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This article was prepared for the April 30, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

`First Person’ Thinking

They say that everybody has a story. And Philadelphia’s

First Person Festival plans to bring dozens of them to an extended

celebration of creativity in the form of readings and performances,

screenings and exhibits, discussions and workshops by local and nationally-known

authors. Transforming the drama of real life into art, the festival

begins Friday, May 2, and runs through Sunday, May 18, at a variety

of locations inside and outside the city of Philadelphia. The festival’s

17 days are packed with 35 different author-oriented events.

The First Person Festival of Memoir in the Arts made its debut last

year to celebrate art based on real-life experience. The festival,

believed to be the only event of its kind nationally, is presented

by Blue Sky, a nonprofit organization that develops and presents art

based on real-life stories to use as a catalyst for building understanding

among people of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Vicki Solot, founder

and president of Blue Sky, says the popularity of memoir and broad

local support for the 2002 festival led her organization to establish

it as an annual event.

"We have more than doubled the number of participating artists,

more than doubled the number of exhibits, talks, workshops, and performances

and more than doubled the length of the festival for 2003," says

Solot.

One of Blue Sky’s primary goals is to create a community of artists

who use memoir and documentary approaches. A related goal is to promote

emerging artists and encourage artist and audience diversity. This

year’s festival theme is "Out of Place," a theme that guarantees

an outlet for those whose experiences place them outside the mainstream,

but whose stories speak to many.

"Memoir is a powerful form of expression," says Solot. "It

seems that the desire to get inside someone else’s experience is nearly

universal. I believe it stems from a basic curiosity we all have about

our fellow humans — an interest that is especially important to

keep alive during times like these when racial, religious, and cultural

barriers still divide us."

Programs during the festival’s first weekend run the gamut from the

serious to the light-hearted and include readings, exhibits, workshops,

and panel discussions. On Saturday, May 3, at 2 p.m., Heather Remoff

("February Light") and Floyd Skloot ("In the Shadow of

Memory"), both of whose memoirs address coping with illness, will

be joined by Jane Bernstein ("Bereft") and Rachel Simon ("Riding

the Bus with My Sister") in a panel on the topic "Memoir:

Art or Therapy?" at the Ethical Society in Philadelphia.

Marc Wolf, the actor and playwright behind "Another

American: Asking and Telling," gives two readings from his new

work-in-progress, "Getting Home," commissioned by Princeton’s

McCarter Theater. Wolf’s new work is based on his travels across America

during the weeks following September 11, 2001, as he journeyed from

a job in Seattle, Washington, back to his home in New York. Wolf reads

Saturday, May 3, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, May 4, at 1 p.m., at the Gershman

Y, Broad and Pine streets, Philadelphia. Cost is $5.

On the lighter side, Maxi Cohen’s exhibit of photos from "Ladies

Rooms Around the World" opens on May 2 and continues throughout

the festival. Cohen promises to share the secret world of women in

bathrooms from a Cape May health spa to a Hollywood awards ceremony.

Viewing of the exhibit is restricted to women only: its exhibition

venue is the Ladies Room of Reading Terminal Market in Center City.

Among the festival’s most unusual events is "Write on the Bus

Mobile Writing Workshop" with Rachel Simon, author of "Riding

the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey." Simon, formerly

events coordinator at Barnes & Noble at MarketFair on Route 1, will

guide participants in a series of exercises while sharing her own

experiences as a writer and bus-riding enthusiast.

The final stop will be for lunch and a sharing of samples from the

day’s writing. The workshop takes place Saturday, May 10, departing

at 9 a.m. from Reading Terminal Market, and returning at 1 p.m.. Cost

of workshop and lunch is $95.

Other highlights include a lecture by Pete Hamill, discussing his

memoir, "The Drinking Life," at the Free Library on Thursday,

May 8; a concert of autobiographical songs by GrooveLily at the Point

on Friday, May 9; and a dinner and reading by Shoba Narayan at Shivnanda

Restaurant, serving foods based on recipes from her memoir, "Monsoon

Diary," on May 15. You can even hear "Musical Memoirs on the

Radio" when Gene Shay invites Eric Anderson to share his personal

story songs, along with a selection of ballads and bluesy narratives,

on his radio show Sunday, May 11, from 4 to 8 p.m. on WXPN, 88.5 FM.

Also in the realm of sung memoir are three performances of "Elaine

Stritch at Liberty," the Broadway star’s one-woman autobiographical

show playing Tuesday through Thursday, May 13 to 15, at the Philadelphia

Academy of Music. Prices for the Tony Award winning show are $22 to

$50.

On Sunday, May 18, the Festival wraps up with a musical memoir at

the Prince Theater and the screening of the documentary film, "Standing

in the Shadow of Motown." Before the screening, two of the Funk

Brothers, the film’s subjects, joined by Cherry Hill producer Allan

Slutsky, will tell the story behind the making of the film. Afterwards,

they will join with Philadelphia’s top R&B musicians for a dance party

and benefit for Blue Sky.

First Person Festival of Memoir in the Arts. For event

listings, go to www.blueskyarts.org or call 215-627-1144

to request a brochure. Tickets for most events can be purchased through

UpStages at 215-569-9700 or at the Prince Music Theater box office.


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