fun that Didi and Gogo have in the rehearsal room. But it’s a really interesting one to work on as an actor, even if it was a little bit lonely at times,” Lombard says.

Critics have debated the symbolism of Lucky’s name, as well as his role. Some say Lucky is aptly named because unlike any other characters, he knows what his purpose is – to serve Pozzo. The name could also be sarcastic, which is in line with the play’s dark humor.

Catch the show until May 20 at the Lansburgh Threatre. Tickets start at $44 and can be purchased here. More information can be found at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

STC’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Alexandra Cabral
Photo: Alexandra Cabral

Twin Shadow Falls into Focus with New Album, Tour

Twin Shadow’s latest tour, which aims to bring attention to the release of their new album Caer, kicked off on March 23 and includes dates with Alt-J and Beck. The creative force behind the band, George Lewis Jr., says he looks forward to what will be something of an East Coast homecoming at their U Street Music Hall show this Friday.

“We love DC, we always have great shows there,” he says. “We’re all east coast people – we’ve got a California boy in the band now – but [bandmate Wynne Bennett] and I both like to spend a lot of time on the east coast so we’re really excited about coming back there because it feels like home.”

As for the tour itself, a new era is approaching for Twin Shadow. The spotlight is set on the magnificent new music and serves as a showcase of Lewis Jr. and his band’s talent.

“This tour is really about just getting back to the music,” he says. “There’s not a big production behind the set. We just want to play music for people. The set up with the new band sounds amazing and it’s really just going to be that.”

A lot has changed for Lewis Jr. since he released his last record in 2015. He and his band were forced to stop performing after their tour bus crashed into a tractor-trailer near Denver. Thankfully, no involved parties suffered major injuries, but Lewis Jr. and his band took time to reflect and grow while off the road, both personally and politically. He speaks of the global themes that anchor this new record.

“This is the first time I really feel like people are actually looking at the world like ‘oh man, this might be it, this might be kind of the last round in humanity,’” Lewis Jr. says. “The idea of what being human [means] is changing because of computers and I think everything is being questioned. Everything is flipped on its head. And artists are making art at a time when that’s happening, and regardless of political themes, it’s hard to not make art that has a feeling of ‘oh this might be our downfall, this might be the end or this might be the beginning of a new version of who we are as human beings.’ It’s where the emotional bed of the record is.”

While dealing with the changing ways of the world, Lewis Jr. also weaves a thread between other works of his, adding to an impressive catalog that will now span four full-length records. “I would say [Caer] is more of a progression from Eclipse and it kind of goes back to some of the musical ideas on my first record, Forget,” he notes.

Caer also includes collaborations with HAIM, the vivacious alt-rock trio consisting of three sisters who released their sophomore album Something to Tell You late last year. Lewis Jr. says after he and the members of HAIM became good friends, they eventually guided him during his creation of Caer.

“I had originally sent Danielle from HAIM ‘Saturdays’ when I wrote it, because I wrote it thinking about them,” Lewis Jr. says. “They ended up going in and working on it and that was really exciting because I just think they’re the best.”

The title of the album comes from the Spanish verb caer, meaning “to fall.” While the Lewis Jr. moves forward into a new phase of his life, he’s certainly had many things both good and bad fall into place on this record, leading to his triumphant return to stage this month.

Twin Shadow play U Street Music Hall with Yuno on Friday April 27. Doors 7 p.m. Show 7 p.m. The new album “Caer” is also available this day. Tickets $30 here.  All ages.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/
Photo: www.facebook.com/porchfestdc/

East of the River for the First Time: Porchfest Music Festival Comes to Southeast

Porchfest Music Festival is coming to Southeast DC for the very first time.

Penn Branch resident and SE Porchfest volunteer organizer Ayanna Smith announced earlier this month that May 20 will mark the first Porchfest to be held east of the Anacostia river.

Porchfest consists of mini concerts held on front porches. This structure allows attendees to walk freely from house to house, listen to local talent and meet people from the neighborhood. In the past, local business improvement districts hosted Porchfest, including an event this April on Rhode Island Avenue. This time around, the event is entirely organized by volunteers.

“I chose to focus in the community where I have relationships,” Smith says. “Penn Branch and Hillcrest have beautiful stately homes with front yards and large porches, mixed with a rich history and tons of hidden talent. We have all of the elements of a perfect Porchfest.”

The very first Porchfest was organized by founder Lesley Greene and took place in Ithaca, NY. Greene came up with the idea while sitting out on her front porch playing music and chatting with a neighbor. The event has spread far beyond Ithaca and even DC, with yearly fests taking place in over 100 locations.

“It was one of the first warm days of the year, and my husband and I sat on our front steps, soaked up the sunshine, and played some ukulele tunes,” she says. “We realized that there were so many musicians living right in our neighborhood that we could practically have a music festival with just the people who live nearby. We gave it the name Porchfest that day.”

They’ve been gaining popularity ever since: past Porchfests have drawn crowds ranging from 3,500 to 5,000 people. Greene says the community setting opens the door for the wide variety of bands that play these festivals.

“It would be very difficult to have anything like the number of bands that perform at Porchfest if it were held at a concert venue,” she says. “We would not only need a lot of time, but a huge staff. Every band sets up for themselves, and because they are spread out over a relatively large area, many bands can play at the same time.”

Musician Rasha Jay will play the festival, and plans to perform songs from her first EP, Cicada, and possibly some new material.

“I grew up with a porch, and there is nothing more intimate than that setting,” she says. “I look forward to being close up with people and sharing my sound.”

Emily Woodhull and Jeff Blake, two members of EBW Music, cover songs that speak to them on a personal level.

“We play covers of songs that reflect who we are,” Blake says. This includes a repertoire of alternative rock and well-known hits like “Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer and “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. Though they don’t have original songs ready just yet, they’re on the way.

“We are in the process of perfecting a few and they may very well be show ready in time for Porchfest,” he assures.

Smith says planning a Porchfest without the aid of a business improvement district is a real challenge, but still necessary and worth it.

“There’s a negative stigma associated with living east of the river in DC that is based partially on stereotypes,” she says. “In hosting the first SE Porchfest, I’m hoping to showcase the beauty of our community.”

She envisions taking Porchfest beyond single neighborhoods, and she’s taken steps to establish Porchfest DC as a tax-exempt organization with the goal of creating a citywide festival.

SE Porchfest currently boasts over 30 volunteers, who are working hard to secure sponsorship and additional performers at the SE edition of the fest. Organizers anticipate six to eight participating host homes, with two bands playing at each porch.

“I would love to see some go-go bands join the list,” Smith says. “I love drums, I appreciate that the city has its own genre of music. It’s the sound of DC.”

As Rasha Jay puts it, “DC is and has always been innovative and unapologetic, and the city is full of talent.”

Individuals interested in volunteering can complete the volunteer sign-up form. Musicians and bands who want to participate can email porchfestdc@gmail.com.

For updates, visit Porchfest DC’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Porchfest DC – Southeast Edition: Penn Branch, SE, DC; www.facebook.com/PorchFestDC

Photo: Daniel Schwartz
Photo: Daniel Schwartz

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Small but Mighty

“Small but mighty” should be the thought that comes to mind after seeing the most recent production by the Constellation Theatre Company. Bertolt Brecht’s epic tale The Caucasian Chalk Circle dazzles in the hands of director Allison Arkell Stockman. She leads a small ensemble of 14 to victory as they confidently and passionately unveil the grand story of adventure, justice, power and love.

The Constellation Theatre Company transformed the black-box theatre into a 360 degrees, 88-seat configuration, which elicits an immersive experience where the partition separating drama and reality is lifted.

The circular design heightens the play’s mysteriousness, engrossing audience during the epic tale. Throughout the two and a half hour show, thespians enter and exit from every aperture, making it nearly impossible to declare one point of the stage as the main stage. Constant head turning, searching for the one speaking, along with unexpected audience participation maintains a high alertness for viewers within this insulated rousing environment.

 

A whirlwind of talent engulfs both the 14-person cast, who portray more than sixty characters between them, and the three-person band performing rock-inspired music for the period piece.

As the lights expose the all black stage, a multidimensional, multi-period story begins to unfold. Two farmer unions debate who should control the land abandoned by the Nazis after WWII, and in order to resolve the conflict, a play was produced and performed.

Carrying the bulk of the narrative initially is a character described as The Singer, played by Matthew Schleigh, who is also one of the three band members. Schleigh lightheartedly introduces the parable that would reveal the unexpected steps it precedes. His performance is exactly what one would hope for in a renaissance piece. He charms and flirts with the audience while singing modern folk songs to appeal to those present. His narration leaves more to be desired as he shifts gears altogether and assumes the role of the Judge in the latter half of the production.

Within another vein of the multi-dimensional story line, a war is taking place after a coup leads to the murder of the Governor played by Keith E. Irby. The murder takes place after the governor’s son and heir is born. In a panic, the mother of the child leaves her home and abandons her new born baby. Grusha, a handmaiden, played by Yesenia Iglesias, saves the baby from certain death.

Grusha’s journey in search of asylum is preempted by her own love story with the soldier Simon, played by Drew Kopas. The innocent love between characters Grusha and Simon is brought into sharp focus and is most evident as the couple sings their farewell song before Simon leaves to fight in a war against Iran.

At the onset, Iglesias’ vocal stylings are delicate, but eventually they ricochet throughout the intimate space. Her talents are perfectly supported by a diverse and powerful ensemble whose harmonies could be bottled and sold at an extremely high price. All musical components are exquisite.

The only unpleasant, albeit intentionally, element within the entire show is Sergeant, played by Scott Ward Abernethy. At first, Sergeant comes across as a comical, loving character, until his true intentions surface and his whole presence transforms. The demented performance could cause one to wince at his very sight. This is mostly due to the crude language, sexual gestures and unwarranted sexual advances, which echo the atrocities responsible for today’s #MeToo movement.

One thing the Constellation Theatre Company has certainly mastered is transformative theater. Each time I visit the intimate space, I’m lost in a new world, but I’m always guided by an ensemble that embodies its characters and navigates the set. Their knowledge of the space paired with the simple and appropriate choreography by Tony Thomas II makes this a spectacular hit.

The use of space was pleasant, as they create bridges out of humans and illustrate wind with dance. The play wows, making you want to sit in the theater for hours in reflection of the time spent in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia.

The Causasian Chalk Circle is playing now through May 13 at the Constellation Theatre Company. Ticket prices are $25-$45. There is no late seating.

Consteallation Theatre Company: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; www.constellationtheatre.org

Photo: XMB Photography
Photo: XMB Photography

TRANSIT at Dupont Underground

After a three-day stint at Dupont Underground, Australian-born choreographer and dancer Sarah J. Ewing’s site-specific, original dance and technology performance of TRANSIT left observers with pensive expressions. The looks were not of confusion, but rather a contemplation of the progression of life and the various elements that contribute to our individual present or future state.

The performance began with white words cast upon stonewalls spelling “TRANSIT.” Then blinding lights lit up the tunnel as dancers stepped lightly into the space. Each dancer’s gray attire matched their facial expression, as well as the intended expressionless ambiance.

As the performers stood motionless, the sounds of commuting began to echo through the seats. In coordination with the music, the lights shifted from spots to ripples to darkness, illustrating the obstacles of traveling uncontrollably through life.

The interpretive showcase told the story of three generations of women experiencing similar hardships and joy at every turn in life through different time periods. During a brief interview with Ewing, she explained her vision as a “treasure map of life showing moments intertwined with linear time.”

This movement was a display of power and grace. The dancers’ modern choreography coupled with the music, which maintained a steady beat except for the occasional syncopation, kept viewers fixated on the stage and constantly wondering what would come next.

The audience witnessed solos, duets and a small ensemble, all of whom told the narrative of the linear timeline of life. In one ensemble scene, each performer moved in their own style, sometimes in a haphazard way that might not be considered dancing at all, followed by the rest of the ensemble mimicking the leader’s motions in sync. The scene spoke to the chaos of life and how we are often solely focused on our personal forward progress while others are stuck in peril.

The performance welcomed a plethora of themes, but it would be tough to argue against the significance of time in the piece. The transformative lighting and shifting sounds in each scene highlighted the evolution of characters. Time, illustrated by score, was constant. The volume rose and fell, but it was constantly there, declaring the inevitable continuation of time, no matter our individual circumstances.

The hour-long performance sustained a solemn tone throughout, however, the final scene marked a shift in rhythmic excitement and exaggerated dance that brought a sense of joy to the dark, underground tunnel. This conveyed that through life’s journey, one will always have reasons to celebrate even when it seems impossible.

TRANSIT is a collaboration between S. J. Ewing and Dancers, CulturalDC at Dupont Underground and CityDance. To see upcoming showcases at Dupont Underground or to learn more, visit here. Ticket prices vary from exhibit to exhibit but typically range from $10-$20, with an occasional free event happening.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Circle NW, DC; 202-315-1321; www.dupontunderground.org

Photo: Carol Rosegg
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Trust in The Wiz at Ford’s Theatre

There’s not a moment in Ford’s Theatre’s The Wiz when you’re not exhilarated. From the instance Toto rushes across the stage to the final second Dorothy clicks her heels, the kaleidoscope of characters, colors and music inspires the audience to yelp, cheer, tap their feet, laugh and snap – it’s impossible to sit still when you’re traveling through the Wonderful World of Oz.

The Wiz, the iconic winner of seven Tony Awards, is an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which unapologetically celebrates black culture through it’s score of blues, soul, gospel, R&B, jazz and pop, in addition to its universal narrative. The Wiz isn’t a story about a young black girl overcoming slavery, extreme poverty or hardships. Rather, the story is about a young girl who happens to be black making friends and finding strength as she attempts to journey home after being whisked away by a tornado into a magical land.

“The beauty of The Wiz is its message that anything we already are is enough,” director Kent Gash explains in Ford’s press release. “Dorothy feels restless and stuck at home, but when the tornado comes through, it absolutely turns her world upside down and changes her perspective. Dorothy discovers she is smarter, more powerful and more interesting than she ever realized. She comes to understand that how she moves through the world can change lives. That is a valuable lesson for us all to celebrate.”

Ines Nassara shines as Dorothy. The moment she sings the first line on “Soon As I Get Home,” we know exactly who this character is. We feel Dorothy’s fear, excitement and resolve to succeed in her mission. At the beginning of the show, she’s still unsure of her bravery. By the time she helps her new friend, the Cowardly Lion (played exquisitely by Christopher Michael Richardson), discover his own strength in “Be a Lion,” you’ll be hard-pressed to hold back tears upon seeing this young woman stand with such power.

Hasani Allen emulates the same charm and lankiness as Michael Jackson in the same role as the Scarecrow, but his “Aw, shucks” sweetness is all his own. For lacking a heart, Tinman, as brought to life by Kevin McAllister, sings with all his soul about the eternal fear we all have about being unable to love, and being unlovable.

While the four leads of the show prove wonderful, The Wiz is a musical that needs a strong ensemble cast. Ford’s production delivers, and when the show reaches its peak after Evillene melts away with “Everybody Rejoice” – an exuberant song celebrating freedom and new chapters – you can’t help but revel in the joy onstage.

This production of The Wiz is a delight for any pop culture fiend. There are call-outs to Jackson 5 dance routines, Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece RevelationsWakanda, Coming to America, Flavor of Love (Flava Flav’s VH1 dating show), Paris Is Burning, Grace Jones, Prince and Purple Rain, and of course, some moonwalking thrown in for good measure.

This is a story about having the courage to trust in yourself – trusting your smarts, trusting your heart, trusting your bravery and, finally, trusting in your spirit.

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre through May 12. For more information about the show or details on times, dates and tickets, click here.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org