The People Issue We asked, they answered—the 20 people who make D.C. what it is

The basic questions of journalism, the ones that longstanding aphorisms and traditions say every story should answer, are who, what, why, when, and where. This week, Washington City Paper is skipping all but one of them.

We picked 20 of the people who make the District what it is—politicians, theater artists, bartenders, basketball stars—and asked them to talk. Not about what they voted on in the D.C. Council that day, or the play they just performed, or the newest drink on their cocktail menu, or the game coming up; we approached these interviews with no real agenda but to hear what they had to say about their slice of life in the city.

The result is a snapshot of D.C. in 2013, seen through the eyes of the people who help make it what it is. What does the boss at the D.C. Taxicab Commission think of the all-red cabs now rolling around town? What’s it like playing in a punk band that draws aging hipsters and teens alike? How do you teach someone to dance naked?

Most of the people featured in the issue stopped by City Paper’s office to sit for a portrait by our longtime staff photographer, Darrow Montgomery, so you can see who’s saying what in the following pages. We plan to make this an annual feature, so if there’s someone you don’t see here whom you’d like to hear from, just look again next year.

By the latest U.S. government estimate this summer, 632,323 people called the District home. Another 5.2 million people lived in the surrounding area. All of us share more common interests than it may always seem; after all, we all live in the same place. And thanks to the work being done by the subjects of our People Issue, that place is a little more interesting every day.

Brynn Tucker

movement artist
Gaithersburg native Brynn Tucker, 27, didn’t take a formal dance class until her freshman year of college, but she’s always been inclined to express herself through motion. In 2009 she joined Synetic Theater, the movement-based theater company founded by husband-and-wife team Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, and has since appeared as Guinevere in the troupe’s 2010 production of King Arthur and as Queen Anne in this year’s production of The Three Musketeers. She debuted her first solo show, A Guide to Dancing Naked, at this summer’s Capital Fringe Festival. The lively physical piece, which encourages audiences to shake it in their birthday suits, won the festival’s Audience Award for Best Dance & Physical Theatre performance. —Caroline Jones

How long have you been dancing?

Well, I didn’t actually take a dance class until I was in college, but before then, I would just make it up. I would just look at some stuff on TV. I would make my own choreography just for myself. After college, I started working with Synetic Theater, which gave me another kind of vocabulary for moving.

What inspired you to finally take a dance class?

I was involved in a lot of different activities in school [growing up], and I don’t know exactly why, but it wasn’t like “Oh, dance class, maybe I should take some of those.” I learned dance because I’d be in workshops for musical theater but in college, you have this whole plate of things you can choose from. I was like, “Oh, I’ve never taken ballet before. Let me do that,” and then I took a dance class every semester because it was something that I liked.

How do shows work at Synetic, choreography-wise?

Irina is always our choreographer, but because we’re an ensemble and we do a lot of improvisation, we end up creating things. We bring a lot of things to the table and then Paata or Irina pick what gets cut and what gets used, what gets added. Our movements kind of inform all the shows we do.

What makes this a good place for teaching people how to dance naked?

People are very limited in their movement, like people hardly ever put their arms over their heads, and my show focuses on breaking free of that but creating your own space for it. It can be in your living room, your closet, your kitchen, whatever you want. I think it’s great for D.C. because I know a lot of people do CrossFit, yoga, and all that stuff but I challenge people to dance naked because it’s really simple: All you need is a mirror, some music, and your naked self. Taking the time to do that by yourself is really important, especially getting naked. A lot of people—period, not just in D.C.—spend a lot of time with their clothes on and you forget who you are a little bit, because clothing does define you. When you strip yourself of all of that, you’re pretty much your raw self, and I don’t think people get a lot of opportunities to do that. It’s about getting people grounded and checking in with themselves at the end of the day.

Have you faced any opposition from people who think they can’t dance naked when you present that possibility?

I definitely address that in the show, that everybody can dance. There was a really awesome woman who came to see my show and she said that her daughter was severely disabled and she danced, even with her very limited mobility, when she was happy to express herself. You don’t have to be a dancer or ever take a dance class to dance naked.

Who’s one person in D.C. you think would benefit from dancing naked?

Politicians. That’d be really funny.

A naked dance party at Congress, perhaps?

Yes, that would be awesome. If I could do a dance party with Congress, that would be epic. I’d totally support that.

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Joe Englert

Tavern Magnate
If you’ve ever had a hangover from late night on H Street NE, chances are you have Joe Englert to thank (or blame) for your excursion. The self-described “tavern magnate” is an owner in Rock & Roll Hotel, Granville Moore’s, The Pug, and H Street Country Club (among others) and has been a key player in turning H Street NE into an eating and drinking destination. —Jessica Sidman

I’ve lost count. How many restaurants, bars, nightlife spots do you own at this point?

Nine? [Actually, it’s 10, he later corrects.]

You’re on your way to José Andrés status.

I think he’s much more esteemed than I would be.

You’ve been referred to as a “tavern magnate,” “nightlife mogul,” “bar czar,” “H Street titan,” and “neighborhood bar kingpin.”

Douchebag and dickhead aren’t on there? That is amazing!

What do you think of those titles?

I’d rather be the Ayatollah Rock ’n’ Rollah.

What does it say on your business card? Maybe you should put that on there.

Tavern magnate, as a joke.

Why do you like working in the bar/restaurant industry? What appealed to you about it initially?

I think independence and creativity…And it’s an honest business in a lot of ways. I’ve been in many lawyers’ offices where they laugh at the industry, but when they do a case for you, they don’t promise you anything. Whereas if you order a gin and tonic, we have to make you a gin and tonic. We can’t get a retainer and get you something close to a gin and tonic, then apologize for not getting you the results.

You’re writing a memoir, no?

Uh huh.

What’s the theme of this memoir?

I think it’s going to be nightlife and watching the city grow up, or get less interesting, I guess.

Will it be funny, dark? A rom-com?

Oh yeah, it will be funny. I just need the right protagonist, you know?

So you are not the protagonist of your memoir?

Maybe the antagonist and protagonist at the same time…

What’s the working title?

Once it was Love Letters to Marion Barry...

Explain that one.

I think trying to equate my experience with Barry’s ups and downs and Barry’s swerving in and out of office and in the public life and into the public consciousness and sort of paralleling my life in D.C. with his political career. Because I came here about 1984, which might be the peak of his power. And if you come to one of these neighborhoods, you know, a lot of people they immediately call you the mayor. So, he’s the real mayor, I’m the unelected mayor.

Does he know he might be in your memoir?

He probably wouldn’t be happy…Also I wanted to have a Marion Barry water company. He didn’t want to do it.

Like bottled water?

Uh huh, he didn’t want to do it.

Like Anacostia–filtered water?

Exactly. He didn’t like that idea, through his lawyer Fred Cooke.

So you’ve given up on it?

Not yet! He can always come back, baby...Wouldn’t you love to go to a restaurant, they offer you Marion Barry, still, or tap? Beautiful bottle.

So your memoir: When the inevitable movie adaptation comes about, who would play you?

Clooney, of course.

Why?

We look a lot alike. Either Clooney or Roseanne Barr.

Alex Bearman

Intramural sports czar
Like many D.C. transplants, New York state native Alex Bearman, 33, fell in with the intramural sports crowd when he moved to the District in 2003. He teamed up with soccer nonprofit District Sports a year later, and by 2009, Bearman took over as director. Since then, the organization, which returns part of its membership dues to the community, has grown from about 80 to 250 teams, encompassing 3,500 participants and 13,000 registrations per year. Bearman still plays for his own team, the Badass Panthers. —Alexis Hauk

Did you ever dream of being a professional player?

I had older brothers who were pretty good players and pretty competitive, so I kind of idolized them. I’ve never been that fleet of foot, but I’ve always really enjoyed the game. My mom’s from Argentina and my brothers were both born in Argentina.

How did you start at District Sports?

A friend of mine founded it. And I started this parallel organization to provide referees to District Sports. So I was running that on the side. I would hire you to referee the game, and they would pay like $30 for the game; I would take like $5 of it and give you $25. I was a referee pimp of sorts.

Is District Sports’ growth just about the population growth in D.C.? Or is it because we have a really good soccer team here and soccer gets more emphasis?

There’s a huge recreational sports scene in D.C. generally. And I think it’s interesting—people try to sort of identify themselves around certain activities. So CrossFit, let’s say—people are so into CrossFit. They’re, like, CrossFit people and hang out with their CrossFit friends.

Have you tried CrossFit?

I haven’t, no. But I think people are like, “I want to be interested in soccer…Now I can pick up Manchester United as my international team and I can watch all these games on cable now and I can go to D.C. United and play on weekends,” and it’s like it kind of becomes an identity for people, too.

What is the identity of District Sports’ base?

Oh, you know, young professionals, 25 to 35. There was an op-ed maybe a year ago about how these largely white young professional groups were showing up and playing soccer, particularly at Roosevelt High School, and displacing all these pickup groups which are largely Latino, working class and so forth, and it was this cultural clash.

How do you work around that?

I look around and I think the league is more diverse than it’s ever been. I see the same guys who are playing pickup at Tubman on weeknights also playing in District Sports games. So I think we’ve made it accessible to them. But frankly, I don’t know if we’ve done enough. There’s been some talk about trying to maybe just rent the space for them so we’ll start our rental time at 6:30 even though we’re not starting the league game until 7:30, to allow for an hour just for open play for community members, so we can protect that, because it’s important. Unfortunately, for better or worse, the gates to the field are locked. I think there’s a number of issues at play there.

What are those issues?

I mean, security. Gangs hanging out on the fields. Even weeknights here at Roosevelt, we’re required to have a security guard on hand there because the principal’s afraid something’s going to go down.

Josh Burch

activist
D.C. native Josh Burch has become one of the leading grassroot statehood activists in the city. He founded Neighbors United for DC Statehood and uses his group to educate the public about statehood and lobby the cause on the Hill. He wants to make sure that by the time his daughter turns 18 and votes for the first time, she’ll be treated as a full citizen and vote for her own senator. He has 15 years to make it happen, and he thinks it can be done. —Perry Stein

When did you first become aware of the issue of statehood?

I was a page in the Senate in high school for Sen. Ted Kennedy. The only way you get to be a page is if you have a senator appoint you, and it was kind of like, “Oh, I don’t have a senator because I’m from D.C.” That was sort of around the time I started making the connection. You get to the Senate and all the other states have senators, and all the other pages were from around the country, and none of them were from D.C. And that’s when I really started putting it together: There’s something messed up about the fact that we all pay taxes and we don’t have representation.

What drove you to become a leader in the movement?

It was bad enough for me to turn 18 and have no one to vote for, but my gut parental thing and that politically geeky thing combined, I find it wholly unacceptable that my daughter might turn 18 and be treated unequally in this country and not have any national representation and not have a local government that can control its own affairs…So for me I have about 15 years left, because my daughter turns 18 in 15 years.

How has Mayor Vince Gray been as a statehood activist?

He gives really good speeches. He’s probably the best elected official to talk about statehood that we’ve had in a while...I think it is something in his gut that is really strong.

My concern is, and this is not just for the mayor, but the entire District leadership, is that we are reactive when it comes to statehood, not proactive. We wait until Congress is about to screw us and then we cry and cry and cry, then all of a sudden we go through this lull where we don’t really do anything.

Out of the next potential crop of mayoral candidates, who would be the best for statehood?

I don’t know who would be the best for the statehood movement. And I think that’s a reflection on them. I don’t think any one of them has jumped out and made me say, “Oh, yeah, you’re really going to lead us.”

Who was better for statehood, President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama?

Obama’s done nothing and Bush has done nothing. It’s hard because I do like a lot of what President Obama has done. I knew we weren’t going to get diddly from Bush, but from Obama I was hopeful we’d get some sign that he wanted to stand with us, some sense of fight that he could see injustice in our status and he was willing to stand up for us. So who’s better? I don’t know who’s better but, who’s more disappointing? President Obama.

Can you pinpoint a Republican you think could be convinced to advocate for statehood?

Not yet. But I will say that one of the most engaging meetings with staff have been with Sen. Rand Paul’s office and Sen. Tom Coburn’s staff. It doesn’t mean that they are going to support the [statehood bill,] but they are fascinated by it. They asked the most detailed questions about the bill.

What would you name D.C., the state?

I’d rather be a state with a crappy name than a non-state with a cool name. If we get to that point, if this process goes where it needs to be, we’d probably need to dust off the state constitution that was adopted in the 1980s and at that point it would be time to reconsider if we want to reexamine the name. And I think there’s a compelling reason not to name it after Columbus. I think there are a lot better people or inanimate objects that we could name our state after.

Do you think the recent shutdown was good or bad for the statehood cause?

I think it was good for the cause, but it was bad in general. It just shows how clueless and ideological people can be, but I think this is one of those things that helps District citizens and neighbors across the country understand why we complain about our status.

What year do you think D.C. would achieve statehood and how much money would you put on that?

After 212 years of it not happening, I wouldn’t put any money on it happening in a [specific] year. I think it can happen in the next 10 years. I really do. But it’s only going to happen if more of us get involved. If every single District citizen gets involved and does a little part. The fact that 55 Senate offices say that we were the first person they’ve heard from in the District about statehood, it’s ridiculous. If we don’t take ownership of it as a city and a people, it’s not going to happen.

Kenyan McDuffie

Ward 5 Councilmember
Kenyan McDuffie won the Ward 5 seat on the D.C. Council after his predecessor, Harry Thomas Jr., resigned under indictment. After a little more than a year on the Council, McDuffie has proposed changes to campaign finance law and headed the committee tasked with recommending punishments for Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry for taking gifts from city contractors. —Will Sommer

Was it hard being the guy to try to propose these campaign finance changes as a relatively new member?

I think that it’s challenging to try to introduce new things into a system where people are used to the old way of doing things. You’ve got campaign operatives who’ve been doing politics in the city for decades, who are used to certain systems; you’ve got advocates who have been looking at campaign finance reports for years who have an opinion about what needs to change; and then you’ve got elected officials who have opinions as well. So I think trying to arrive at a balanced approach to improve the system was a challenge.

You were put in charge of the committee on the Marion Barry discipline. When Phil Mendelson told you that you were getting that, were you just thinking “Ugh!?”

I would not have signed up for that, I’ll tell you that. I don’t think any of the councilmembers would’ve asked for that task because I don’t think anyone really relishes being placed in a position to investigate your colleagues.

Were you surprised by the reaction from some of the councilmembers? At one point you were basically being accused of plundering Barry’s committee.

I was disappointed because that was never a part of our deliberations. I think people approached this task in earnest. We were working over the summer, during recess. We were meeting regularly. We were reading through the materials. We were interviewing witnesses. We really took this task seriously and we put in a lot of effort, and I don’t think anybody who was associated with that committee had any ulterior motive except for to look into the allegations and to see if it warranted additional sanctions.

You’re running for re-election.

I am.

No challengers so far.

So far.

What do you think the chances are that it stays unopposed?

I think the chances are slim. This is Ward 5 after all, and if you look at it historically, even when you had incumbents who’d been in office for a while, you typically get challengers. I anticipate there will be some challengers.

You’ve been mentioned lately as kind of a rising star in the Wilson Building. Do you have any aspirations for higher office?

I do not. I am focused like a laser on Ward 5...I care about my ward. I care about the city. And I think there’s a lot more that we have to do in Ward 5.

Shy Glizzy

east-of-the-river rap hero
Shy Glizzy isn’t old enough to buy liquor yet, but over the past two years he’s become one of the most exciting D.C. rappers angling to follow you-know-who to national stardom. In conversation he speaks sparingly and carefully, but with the same seriousness and intensity of his breakout mixtapes, Law, Fxck Rap, and Law 2. His ability to make both traumatized, emotional street salvos and aggressive, head-busting bangers places him in a lineage of streets-oriented regional rap legends stretching from Houston’s Scarface to Baton Rouge’s Lil Boosie. With his next mixtape, El Jefe, due out in 2014, however, Glizzy may be poised for something bigger than hometown-hero status.

You’re at an interesting point in your career, where you’re pretty well known, but nobody knows where your career will go from here. What do you see for yourself in the future?

I see myself selling albums, selling units. I think I can be a great artist, and there’s no artist in the game like me right now.

It’s true, on a major label level, there are not a lot of artists making the kind of music you make.

Especially at my age.

How old are you now?

20.

Were you packing shows while you were in high school?

Nah, I wasn’t in high school. About two years ago now, I was just coming from juvenile detention.

What do you think people should get out of your music?

They should be able to feel it. They should be able to feel the pain, my struggle, anyone that been through what I been through gonna feel what I’m saying in every song. It’s just authentic, genuine music. I don’t make it up. I don’t write it down. I just talk about what go on in my day-to-day lifestyle, or what I been through, my experiences.

Nobody has the voice you have, either. Did the way you rap come naturally to you or did you have any certain influences on your delivery?

It’s just natural. It depends on the mood that I’m in. Whatever mood I’m in, it’s coming straight out of my mouth. “Free the Gang,” you can hear the pain in it. But if I’m feeling a happy mood, “I’m just getting money” type of day, I might go in there and do some of what they call “turn-up music,” be exciting, make a club song. But if I just went through something, I might go in there and talk about that or something that’s been on my mind for a long time. It’s like my diary for real.

Do you record every day at this point?

I record a lot, almost every day, if I ain’t doing something else.

How have your experiences been with Wale?

It’s been cool, it put me outside the box as a street rapper. It showed me a different lane, got me a diverse fanbase. It put me in a different lane, where songs like “Too Far,” I just adopted really to his style of rap. I really like to play with it, I ain’t scared to put out a different type of music.

Emma Snyder

Literature evangelist
As executive director of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, Emma Snyder works to bring contemporary literature to residents of the District and readers around the nation. A native of Baltimore, she worked as an English teacher in Louisiana and Beijing before taking over PEN/Faulkner’s Writers in Schools program four years ago. —Caroline Jones

I knew what the PEN/Faulkner award was before I knew the organization existed and that it was doing stuff in Washington. How do you see PEN/Faulkner and D.C. fitting together?

A lot of the thinking we do at the organization is about exactly that question: Who is PEN/Faulkner in D.C. and how can we be a good nonprofit citizen here, in terms of taking this national identity we have and a lot of goodwill in the literary community, but also bring that to D.C.? It’s very important for us to bring all of these different writers from around the country and sometimes around the world here to speak to our local community but then also to ensure that they get to all pieces of the city. So when someone comes for our gala or a reading series event, we take them into schools around the city and kind of ensure that there are these different access points throughout D.C.

Right, so that people are interacting with not just federal D.C. but also local D.C.

Exactly. People flood the city to take part in these kinds of activities from outside, but is there a disconnect between that and the people who live here on a daily basis and what access they have to these experiences? We’re figuring out ways to make sure that we’re getting the word out about what’s going on in terms of what we’re doing and in terms of what other organizations are doing to get people interested.

What makes D.C. a good literary town?

I think that there’s an extraordinary wealth of culture here. There’s a real population of readers and people interested in ideas. One of the things I think is really interesting about literary culture in D.C. is that it’s not what you first think of about the city—the arts and literature—and yet you’ve got this community of very curious, very interested, engaged [readers]. And I think that there’s something that it does to people here who are writers and who are real readers that makes it feel cohesive. There’s sort of a collective energy and the community feels smaller than you would expect it to feel in a big city like D.C. I think that has something to do with it not being the dominant assumed culture of the place.

Business Insider recently chose Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol as the most famous novel about D.C. Would you have a different choice?

Wow. I think that there are a number of examples and that was what the District of Literature program was, in part, about. Part of it was really to say that there is really great D.C. literature, and it’s not just federal, it’s not just novels about what goes on inside the federal government or the CIA. There are terrific works about our neighborhoods and the fabric of this city. Probably, the book that, to me, is just an extraordinary look at the city is Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones. It’s an exceptional book in its own right and it’s so particular to place. Without in some broad, conceptual way talking about the city, it talks about the history of the city.

Stan Voudrie

developer
For many developers, presenting projects in and around Anacostia is like walking into a lion’s den: Neighbors speak their mind on development proposals, and usually very critically. But somehow Stan Voudrie manages to remain popular there, even as his firm, Four Points, seemingly owns half of Anacostia and is undertaking the biggest planned projects there. —Aaron Wiener

How did a country boy from Tremont, Ill., become the biggest developer in Anacostia?

Because of George Curtis [a developer whose family has deep roots in Anacostia and erected the neighborhood’s iconic big chair]. We have a joint venture with the Curtis Investment Group. There’s a longer answer to it, but that’s the short answer, George Curtis.

What did you guys see in Anacostia that others didn’t?

We were looking for urban infill opportunities that could leverage existing transportation and other infrastructure near job centers. We were selected in a joint venture with another developer to redevelop the Anacostia Metro station in, I think, ’06, and negotiated with Metro for a time to try to reach an agreement on that and weren’t able to come to terms.

When that deal fell out, we were looking around for other opportunities in the Southwest Waterfront area, sort of up and down the Green Line. We were looking for places where we could put together a significant holding near a Metro station.

I’ve seen one developer after another get eaten alive by residents in and around Anacostia. You show up at meetings and are treated like the “good developer.” What’s your secret?

We started going to community meetings and trying to become a part of the community, rather than coming in and imposing something on the community. We’re partnered with a family that’s been in Anacostia since the 1920s, literally generations in Anacostia.

We focused on listening to what the community needs and wants and then trying to deliver on that. It wanted a sit-down restaurant, and so we took the old probation office at 2200 M.L. King [Ave. SW], renovated it, and for a time put a temporary art gallery in there with [artist] B.K. Adams. But the whole time looking for and seeking out a restaurant operator that was willing to go in there and have a sit-down, wait-staff-and-bar restaurant. And finally Uniontown was able to come about. That was completely in response to what we heard in community meetings. The Hive, the Anacostia Playhouse—all of those are coming out of community input, rather than me as a developer coming in.

To state the obvious, you’re white—

I hadn’t actually noticed until you pointed it out.

As a white developer, did you have to work harder to earn the trust of an overwhelmingly black neighborhood?

Yeah, but we did land-use meetings in McLean also, and in McLean or Shaw or Lamond Riggs or Anacostia, it’s all the same at the end of the day. People live there. You don’t. People want to be respected, they want to know that their opinions have been heard. You can’t always do everything that people want you to do, but it is not my neighborhood. It’s their neighborhood. And I hope that people appreciate that there’s a sincere effort to make a better neighborhood and not just a profit. But we do still have to make a profit—I’ve gotta pay the bills.

You got into Anacostia when it was cheap and mostly overlooked. When it becomes the next big thing, will you look elsewhere?

My career is always probably going to be working in Anacostia. We’ve got 10 buildings planned, over a million-and-a-half square feet of development. That’s not going to happen overnight. I’m 42, but you’ll probably be having the same conversation with me at 52, and we’ll have a few buildings up and a few buildings to go. We’ll be there for a while.

Hannah Hessel Ratner

dramaturg and “creative trainer”
The D.C. area may have more than 70 theater companies, but they often leave little space for artists searching for new ways of creating work. Efforts like the Capital Fringe Festival, local playwright initiatives, and companies creating “devised” theater have helped disrupt the old methods of making theater, at least for disruptive types. What makes 32-year-old dramaturg and “creative trainer” Hannah Hessel Ratner’s Project Gym different is its focus not just on the development of theater but also the development of theater artists. During its sessions on Sundays and Tuesdays, it’s a place for creating and refining plays, sure, but it’s also a place where artists can figure out what a play, or acting, or theater, means to them. Oh, and sometimes there are puppets. —Jonathan L. Fischer

When you came up with the idea of Project Gym, what was the problem you were trying to fix?

The idea took shape when I was in graduate school studying dramaturgy and looking at new play development specifically, and thinking that the new play development system was only churning out more of the same kind of work and wasn’t doing anything to move the field forward or to look at other kinds of performative art that were happening. I was at Columbia University, and the visual art program was doing a tremendous amount of performance-based work at the time. And I started to get to know some of those visual artists through some collaborative classes...I started to realize what a shame it is that there is no place for these kinds of interactions within our let’s-make-theater-work lifestyle once you’re outside of the academic world. Especially in D.C. theater, we’re constantly going from show to show to show, and there’s no real time to grow as an artist beyond the specific show you are working on. So the idea was, “How can we create new work that’s not already built into the model that we have. How can we collaborate more? How can we generate new ideas?”

Out of Project Gym classes, are you seeing the germs of new work?

People bring in work at various stages, so there are the very, very beginnings of ideas and sometimes those develop into things and keep growing and keep growing, and sometimes they don’t. I think either way is fine, because both are opportunities for artists to explore—and failure, or deciding something isn’t right for the moment, is certainly a part of that exploration. I have seen things get worked on that have then continued to be worked on in other places. And I think one of the things artists have found really exciting about Project Gym is the opportunity to connect with artists they didn’t already know.

On a more grounded level, it’s also a networking opportunity.

Oh yeah. It’s not just a networking opportunity; it’s an opportunity to play with someone. When we network a lot of times it’s over drinks or at a conference, it’s something that is very structured. And this is like, “OK, we’re in a room with a bunch of artists and today we are playing with a bunch of puppets or, you know, doing theater games that you haven’t done since high school.” It’s a chance to be physical and be out of your body and be out of your normal thing.

Walk me through a typical day. Puppet day, if you want.

Puppet day was this past Sunday. Everyone arrives around 10 a.m. The first half-hour of the session is really just a warmup. Part of that is purely physical—stretches, moving, walk in a circle, walk faster, all sorts of silly get-the-body-moving things. Sometimes we’ll play a game. We created an excellent version of duck-duck-goose where instead of using duck-duck-goose, you can use any animal…Then, one artist leads a workshop, and that can be on anything they have that they can share and teach with the group…And then in the second half of the session, one artist leads what I call “project time.” For some artists it’s “I’m bringing in a script, and I want to look at a specific scene,” or “I want to do an improv of something I’m thinking about and I want to generate new ideas through improv.”

For this past week it was Matthew Pauli, who is an amazing clown and actor and puppeteer. And he basically brought in his whole bag of puppets. He’s interested in using puppetry for a clown piece he’s using for next year’s [Maryland] Renaissance Festival. So he’s like, “I just want to see people play with the puppets I already have just so I can learn new things about them.” It was a fairly loose session where everyone grabbed a puppet. We have our sessions at the Round House Education Center, which has a great studio room with a mirrored wall, which is fantastic for puppetry. So we all went up to the mirrors with our puppets and tried to move them, manipulate them, see what we could create...And he watched all this and participated, as well. He and I are following up to talk about what he learned and what are the next steps, and if there is something he wants to focus on. We were talking about how at his next one we’ll learn how to make puppets. So that was Sunday. Pretty great.

Otto Porter

Wizard
Otto Porter has been playing basketball in the District since 2011, when he was a freshman at Georgetown University—and he’ll be at the Verizon Center for years to come, if the Washington Wizards, who drafted him third overall this year, have anything to do with it. —Kyle Weidie

You lived on the campus of Georgetown for a couple years. Do you still live in the District?

Actually, I live three blocks from the Verizon Center.

What does it mean to remain in the city where you played in college?

I played here for two years, so I’m kind of used to it now. It’s a great thing that my college is right around the corner. I can always go back and visit my coaches, teammates, and friends.

What part of D.C. outside of Georgetown have you been exposed to most?

I really wasn’t exposed that much. I didn’t have a vehicle, I didn’t really have transportation … Metro, but outside of that, being inside the city is new to me.

So if you want to relax and get away from things, where would you go?

I don’t know….my house. Or just back here at the Verizon Center [to shoot baskets on the team’s practice court].

Where would you take a date, aside from the movies?

I have no idea.

Did you have a favorite takeout or food spot while you were at Georgetown?

Not really.

What’s your favorite type of food?

I’m an Italian food guy—spaghetti and lasagna.

Have you been to Ben’s Chili Bowl…essentially “the” non-monument or museum D.C. landmark?

I have not been there the whole time I’ve been in D.C...not once. I’ve thought about it plenty of times, but I’ve never had the chance to do it.

Talk to me about music. What are you listening to these days?

See, I like to listen to everything…R&B, rap, sometimes hip-hop. I just listen to the radio, whatever comes on the radio, which has a fairly good music selection. I listen to Wale…I know him pretty well.

D.C.’s known for go-go music, so how much has that caught on with you while in Washington?

The first time I heard it, I was like, “What… is…this?” Plus, a lot of guys at Georgetown like listening to go-go, so I heard it in the locker room. But after a while you just get used to it, and everywhere you go, you hear it.

Have you had a chance to see any D.C. museums or monuments? Do you have a favorite monument?

I like the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve been in there like a couple of times; I went twice with my family when they were here...went around, showed them a little bit, the reflecting pool just to see the view. It’s peaceful.

You’re big into video games like most of your teammates, and I hear your favorite game is FIFA.

I’m mostly FIFA, a little bit football, but mostly FIFA. I play with [Wizards players] Nene and Kevin [Séraphin]—the “soccer guys.” When I play against them, I learn a little more about soccer, the players and their names. We went to Brazil, and soccer is BIG there. It was pretty cool.

Do you find yourself a fan of some of the other local sports teams? Do you root for the [Pigskins] or Nationals?

I’ve been to a couple of Nationals games. I know Gio [Gonzalez] because he’s a [Nike line] Jordan rep, too.

What’s the next “D.C. thing” to do on your list?

I want to go to the White House, I’ve always wanted to go there.

George Hemphill

art dealer
George Hemphill came to Washington, D.C., as an artist in 1979. Working at Middendorf Gallery, he promoted the best photographers in town before launching his own gallery in 1993. Some things have changed at Hemphill Fine Arts, which turns 20 this year. Hemphill moved the space from Georgetown to 14th Street NW in December 2004, a harbinger of such rapid change that other, newer galleries along the corridor have already been hyper-gentrified out. Hemphill isn’t going anywhere—and neither are his artists. (In 20 years running Hemphill, only three artists have left his stable.) Hemphill says that he’s weathered good times and bad by building relationships that last, and by adapting his practice to fit them. —Kriston Capps

How did you start your own gallery?

The late ’80s, early ’90s, was a severe economic downturn. I rode around my bike for a year. I had about a year where there was no job out there for me. I interviewed at Christie’s for a position in the photo department there. The pay was so bad I wasn’t even interested in the job. I interviewed for a couple curatorial jobs, but I didn’t quite carry myself the way curators carry themselves. My metabolism wasn’t right for that environment. I had no money. I thought, what’ve I got to lose? I got letters of recommendation and went to the landlord for the space we had in Georgetown. At the time I signed that lease—the total of the lease for the five-year period was $400,000 or $500,000—I had $500 in the bank. They were so desperate for someone they didn’t look carefully at me, and my letters for recommendation were so nice, from major collectors and board members. The great thing about starting a gallery when the art market is at the bottom is that you always feel like you are winning.

Was it ever that difficult again?

In the fall of the stock market and the credit markets in 2008, I knew how bad it was going to be. I didn’t know how long it was going to take. I built these relationships with certain law firms back when I was with Middendorf, and that expanded as the boom in law firms increased. We had three or four of the largest law firms in town, and most of those law firms were national or international firms. They all—all—they all disappeared starting the summer before. In 2007, we had a canary in the coal mine. We came back here [to the gallery] after certain meetings where they said, “We’re not going to buy art anymore,” and there were different ways they said it, but basically, that was the message. We came back here and said, “Shit.”

How did Hemphill stay open when so many other galleries closed?

Having that business disappear really helped us adjust to get through that period. Most people don’t see it because the galleries that closed in town and haven’t reopened were the smaller galleries anyway. They didn’t have some fortifying experience or bank account or personal wealth. Now we tailor the business much more to special events—small events, RSVP events. We’ve shaped the business for those kinds of things.

How is running a gallery on 14th Street NW today different from running a gallery in Georgetown 20 years ago?

It’s great to be any place where the neighborhood’s vibrant. It’s great to be in any neighborhood that has a youthful quality like this does. This youth [around 14th Street] is not like Georgetown in 1968 where it was all hippies. These are people who are making really nice incomes.

How does working as an art dealer work, anyway?

People think galleries open up, and a lot of younger galleries do this right off, because someone says, “I know what’s great art, and I’m going show these 10 artists and they’re the greatest artists and you should buy them.” It’s a condescending attitude. Having come from an art background, it’s very easy to slip into that, thinking it’s your aesthetic that people should enjoy. I never really thought that I had a superior vision. I thought I had a superior way with art. I didn’t necessarily have to show one kind of art or another, which actually meant that I could put together a gallery where, hopefully, no one of the artists are competing with each other—except for real estate. I want that wall/no I want that wall, no I paint the best paintings of squares/no I paint the best paintings of squares. Sometimes a collector will say to me, “What do you have in your house?” That’s none of your fucking business. You should be strong enough to buy the thing that you relate to.

Chuk Wumaa

artist
Only 23 and a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, the Upper Marlboro–based artist chukwumaa isn’t yet a resounding name in the local art world. But he’s part of one of its most rapidly growing corners: the performance-art scene. chukwumaa has based his performances on issues of identity and perception, especially his own confrontations with other people’s assumptions about him. —Ally Schweitzer

What types of stories have you been telling in your work?

A lot of disjointed stories. Kind of like almost told in the way that you remember things. I should probably go into an example. Like, when I first transferred to University of Maryland, College Park to do art, I was undergoing…a pretty big culture shock.

Where had you transferred from?

From Howard University. I was in engineering there. Electrical engineering. But little did I think about the fact that I was also transferring from a whole ’nother culture to another culture. In that I was going from a [historically black college] to a predominantly white state school. At University of Maryland, it was, well, they used the phrase “Don’t be a crime alert.” [Laughs]

Don’t be a what?

Don’t be a crime alert. That’s a reference to this actual text system that the University of Maryland and the College Park police department have [that] everyone’s automatically signed up to. You get text updates about different crimes moments after they happen.

It just became a rhythm [in which] literally every description for those crime alerts was, “Black male from age 16 to 25, wearing hoodie. Wearing T-shirt and jeans. And sneakers.” And I’d be like, “Huh [drums fingers]. I look a lot like that...I’m just gonna stay inside.”

And then I’m walking around with my University of Maryland hoodie on [and] I’m noticing folks a few steps ahead of me wherever I’m going are super nervous.

How were they expressing nervousness?

By looking back at me every five seconds, for one. Or speeding up or crossing the street. I got very frustrated at the fact that it really wasn’t anything that I did or I could do. So I ended up doing this [piece]. It was just an empty room with a bunch of different silhouettes of myself outlined in different colors. And there was a color-changing light that I installed in the space as well. The hook was that the poses of my silhouette ranged across a spectrum from aggressive [to] a defeated, hands down, shoulders slumped kind of pose. It was an unspoken thing that the only crime reported on the crime alerts was black and Hispanic men. And nobody was questioning how maybe that could create an environment of subtle aggression towards [black and Hispanic] tudents. So I was telling this nonlinear story about the mental state of somebody who has to deal with this. That style of storytelling is something that I have employed throughout my work.

What was your first performance?

My first official performance was at the University of Maryland. The event was called “The Way We End It.” So it was Kunj [Patel], Wilmer [Wilson IV], and myself, and we just did a daylong performance exhibition. [I had a bike, and] I replaced the back wheel with the fan, and the fan was attached to the monster, so it would inflate and lunge towards me—I basically brought it to life by biking. At that time, the two major parallel stories both symbolic and literal were the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that had happened where it’s petroleum products being a source of both prosperity and death, and it’s created by humans but got way bigger than any one human can deal with. I was really into Golems at the time, and their symbolic reference and [this] idea of creating something bigger than yourself. So that piece ended up being about the machinations that are set in motion by humans but spin out of their own control and that is what the petroleum situation has been.

And now it’s too big to fail.

Exactly, too big to fail. And constantly failing at the same time.

Jenn Tisdale

stand-up comic
Catch even a short set from local stand-up comic Jenn Tisdale, and you’ll leave knowing a whole lot about Jenn Tisdale. The 33-year-old Fort Totten resident derives a hefty portion of her material from her own life—she’s got caustic jokes about not knowing her dad, moving back in with her mom, happy stuff like that. But Tisdale’s biggest reveal yet wasn’t a bit in her stand-up act. It was the dirty movie she made with boyish porn prince James Deen. Most of the Internet knew nothing about Tisdale until she detailed her brush with pornography fame in a blog post on brightestyoungthings.com, where she works. She says she did it for the story—and she’ll never, ever do porn again. For Tisdale, it’s back to the open mics. —Ally Schweitzer

How long have you been doing comedy?

Three years. I started, sadly, very late.

I assumed you’d been doing it a long time.

Oh, Ally, I’m that good.

You just seem very comfortable up there.

I’m a tricky girl.

What was your first standup performance like?

Well, the only thing I can say is I wrote a lot of jokes about Back to the Future. Ally, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s the greatest film ever made.

What kind of jokes did you tell about Back to the Future?

The usual. Why’s it that we can have flying cars in the future but we’re still trying to raise money to save a clock tower? What is it about the future that will allow us to have 3-D sharks coming out of a movie theater, but we’re like, “God, I wish I knew what time it was?”

I’ve seen you perform twice. Both times I saw you, you were talking about how you had moved back in with your mom.

It was tough economic times. I mean I could have gone the way of Marty’s brother [from Back to the Future]. I could have like a horrid job somewhere. I felt like him. That was precisely the trajectory of my life at the time.

You know how Tina Fey plays the role of an unattractive loser on TV, and it isn’t especially convincing because, well, she’s obviously not an unattractive loser? When you talk about the more depressing aspects of your life, do you ever think that people are going, “I don’t believe this person when she says she’s a loser?”

The thing about standup is, if you think it’s funny, then they will think it’s funny…That’s my rule of thumb...You can tell when someone’s not giving it their all. It’s very obvious onstage. Very obvious.

Has your material over the years changed?

Yes. It takes a long time to find your voice. Or so I’m told. And I don’t have it yet…But that being said, I definitely like today’s jokes better than yesterday’s jokes.

What’s a good set for you?

I’m not sure, unfortunately. I’ve always been really been hard on myself.

Has there ever been a set that’s totally devastating?

Oh yes! Oh God, crickets! Nothin’. Nothin’. Like wringing blood out of a stone. And my face just goes up in flames, I can feel it. But I don’t stop. I don’t berate the audience or accuse them of not getting me. I just try to figure out what went wrong and fix it the next time.

In your short time doing comedy, have you seen changes in the local scene?

Oh God, yes. There are so many more rooms now than there used to be. Seems like a new one crops up like every other day.

So, I have to ask you about the porn you recently did with James Deen.

Mmmm.

So what did that mean to you?

It’s a good movie. But it’s never gonna be as great a movie as Back to the Future. That’s all there is to that.

Have you gotten a whole bunch more Twitter followers after making the porn?

I have. I have.

Do you have any weird stalkers now?

No. No, just regular ones.

Have you been getting a lot of phone calls from reporters and so forth?

No, you’re my first one, Ally. You’re my first phone call.

So nobody actually tried to call you and talk about [the porn], they were just looking at your blog post?

No… [but] if anyone looks at my website, my phone number’s right on there! I thought about that… but I was like, “Ah, nobody’s gonna call me.”

Ron Linton

Taxicab Commission Chairman
Running the D.C. Taxicab Commission may have once been a sleepy job, but not for Ron Linton. Since taking the gig in 2011, Linton has had to navigate debates over how to regulate insurgent sedan services like Uber and face off with old-school cabbies opposed to modernization reforms. —Will Sommer

I’ve been seeing some of the new color schemes for cabs. How do you think that’s turned out?

I’m surprised. I wasn’t a big fan of making them all one color; I thought there were a lot of other things we needed to do. But the mayor wanted it, and you know, that carries a lot of weight with me. But when I started to see it, I began to realize that they gave a whole different impression to the vehicle than all this ragtag different colors, signs, and everything else that kind of really didn’t catch the eye. People didn’t feel particularly excited about them. The things I’ve heard from people now say, “Oh boy, I like taking these, they really look like taxi cabs.”

Your predecessor in this job wore a wire in an investigation. Could you ever see yourself doing that? It was very high-stakes intrigue.

The closest we came was I was approached once by an individual who will be unnamed that I knew and knew me and knew well, interested in towing that our hack inspectors—when they impound, they have to send for towing. He wanted to know what it would take to get his towing company included in our list. And I said, “It’s very simple, all you have to do is file an application, show that you have the necessary business licenses, paid all the necessary taxes, have a facility, have drivers, have vehicles that are safe, and we put you on the list and you’re called on a rotational basis. There’s no contracts or anything.” Well, they weren’t interested in that.

When you say “they asked what it would take,” they were talking about bribes?

Well, that’s an assumption.

Were you surprised by how gargantuan of a task it was to get credit card readers in taxis?

What I am surprised at is the intensity of the smaller group. I can’t tell you how large it is, but there certainly is an intense element in the drivers that’s just fighting this as hard as they can against these changes. And there are those who are just determined to do what they can to block it.

You obviously know the taxi regulations pretty well. Do you notice whenever anything’s wrong?

Not only that, but I hand them my card and say, “You know I’m going to file a complaint against you.”

Really?

Oh yeah, sure.

How often does that happen?

Not terribly often. For one thing, nowadays I’m more recognizable. In the beginning when I got into a taxi they didn’t know who I was. Now they know.

You took this job because Vince Gray asked you to.

I was recruited by the city administrator, who strongly recommended me to the mayor. After discussions with the mayor, I agreed to do this challenge. I would say from a personal standpoint, that was in June of 2011, and I had lost my wife in April, after a short marriage of 55 and a half years. I was sort of feeling pretty sorry for myself, with a lot of time. Even though I was doing consulting work and I was working for [construction firm] McKissack & McKissack on school modernization. Nevertheless, it wasn’t really demanding on me to the point where I was putting my problems behind me. So I saw this as something that would really preocccupy me. And if I knew then what I knew now, I probably wouldn’t have taken it.

That’s what I was about to ask you.

Oh yeah, the stress level is far greater than I anticipated.

Joi-Marie McKenzie

society blogger
Six years ago, Baltimore native Joi-Marie McKenzie started a local entertainment blog aimed at college students. Fab University evolved into D.C. Fab, a website covering parties, celebrities, fashion, the arts, and club gossip for what she calls the city’s young, “black and brown” social scene. These days, McKenzie works as an entertainment producer for ABC, while the Fab Empire has expanded to Baltimore and New York and holds several see-and-be-seen parties and charity events a year. —Jenny Rogers

How did the Fab Empire get started?

I was working at [the International Center for Journalists] as an assistant. I was working a lot with journalists, and I thought, I want to be one. I knew I could write. I loved entertainment. I grew up around it. My grandmother was an entertainment reporter, for an African-American newspaper, and she did it until the day she died. Literally she was covering a story when she passed away. I knew I wanted to start a blog, but I didn’t know about what...I said no one’s talking about nightclubs and entertainment in D.C. for my crowd, specifically. So D.C. Fab was formed. I was covering clubs, what happened at the clubs, who came. That’s something we’re still doing now.

Who are you writing for?

I like to call them yuppies—young urban professionals. Most of them are African-American. They have all graduated college. Now they’re getting married...They’re about town. They love to know about their neighborhood and they love to party.

“Socialites” make a lot of appearances on your website. What is a socialite?

Back in the day, a socialite was one who went to charity events. They gave money. It was a certain stuffy standard. A socialite today, he or she can walk into a room and everyone knows who they are. They may not even have a glamorous position. It can be a Hill staffer who is always out, always at the best events—the ones that are open-bar, invitation-only, nontransferrable—with a great shoe on. That is a socialite.

Where does D.C. Fab fit in among other media outlets?

We’re there to supplement, to give more context where there might not be. WUSA9 reporter Russ Ptacek...he always does the restaurant closings. I was reading this list, and one of them was Cafe Asia. I checked that out because I know my readers go to Cafe Asia all the time. So I took that out and made that a headline story. It was getting all these tweets. He tweeted at me and was like, why does everyone care about Cafe Asia? I said, people go there! It’s a hotspot. Perhaps a traditional reporter isn’t going to know that.

You were pretty vocal on Twitter about a recent Washington Post story that chronicled the city’s party and social scene bloggers—all of whom were white.

It’s so funny, because I know all of them, and they’re all cool. We all work alongside each other. [But] the story literally reflected what people are seeing. That story didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. In some society blogs and some society columns, you are not going to see us. We can be in the background, literally.

How do you see racial disparity playing out in society coverage?

The publicists send me releases, and the pictures that they send me and the pictures my correspondents send me are just completely different. Is it saying this photographer is racist? No. Is it saying this publication is racist? No. It’s just what we’ve been conditioned as, as a society. I know we’re there. But we’re just not showing up. Not in the posts, not in the recaps. If we’re going to be included, we have to start our own publications.

Do you see that changing at all?

Three years ago, it would be rare to find a young black face in Washington Life magazine. You’d see the old guard. There might be a few congressmen. Marc Barnes might make an appearance once a year. You would not see me, you would not see a young professional who brings thousands of dollars to the city.

They’re starting to include more people. An editor there was sending around an email about photo pages. They couldn’t figure out who this young black woman was. I went to high school with her. I told them, this is who she is, they said OK. Before, they would have just cut her out. Crop crop crop, and go on to the next page. It happens all the time. I don’t think it says anything more about the publication than it does about society. It’s not an indictment of the magazine...Amy Argetsinger [former Reliable Source columnist at the Washington Post], she wanted to get to know who they were. She would ask me all the time. She cared about those pockets of society who might not be covered...I think D.C. is very—it’s not segregated, but it’s pocketed.

Does the Fab Empire make you much money?

I break even. I usually break even. I always call [any profit] my gas and hair money.

David Grosso

D.C. councilmember
Freshman At-Large Councilmember David Grosso won his seat in 2012 in an unlikely victory over incumbent Michael Brown. Fresh off successfully proposing to keep the District’s government open during the federal government shutdown last month, he’s on a crusade against the Washington Pigskins' name and the criminalization of marijuana. —Will Sommer

It seems like over the past year there’s been a lot of people talking about the Pigskins' name. What do you think is behind that?

The whole country has shifted in a way recently the last couple years on lots of important issues. The culture’s changing, the country’s becoming more aware of when your personal actions have an impact on people.

You’re coming off the shutdown, where you came up with the idea of not closing the city government. How do you think that turned out?

I think it was a big success. I think we got a lot of attention on the issue which we hadn’t gotten in a long time.

You have personal experience with a marijuana possession arrest. How did that play into your feelings on marijuana legalization?

I have two personal experiences actually with this situation that I think go hand in hand. Yeah, I was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana in 1993 in Florida. It was a misdemeanor with possession case, and it’s been well discussed in D.C.

But I think more interesting is an experience I had when I was growing up in the city here. We moved into the city when I was 16 years old, to the corner of Georgia and New Hampshire Avenue on Rock Creek Church Road—my mom still lives there. That was in 1987. In 1987, in that neighborhood, there was no Metro, it was very poor, and it was a hotspot for dealing drugs on all those corners. I used to work at Colonel Brooks' Tavern over in Northeast.

I would go to work and I would come home at two, three in the morning, and park my car usually on the corner because there was no spot there, and walk by the corner of Rock Creek Church Road and Warder Street, where there’d be a gang of guys hanging out dealing drugs, right?

Probably more than a dozen times I walked by there, when the police were there with them up against the wall, searching these folks. Not once in my years of doing that did the police ever look twice at me. They didn’t push me against the wall; they didn’t question me. They didn’t ask me what the heck I was doing there. Not even glanced at.

I’m white, all those kids were black. It tells you something, and it makes you a little nervous that we’re going down the wrong path.

It’s like it’s already decriminalized for wealthy white people in D.C.

I won’t tell you what I had in my pocket, usually. They could’ve arrested me, too, and that’s the point.

Jeff Stacey

Founder of the U Street Jam Session
The latest success story in D.C.’s jazz renaissance is the U Street Jam Session, a late-night musical free-for-all that packs the upstairs bar at Ulah Bistro every Friday. The man responsible for it is Jeff Stacey, a former State Department wonk who came to the District from New Orleans with a determination to nourish the local scene in the way he’d seen in the Crescent City. The hit he’s created at Ulah has inspired him to repeat the experiment in other settings, making him poised to become the city’s newest jazz impresario. —Michael J. West

What brought you into the jazz world?

Ironically, I discovered it in the UK. I was a student at Oxford, living next door to a budding jazz pianist—a young guy just playing great stuff that was coming through the walls. And one day I just said, “What are you doing? Can I get some of that?”

How’d you get to D.C.?

I came to D.C. from Tulane University in New Orleans, where I was teaching U.S. foreign policy, on a working fellowship from the State Department and GW. Before long I was spending full days at State; that turned into a job offer I couldn’t refuse. I will live again in New Orleans, somehow. But D.C. is the only city in America where you can do foreign policy by day and music by night.

How did you get involved in the local jazz scene?

Just started looking for the music when I got to town. I got to know a couple of musicians and took it from there. It’s a great local community, everything from Westminster Church to all these clubs and places that are putting up music.

Why start off with a jam session? What was the logic behind that?

In 2009, when I got here, the most important jam was the one taking place at U-Topia. They had to close. So I set about trying to fill the gap with a place where the musicians could continue to do their thing after gigs around town. That’s when I happened across Ulah Bistro one night and entered into a months-long conversation with the owners.

How do you account for the success you’ve had there?

There’s something really important in the music community: trust. In the music business, everybody gets one first impression, and if you say what you mean, and come through with commitments that you make, that means something. And once we were able to hire some good host bands for the jam—led by Wayne Wilentz, Mike Pryor, and Todd Simon—it was really word of mouth.

What else are you planning?

U Street’s Dukem Restaurant is now gonna start presenting Dukem Jazz. We’ll be doing this on Thursday evenings starting in December; Akua Allrich and Sharón Clark will be performing. There are more things in the works; as the details are worked out, we’ll be able to announce those, too.

Do you have a specific vision you’re trying to realize with all of this?

Washington used to have a great jazz scene in the U Street Corridor, lots of clubs. And it’s my goal to help bring that back again. If the millennial generation is exposed to this music in the right way, then it will thrive.

So when you chose Ulah and Dukem, was it specifically with the U Street corridor in mind?

Yes, and also 14th Street is on my agenda. It just seemed the most logical place to do it. But the venue is not as important as the musicians, the vibe, and the format; that’s what gives the U Street Jazz Jam its energy and a certain potency.

How do you see, or foresee, the local jazz scene developing?

One great advantage that we have is that world-class players continue to live here. There’s a bit of conventional wisdom that anybody that gets good moves to New York—but people here want to play just for the passion of their art. And there’s a whole new generation of musicians here developing their chops, and they like nothing better than a jam, to get in there and learn from older and better players. So I think that is promising.

Little Royal

R&B singer and bandleader
Royal Torrence, 78, better known as Little Royal, is a rhythm and blues singer and bandleader who’s been called James Brown’s half-brother. Born in Durham, N.C., he moved to D.C. more than 50 years ago.—Steve Kiviat

Were you involved with a church and singing gospel here in D.C.?

My uncle brought me to D.C. He had a gospel group. All I knew was gospel. I didn’t know about the R&B world. He introduced me into the group. He then wanted to change the group into R&B. I didn’t want to go there, but he was my uncle, so what could I say?

So that was Uncle Bill Weaver’s group?

Yeah. We were supposed to always split up the money [after a live show], but I would never get my money. So after a while, I quit, and the band followed me. So we started playing clubs around D.C. billed as Little Royal and the Swingmasters. We played local lounges and supper clubs, and Carr’s Beach and Wilmer’s Park. When James Brown was at the Howard Theatre, I invited him to come to see me perform. James Brown looked at me and said, “We have to be brothers, we look so alike.” So he took me and introduced me to Mr. Douglas, who was the biggest promoter in D.C., and I started backing all these artists who had hits. Then James Brown introduced me to a booking agent in New York. You weren’t supposed to go to them unless you had a record. But since James was so big, we got in there.

Nobody knew me because I didn’t have a record. I started playing behind Mary Wells. Then once, when Smokey Robinson was in town, he said, “Why don’t you go tour with me, and your band will play first with you, and then with me?” So we were with Smokey for quite a while.

After that everyone wanted my band to play with them—The Temptations, Gladys Knight, The Shirelles, and The Coasters. I did that for a long time, and then we got so known across the country that we didn’t need them no more. I was packing the same houses they were selling with records, and I was doing the same without a record.

Tell me about your recordings.

My bandleader said, “What people like about you is what you add to a song when you sing live.” So we taped a show that night. I was playing with the audience about being jealous. I didn’t even remember doing it. I wanted to then record it with the band. A promoter said, “They’re supposed to record the track first, and then you put your voice on it.” We went to a studio in Norfolk, Va., and recorded “Jealous” together, and it went on to be a million-seller. That was in 1972. I left the company that recorded my first single in 1967.

When did you do “Razorblade”?

“Razorblade” was on the flipside of “Jealous.” It’s an instrumental. When the producers of the TV show Soul Street said they wanted to play two songs, I said, “Flip it over,” and then I made up the dance to do to “Razorblade” right there. I then forgot what I did. I later had to watch the kids at my shows to learn my own dance.

You have had recent health issues?

Three years ago, I had a mild stroke. I couldn’t work or do anything. I was in the hospital for three weeks. Then they changed my medicine, and I have been doing good ever since.

Will you play at Westminster Church again?

Yes. We play there about every four months. I am one of the only acts who can sell that place out on a Monday night. I want to only work once or twice a month now. I don’t have to work every day anymore.

Katie Alice Greer

vocalist in Priests
Somewhere between D.C. punk’s ’90s generation and its latest crop is D.C.’s Priests, a quartet that bridges the old scene and the new. Led by Katie Alice Greer, a Michigan transplant with an expert growl, Priests is one of a few young punk bands with name recognition among The Old Scene. That’s at least partially thanks to Greer, who splits her time in Ian Svenonius’ tongue-in-cheek outfit Chain & the Gang. —Ally Schweitzer

Are you from the area?

I grew up in Michigan in the suburbs of Detroit. I moved out to D.C. because it was the farthest away from Michigan that I could get. My dad is a minister, and so I got this minister’s kid scholarship to go to American [University] And I think for a while I thought that I was gonna go into politics.

Why politics?

I think when I was younger I had this idea that...electoral politics was gonna be the best way for me to be a helpful person and change the world and be a good person in that way…So I studied that at school and I actually worked in a congressional representative’s office and realized, like, I don’t want anything to do with this. This sucks. And so somehow I got into music.

Growing up in Michigan, were you part of a punk or indie scene?

No. I lived in the most suburban of suburbs. One of those neighborhoods where if you walk around you’d just get totally lost even if you lived there because all the houses look the same.

How did you come to join Chain & the Gang?

Ian [Svenonius] and I had become friends from seeing each other at shows. And he was kind of like, “You should just join my band.” And I was like [skeptically] “OK dude.” I was like “Why don’t you get someone else to join your band? I have my own band.” But I really wanted to be involved in music, and once I was onstage again, I hadn’t really done that since early high school when I stopped doing musicals, and it was kind of like, “Ah I forgot that this is my favorite thing ever.” So I was like, “Yeah! Sweet, I’ll join your band, too. Yeah. I’ll be in as many bands as possible.”

I saw that Priests had played that Pitchfork showcase in Brooklyn. What was that show like?

The show itself was really fun for us; we had a great time. We thought it was funny—we found out after we agreed to do it that it was sponsored by Doc Martens. We thought it would be funny to be like “Oh my God, thank you Chipotle!” And throw burritos at people. So we did that. Some people got it, some people didn’t.

Has anybody ever heckled you?

Yes. Our Chain & the Gang tour was actually really weird in Europe because I think we’re such a talky band and there’s a language barrier. It made this very weird aggressive vibe at certain shows. I got in a fight with this guy in France who had a blue mohawk. I just, like, fucking hate all people with mohawks. I swear. They’re always so rude.

This guy was standing in the front of the stage in the middle and...his whole vibe was kind of like, “You are a woman onstage. There are two other women onstage. I’m the one who should get attention.” That’s the thing about people with mohawks—you can tell they want attention…And I should have totally ignored him but instead I was like, [mockingly] “Oh do you want attention? Is no one paying attention to you?” And then we just got in a fight.

Juan Coronado

Mad scientist mixologist
For some of the most innovative cocktails in D.C.—and the entire country—Juan Coronado is the guy you want behind the bar. The “Cocktail Innovator” for Think Food Group has revamped the cocktail menus at Zaytinya, Jaleo, and Oyamel since joining José Andrés’ team from Bacardi last year. He’s also one of the driving forces behind Minibar’s sister cocktail lab, Barmini, where you can find him creating mezcal cotton candy and distilling peanuts or foie gras into liquid with the help of a fancy gadget called a rotary vacuum evaporator. —Jessica Sidman

People who make cocktails have all sorts of titles: mixologist, bartender, bar director, beverage manager. But you are the only “Cocktail Innovator” that I know of, so who came up with that title?

I was asked when I got hired for Think Food Group to come up with some suggestions because they didn’t want to call me “lead bartender” or “head mixologist.” They wanted to think outside of the box.

What have you innovated in your time at Think Food Group?

Well, Barmini is one of the innovations. Barmini didn’t exist until José [Andrés] opened the door for me to do that and create and complete everything…When we opened Barmini, I was asked, “What is your goal?”and I was like, “By the end of the year when Barmini is a year old, I want it to be one of the top 10 bars in the United States.” And I think we already did it in eight months.

You came to D.C. from New York where you worked for Bacardi. What comparisons would you make between New York’s cocktail scene and D.C.?

New York is big. It moves very fast and recycles things very fast, too. Things get out of fashion very fast…But D.C. has a lot of things to teach New York, especially in the bar industry. It’s true, perhaps in D.C. we don’t have as many “cool” bars as New York, but we do have people that are dedicated and professional, and this is their profession. They’re not trying to be actors or movie stars while bartenders.

What specific things could D.C. teach New York?

D.C. could teach New York things like being supportive to one to another in the community of bartenders. D.C. could also teach New York how to appreciate when one of your own makes it. Everybody gets very happy in D.C. That doesn’t happen in New York...

What is your go-to cocktail when you’re off the clock?

A cocktail decision for me depends on the weather, the type of day I had, what I’m wearing, where am I going after that cocktail, who I’m with. Cocktails are social moments, and I’m not very fond of drinking by myself.

Does anyone ever come to any of the bars, especially Barmini where you have more than 100 kinds of very interesting or classic cocktails, and just say, “Make me a Long Island iced tea?”

We haven’t been asked for the Long Island yet…My industry is not called mixology or bartending or spirits. It’s called hospitality. I work for the hospitality industry. If you’re at my bar, I’m going to treat you like you’re at my house, and I’m going to give you the best I have.

So you would make a Long Island iced tea if someone asked?

I will make whatever makes the guest happy. And I will make it 10 times better.

Correction: Due to a web production error, the online version of this story initially misstated the date Hemphill Fine Arts opened. It was 1993, not 1983. Due to a reporting error, the interview with Katie Alice Greer misidentified her band Priests as a trio. The group is a quartet.

Our Readers Say

Stan "Da Man" Voudrie is respected around the way of the Southside tilts because he employs people from the neighborhood. Stan doesn't fake it, he helps people make it.
WHAT A CULT OF PERSONALITIES!!!
THE SHOTS OF THESE FOLK ARE TELLING AND EXUDE AN ESSENCE OF WHO THEY ARE. DAT DUDE DARROW BE BRINGING IT!

NICE COMPILATION.
I'M FEELING THE CONVOS WITH AND INFO GLEANED FROM:
BRYNN, DUFFIE, SNYDER, RATNER AND GROSSO.

A HEISMAN STIFF ARM GOES OUT TO: ENGLERT AND BEARMAN.
GREASY ASS BAMMAS!
YOU GOTTA WATCH JOKERS LIKE THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE SLICK AS SNOT ON A DOOR KNOB.

TISDALE IS FUNNY AND FREAKY????
GIRL YOU A MAN’S DREAM! YOUR ASS (FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING) SHOULD BE MARRIED BY NOW.
Very cool story, especially that you featured Jeff Stacey and his Jazz Jams, good to see someone is tapping into that often lost aspect of DC nightlife. The Otto Porter Jr. feature was utterly useless though. He had nothing to offer to this piece, which features people doing awesome things that benefit our city. A young kid, sure, but Otto doesn't sound like he gives a $#!+ about DC.
"where I teaching U.S. foreign policy"?

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