Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Week In Review 02.02

Well, it's been quite the week and now comes the reflective time!

In my last Week In Review post, I left off at Saturday, Jan 25 - where I was hosting the First Person Arts Story Slam event at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. And, with the *possible* exception of the 2008 Grand Slam (which I also hosted), Saturday night’s crowd in the Commonwealth Plaza at the Kimmel Center may have been the largest EVER gathered for a First Person Arts storyslam! I'll get to the winner, but first a bit about First Person Arts.

First Person Arts was founded in 2000 as Blue Sky by Vicki Solot, in response to the burgeoning interest in memoir and documentary art forms. Solot appreciated the resonance of real stories and recognized their value as a means of bridging cultural ethnic divides. With the involvement of a visionary board, First Person Arts set out to support the development of new memoir and documentary work and to create opportunities for it to be seen and appreciated by many. In just four years, First Person Arts has showcased the work of more than 100 artists nationwide; They have reached across cultures and communities to attract a broad and diverse audience; and have played an important role in exploring and celebrating the richness of the mixed heritage and shared history of everyday Americans.

Their monthly Story Slam events are legendary; both in its use of improv and audience interaction.

The way it works is simple: each event has a theme (for example, this particular event's theme was "broke"). If you are interested in telling a story around this theme - on stage within the guidelines of the event - you simply drop your name into a bucket.

The host picks names one at a time and calls you up on stage - you have 5 minutes and cannot use any notes to tell your story. The story is judged by several audience members (also chosen at random from those interested in judging); they judge each story on content and presentation - giving each a 1-10 score.

The highest score of the evening moves to the Grand Slam; held in November where the past 12 winners compete against each other for the chance to be Storyteller of the Year from First Person Arts.

This evening's crowd was extra special, since the event was held in advance of a performance from Ira Glass (This American Life). Although there were no official sightings of Ira during this pre-game, something tells me he wasn't too far off; listening to the words of everyday people.

The theme "broke" ran the gamut; from stories of broken limbs to broken dreams - but the winner (the OTHER Ira) was a story simply about being broke.

Ira A - a longtime staple in Philadelphia's underground scene - shared his story of past woe, and man was it a doozy! His was a tale of living in poverty in NYC in the late 1970s as a member of the punk underground. Having offered his squat of a flat to the members of Tuxedomoon as a crash pad, it was Christmas Eve and those members that didn't travel back to family were left with Ira and friends to fend for themselves to find a celebration.

The weeks prior, Ira and company spent their time attending the art gallery openings in the Soho district - primarily to fill pouches that lined the insides of their coats with various cubes of cheese, crackers and even wine. Shopping day for the art-punks!

At his flat, Ira had the gallery haul of cheese and crackers, a box of noodles and enough change to purchase two Big Macs - which they did and then proceeded to create an extraordinary casserole that could only have been assembled under the most impoverished of circumstances.

It was a heartfelt and humorous look at being 'broke' and it wowed the judges and the audience as well. Ira will return in the fall as January's winner, to compete in the Grand Slam.

BTW, for those in the region - I'll be hosting the March Story Slam, which will be held at World Cafe Live - click here for details.

The rest of my week was fairly low-key. January finds myself (and many) falling into a routine - one where the sun is rarely appreciated, except through the windows of my office. I leave for work in the dark and I arrive home in the dark.

I rang in February with a dose of PUPPY BOWL on Animal Planet - man, 2 hours of cute puppies romping around! YAY! On Monday, John and I went to the Keswick Theatre to see Antony & The Johnsons - and last night I hosted The English Beat concert, with Bad Manners opening. I'll review those concerts in a separate post coming tomorrow.

Oh, and last night Philly FINALLY got its first true snowfall of the winter season - about 6-7 inches fell overnight and the city has no clue what to do (as usual) - schools were closed today which made me crave for the time when I could wake up early, turn on the radio and listen intently for my school number to be announced as CLOSED!

Sadly, they no longer read off the school numbers - instead they drive listeners to visit their website. And, just as sadly, I no longer lay in bed listening intently to the radio on a snowy morning for that wonderful wish of personal freedom. Instead I get up and GO to the radio station, knowing that my job NEVER closes.

The joy of being 'essential personnel'- - alas.

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