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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
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
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.
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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