All Posts By

Jonelle Walker

2016 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Hunt’

Jean P. Bordewich’s political drama Hunt turns back the clock to a divisive time in American politics – the early 1950s of Joseph McCarthy – but the characters and issues resonate in today’s political landscape. A passionate, high-profile Republican who blames minorities for America’s looming downfall. A powerful Democrat too focused on his own ascent to address pressing issues behind the scenes. Well-meaning politicians are caught in bi-partisan crossfire.

Hunt excavates the true story of Senator Lester Hunt (a solid Terry Loveman), who was blackmailed by McCarthyites Senator Styles Bridges (Scott Cummings) and Senator Herman Welker (Gary DuBreuil) in 1953. The Senators’ leverage against Hunt was the initially quiet arrest of his son Buddy (Brice Guerriere) for solicitation of a male undercover cop. Over the course of the play Hunt wrestles with whether to fight the system or give in, receiving help along the way from his insightful wife Nathelle (Suzanne Martin, in a sharp turn) and a kindly reporter (Michael David Anderson).

Despite some shortcomings in the script, Hunt benefits from strong performances. Director Kristin Shoffner manages an expert ensemble that fit well in the period setting. Anderson and Guerriere have a believable rapport, which brings some relief and humanity to the story’s development. Suzanne Martin is delightful to watch as the Senator’s wife, carefully balancing support and strategy. Cummings and DuBreuil are frightening as politicians who embody the banality of evil. Terry Loveman in the title role feels every bit the Wyoming politician: strong, principled, but still insecure at his core.

Costume Designer Julie Cray and, presumably, Shoffner, did strong work on the production design. The costumes and set are 1950s Americana, smartly simple enough to weather the notorious 15-minute Fringe pre-show load-in. Similarly, Lighting Designer Colin Dieck creates moments of thrilling drama using a modest light plot. The work of Composer Josh Harty and Sound Designer Niusha Nawab is complex, weaving original music and sounds from nature into popular songs and news reports from the period.

Audiences coming to the Flashpoint for Hunt will leave with a new perspective on history and, perhaps, even a new understanding of the present. With a disturbingly relevant subject, fabulous performances, and impressive design, Hunt should be near the top of every Fringe itinerary.

The piece was originally posted on DC Metro Theater Arts

2016 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Concrete Devotion’

Fringe performances tend to fall into one of the following categories: shows that make you cringe, shows that make you feel, or shows that make you think. Concrete Devotion, from well-established company Motion X Dance DC, offers three contemporary dance premieres with emotional heft and visual dynamism. It manages to make you feel and think while avoiding that other common Fringe experience.

The first two pieces – “Kindred” and “It’s On Her” – tackle illness, physical and mental respectively. Lauren Carnesi’s choreography for “Kindred” smartly utilizes weight-sharing to portray how disease can make the body weak and the community strong in supporting the ill. Sammi Rosenfeld’s “It’s On Her,” however, is the stand out of the concert. An exploration of mental illness, the staccato rhythm in the music and movement envelop the viewer in the fever pitch of mania. Concrete Devotion closes with a featured piece of the same name that follows a couple as they balance shared professional life with the intimacy of their relationship. The choreography is beautiful at moments – two dancers slowly walking away from each other, for instance – but in places retreads its own imagery (without additional impact.)

The ensemble on the whole is strong, but could be more cohesive; there were many moments when the dancers seemed to be out of tune with one another. Christopher Saunders, the only male in the ensemble, was a standout also for his strong solos, including an emotional performance in “Concrete Devotion.”  Otherwise, the ensemble was balanced enough that all dancers could shine.

The technical elements of Concrete Devotion are intriguing and may be one of the central selling points for the performance. Film of the dancers talking about their personal lives, designed by Stephanie L. Dorrycott and projected throughout, gave each live piece emotional roots. The unsettling imagery in the film of dancers lying on their sides on the floor and running along the walls is striking. The puppet designed by Rachel Adler for “It’s on Her” could successfully play a variety of emotions and added depth as a “character.”

Concrete Devotion will transport you to a cerebral place of emotional contemplation. It’s honest expression of sickness, mental illness and relationship trouble could certainly inspire a fulfilling trip to the Fringe bar.

This piece was originally posted on DC Metro Theater Arts

Highlights – July 8, 2016

Artapedia Highlights
Check out our diverse June coverage! From an orchestral concert to a controversial panel discussion.

theoctoroon_178-webAn Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company
“What is it to be a modern black playwright? What is it to be a slave owner? What is it to be a free black man in the time of slavery?”

Musicians at the National Orchestral Institute Perform Two Dances and a Titan
“[I]f the audience’s standing ovation is any indication, America’s orchestras may yet succeed in their battle for relevancy — without sacrificing artistic integrity.”

DC African-American Arists Challenge Stereotypes at Phillips Collection
“Does it matter if a work of art is made by an African-American? Broader still, does the identity of any creator matter to the artwork?”

and from our sister site, Bourgeon:

Rich O'Meara performing CropScoring One Mutual Happiness with Uncle Funsy
by. Rich O’Meara
“Each performance changes somewhat depending on the energy coming from the audience or how David improvises his lines. I’m constantly finding new things to play within the structure I’ve built.”

Upcoming Events

Artist Journalist Panelists
Panel Discussion: Artist Journalists
July 17
The evolving forms of news media have created a new kind of journalist: an expert in the field whose journalistic objectivity is sometimes suspect. What does it mean when artists are also arts journalists?

Capacity Building in the Arts: a workshop with Michael M. Kaiser
July 23
How can you, as an artist or arts administrator, ensure that you not only survive, but thrive? This workshop will include a presentation by Mr. Kaiser followed by a question and answer session.

Arts Journalism Spotlight

Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner
“Angels in America: The Complete Oral History”
by. Isaac Butler and Dan Kois
“Slate talked to more than 50 actors, directors, playwrights, and critics to tell the story of Angels’ turbulent ascension into the pantheon of great American storytelling—and to discuss the legacy of a play that feels, in an era in which gay Americans have the right to marry but still in many ways live under siege, as crucial as ever.”

Things We Have to Miss (But, You Don’t!)

DC African-American Artists Challenge Stereotypes at Phillips Collection

During a recent panel at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.-based art collector Henry Thaggert asked the public to consider an ongoing debate in the art world: whether or not art shows that only showcase artists of one race are “good” or “bad.”

Historically, African-American artists have been disenfranchised from the gallery/museum system, but new efforts at inclusion also create new complexities. Even writing about these issues is complex. Are we talking about Black artists, or African-American artists?

Does it matter if a work of art is made by an African-American? Broader still, does the identity of any creator matter to the artwork?

Organized by D.C.-based organization Millennium Arts Salon the panel June 11th focused on the issue in relationship to contemporary visual art. Founded by the wife and husband team of Juanita and Melvin Hardy, the vision of Millennium Arts Salon is to “advance cultural literacy,” and the Salon manages a collector’s club focused on the collection of African-American artists.

Thaggert was joined on the panel by Phillips Collection curator Vesela Sretenović, artists Sheldon Scott and Amber Robles-Gordon, and moderator Jessica Stafford Davis (of The Agora Culture.)

Thaggert posed his question in the context of the well-regarded 2013 exhibition 30 Americans, which featured 30 African-American artists. Thaggert, a patron of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, noted he was “instrumental in bringing 30 Americans to the Corcoran.”

“The exhibition fed a certain hunger and a certain interest,” Thaggert said.

That exhibition received broad coverage not only for the included artists and artwork, but as a call for galleries and curators to stop overlooking and undervaluing art by African-Americans.

However, as a thought experiment, Thaggert raised a number of potential concerns presented by single-race exhibitions like 30 Americans. Single-race exhibitions can become complicit in diminishing the universal power of art, can force art to serve as an ambassador for racial issues, and can over-simplify the diversity of included artists.

According to Thaggert, some critics describe 30 Americans as being “enslaved by generalizations.”

Playing devil’s advocate, he asked the audience, “Why should a Kara Walker painting hang next to a Kehinde Wiley painting when these artists and the objects themselves have virtually nothing in common, except the most general of generalizations?”

He continued by noting that several commercially successful African-American artists have subsequently expressed ambivalence and even anger about their inclusion in the show. “These black artists felt like they lost control of their own narrative,” he said.


“All That I Am”, 2015, by DC artist Amber Robles-Gordon

Panelist Amber Robles-Gordon stated that her racial identity is an essential part of her narrative as an artist. Robles-Gordon’s fabric creations sometimes suggest the braids of a young woman, or traditional African artworks. On close inspection the individually torn strips of fabric from which she creates indicate trauma, but the completed works – tethered to the wall of a gallery or the side of a building – are more elevated and nearly-religious.

“My artwork is an intricate part of my identity…. It is an expression of myself as a whole person; art is a reflection of the artist who is producing it,” Robles-Gordon wrote.

Phillips Collection curator and panelist Vesela Sretenovic argued that though the artwork should be central, the context of history and the artist is nearly as important. “[Y]ou cannot decontextualize a work of art,” she said. “You have to be responsible to your community, so you have to factor in the historical conditions.”

Art collecting regularly intersects with unresolved and complex issues of race and identity. Highly-coveted pieces of classical and contemporary art have inadvertently celebrated racist stereotypes and imagery. Curators have questioned the segregation of “indigenous” art from the commercial mainstream. And artists of color have been notoriously neglected by major museums.

The effects of racial identity are not always obvious, according to Amber Robles-Gordon. “While, I have never been explicitly told you didn’t get this award, grant money or get into this exhibition because you are a black woman, I have found that the signs have been relayed in the subtext, micro aggressions, tone of voice, choice of words and or body language.” Even worse, she adds, is “being utterly ignored.”

With the presentation and collection of art nearly saturated with issues of gender and racial identity, it’s hard to believe that an artists’ race will be unimportant in the near future. African-American art collector and curator Dr. Kenneth Montague expects fewer general surveys like 30 Americans and more exhibitions of individual African-American artists. Rather than a future with an inhibited focus on the racial identity of the artist, he sees a future that is able to study the many different ways of being African-American.

Montague suggests the problem with general shows like 30 Americans is that it can cause the public to believe that those are the only African-American artists worth collecting, but went on to note that in the last 10 years he’s seen awareness of African-American artists, and the value of their artworks, increase.

“[10 years ago,] you didn’t see them in magazines and journals. You didn’t see a lot of articles written. I would save the articles because they were so few and far between, but now I can’t keep up,” Montague said.

To maintain this trend and ensure it doesn’t eventually fall off, Montague said that there need to be more African-American curators, gallery directors, and collectors.

Robles-Gordon, however, questioned whether curators, gallerists, and collectors are the right authority to determine art’s organizing principles: “The fact that we give the perceptions that collectors, critics or commentators have more value [than artists] is a metaphor for the structure of our society.”

This post has been updated (7/6/16) to clarify panelist Henry Thaggert’s position on single-race exhibitions, and involvement with the exhibition 30 AmericansThe post was originally published on and features reporting by Michelle Goldchain. 

Musicians at The National Orchestral Institute Perform Two Dances and a Titan

The lobby is packed. The line for ticket pick-up is a few dozen deep. The lobby is filled with plush lounge furniture and lit with low-hanging, contemporary chandeliers. While this could be a scene from an evening at the Kennedy Center, it actually describes the pre-performance atmosphere at Saturday night’s National Orchestral Institute (NOI) concert at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

The NOI is a summer orchestra program for musicians aged 18 to 28 selected from across the country through a competitive audition process. The NOI provides these promising musicians with a month of professional training including regular performances in The Clarice’s Dekelboum Concert Hall.

The two-hour program began with Debussy’s Jeux and Maurice Ravel’s La Valse, two pieces composed for ballets. Both works are bright with strong narrative threads. Jeux was a bouncing delight and the orchestra skillfully navigated the piece’s shifts in speed and rhythm. La Valse lost some of its tension in contrast to Jeux, but still concluded with great energy.

While listening to these two pieces I read about them using the new Octava app. In development by UMBC professors Linda Dussman and Eric Smallwood, the app can replace a printed program, delivering program notes to your phone as the music is played. Orchestras are fighting for relevancy and experiments like Octava may help cultivate younger audiences for classical music. While there are still kinks to work out, Octava brings depth and relevance to the real-time orchestra experience for the social media generation.

Image of the Octava app in use pre-performance. Octava replaces a traditional playbill. Image by Dylan Singleton courtesy The Smith Center

Image of the Octava app in use pre-performance. Octava replaces a traditional playbill. Image by Dylan Singleton courtesy The Smith Center

Teddy Abrams, the evening’s wunderkind conductor, may himself be a beacon for engaging new listeners. At 29, Abrams is barely older than the musicians he conducted but has already established himself as a conductor, composer, and musician in his own right. As head of the Louisville Orchestra he’s the youngest musical director of a major orchestra in the United States.

Abrams was dressed trendy but sharp in a black sweater and gray skinny jeans detailed with zipper pockets, a far cry from the suit and tails of the traditional maestro. And after the concert he participated in a post-performance “Jazz Jam” with audience members in the lobby. Abrams is clearly a brand ambassador for the hip new face of American classical music.

Abrams skill was apparent though the more challenging second half of the evening’s program, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Titan. The 50-minute symphony has German heft, requiring endurance and strength from both orchestra and conductor, both of whom delivered on Saturday night.

In review of a recent National Symphony Orchestra performance of the same symphony The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette wrote that avoiding emotional cliché is hard to do “with a composer who offers so much temptation and precedent for heart-on-the-sleeve antics.” The horns and percussionists (in particular) met that challenge, executing the bombastic climax without descending into a Thanksgiving Day parade of sound.

The NOI program on Saturday night felt like a celebration of sorts but the virtuosity of the performances soothed any fear of gimmickry. And if the audience’s standing ovation is any indication, America’s orchestras may yet succeed in their battle for relevancy — without sacrificing artistic integrity.

The festival continues through June 25; tickets for the remaining concerts are available here.

This article was originally posted on DC Metro Theatre Arts

DC Poets Write Love Poems for Inanimate Objects

It can be hard to find love, but most of us still try. One group of DC poets is going another route entirely, focusing on inanimate objects as love interests.

It’s an unusual approach, but not without precedent in the poetry world. John Keats lovingly contemplated a Grecian Urn. William Carlos Williams considered a red wheelbarrow. Emily Dickinson praised the aesthetics of a balloon. These object become metaphors for individuals, relationships, and parts of the self. The newly published Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects dives head first into the legacy of object poems. It’s both a clever play on and light rebuffing of standard poetic conventions.

Unrequited is the result of an open submission contest organized by editor Kelly Ann Jacobson, a local author, poet, and educator. Self-published by Jacobson last month, the anthology will be celebrated at a launch party featuring several of the book’s authors at Upshur Street Books this Friday, June 17th..

All of the poems selected for the book were additionally evaluated by celebrated local poet Sandra Beasley who selected a ‘winner’ and ‘runner up’. “That Last Summer” by Lucia Cherciu was selected the winner and “Lesser Vegetables” by Sass Brown was selected the runner up. Those poems —highlighted in that way as the best of the bunch—leave something to be desired, in part because of their solemn tone and similarity in form. Both poems consist of a series of unrhymed couplets. They are thematically distinct: Cherciu’s poem is a tightly crafted reflection on personal loss while Brown takes a more omniscient perspective on a county fair. Cherciu’s “That Last Summer” has a sophisticated depth to its storytelling but is neither the most memorable or compelling of the anthology.

Several poems taking a confessional lens stood out, not unlike Cherciu’s winning piece. These poems are not so much odes as exhibits exploring how objects intersect with our most intimate moments. The cover of the recently published "Unrequited: An Anthology of Love Poems about Inanimate Objects"Sharon Lask Munson’s poem “Wash, Dry, Put Away” elegantly captures the fractured memory sparked by an object forgotten: “shred of shadows/ a wink, a flicker/ laughter.”

The anthology is organized using categories of objects. Some object categories –  like Nature – seem like obvious choices, but others – like Backyard Furniture – are more mysterious.

The most unexpected objects in the more mysterious categories are among the most memorable poems. Amy McLennan’s rhythmic, casual language in “A Large Jar of Kosher Dill Pickles Left on My Front Porch” is endearing and funny: “And by large I mean more,/ I’m talking hippopotamic/ whopping, mammoth/ freakin’ flat out huge.”

The anthology’s flexibility with the central prompt (Love poems for inanimate objects) is worth scrutinizing. Certainly “Nature” and “Cities” are inanimate, but can we rightly call them objects? There is something to be said for the freshness that comes with a loose interpretation of limitations but too much slack with a prompt makes one wonder what a tighter net would have fished.

The poetic diversity in Unrequited makes it a lively departure from similar books by a single author. Ed Perlman’s poem “Coin Silver” is a rewarding study for readers willing to engage with its woven rhyme scheme and typography. The dense minimalism of A.J. Huffman’s cheeky “Ode to McDonald’s French Fries” contrasts with the haiku-like simplicity of Jacquelyn Bengfort’s “Fire Triangle:” “Because the lightning loved the tree./ Because the tree loved the house.”

And then there are the singularly peculiar pieces which outright refuse to align with the rest, like the fun, groovy rock lyrics of Charles Leggett’s “Poly-Esther Blues:” “Well she’s kinda ol’ fashioned/  But she’s great for party-crashin’  Polly-Esther/ (Watch her dance now!)”

Once a reader journeys through the anthology’s first twelve categories, she comes to a final poem in a category of its own. “The Earthbound Hymn” by Bethanie Humphreys is a smart and loving ending to the anthology. “Earthbound Hymn” devotes one stanza to each of the letters of the alphabet, simultaneously giving tribute to the objects described and the elements – the letters — which comprise the proceeding works and all poetry ever written. “Earthbound Hymn” provides a forthright sense of thematic closure for this engaging, speckled collection.

Though the sophistication and success of the poems vary, Unrequited is a charming entry-point for the casual poetry reader and would make a suggestive gift for the unrequited love interest in your own life.

The book launch party this Friday June 18 at Upshur Street Books, details here, is an opportunity to hear several DC residents read and to have your own copy of Unrequited signed by the anthology’s editor.

This article was originally posted on

Ninth Annual Source Festival Offers Plays, Perspective

Press image for 2015 Source Festival

It’s summertime again in the District and that means the return of two seasonal pastimes: complaining about the weather and theatre festivals. If you ask two people walking down 14th street about the weather, the first might celebrate it as sweaty perfection while the second might roll their eyes, muttering about swamps and global warming. Elsewhere on 14th street, inside the Source Theatre, a similar study in contrasting perspective is taking place this summer as part of the ninth annual Source Festival.

The Source Festival, presented by CulturalDC and opened June 8th, is a month-long theatre festival focused on developing and producing new works. “Our story, as humans, as Americans, as citizens of the world–it evolves every day and our playwrights are on the front line–taking in our world, adapting it through their own unique lenses and reflecting it back to us” says Source Festival Artistic Director Jenny McConnell Frederick, “Source Festival puts a high priority on seeking out, developing and producing a fresh collection of these stories each year.”

Fully staged productions of three new plays, selected through a national search, is one core of the festival.

SF_Postcard_Front smallGeorgette Kelly’s Ballast, one of the new plays selected, centers on two relationships between cisgender and transgender partners. Over the course of the play, both couples grapple with the process of gender transition (which is not frequently enough portrayed on stage.) The play presented a few challenges for Ballast director Margot Manburg, including casting transgender performers and “maintaining the equal footing” between all of the characters.

Investigating the essential intersections of gender identity and romance inBallast has presented, Manburg observes, opportunities for audience and artists alike. “This play could literally be the experience of someone on the production team or in the audience, or could provide the catalyst or language for a conversation that an audience member hasn’t been able to articulate.”

The festival takes inspiration from the selected plays to identify three overarching festival themes. Based on those themes the festival commissions eighteen ten-minute plays and three cross-disciplinary collaborator commissions (“Artistic Blind Dates”.) In other words: the festival provides twenty-four perspectives on three themes.

If “Heroes & Homes” are not your thing, you need not turn away. The festival is also offering “Secrets & Sounds” and “Dreams & Discord.”

The “Artistic Blind Dates” are one of the most unique aspects of the festival. Once the full-length plays are selected, nine local artists read the plays and then collaborate in teams of three over four months to develop brand new performance pieces.

Entanglement, one of the “Artistic Blind Dates”, was developed by artists Claire Alrich, Maryam Foye, and Britney Mongold based on their reading of Jennifer Fawcett’s full-length play Buried Cities and the theme “Heroes & Homes.”

“Claire, Maryam and I explore our own heroes on a very personal level,” Mongold says. “We selected matriarchs from our own ancestry and are comparing our life paths with theirs.”

Mongold and her collaborators want to keep the exact nature of audience participation a surprise, but shared that by the end of the performance the audience is invited, “to share in moments of reflection and meditation, honoring memories in an immersive, cozy setting.”

Taking stock of both the past and the future is also surely on the minds of the festival’s producers in the rapidly developing 14th street corridor. But for now, they’re excited to support another year of new theater.

“[N]ot everything we do will be to your tastes, but it’s all smart, original work being made by some of the most promising theatre artists in the country”, promises Frederick, “Come sample what’s out there and you’re sure to discover something new and wonderful.”

Amy Austin, executive director of TheatreWashington, added, “By working with playwrights of our time we capture the fragility, the stories, and the wonder of the age we live in. The Source Theatre Festival has long offered to be the place to nurture and honor new work.”

Whether you find the weather unbearable or ideal, the plays brilliant or busted, this summer’s Source Festival offers an engaging escape from the heat. And, not just because the theatre is air conditioned.

The Source Festival runs June 8 through July 3 at the Source Theatre (1835 14th Street, NW). Tickets and showtimes available here.

This article was originally posted on