Arts Desk

D.C.-Bred Comedian Sampson on Growing Up Gay, Black, and Pentecostal

sampsonOn his Twitter bio, comedian and D.C. native Sampson describes himself as black, gay, and boss. Culled from his personal life, Sampson’s comedy mixes silly with serious by addressing racism and homophobia head-on. This Friday, Aug. 1, he’ll perform two sets at District of Columbia Arts Center in Adams Morgan. We caught up with the 28-year-old performer to talk about his evolving act, his religious upbringing, and the gentrification of U Street.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WCP: Tell me about your comedy.

Sampson: My comedy has evolved drastically over the 12 years I’ve been doing it. When I first started out, I was in comedy clubs telling crackhead-cockroach-welfare jokes. My comedy has really become a reflection of me as a black man and as a gay black man, and not being ashamed to share that with people. For a long time, I was ashamed of all of my identities. I was ashamed of being a man because I was raised primarily by women. And I’m from the South. I’m a brown brother. Down there, you dealt with a lot of issues that related to skin color, so for a long time, I thought that there was something wrong with being a dark-skinned black guy with prominent African-American features.

And then of course, coming out was a big struggle for me. I grew up in the South and D.C., and I grew up in the hood. And in the hood, they don’t play that. One of the institutions of the black community is also the church. And the church doesn’t play that. My comedy is infused with the soul and the triumphs and the stories, and just me being genuine about my life. But I promise it’s not as philosophical as I’m being right now.

Was it more difficult to come out because you were performing at the time?

It was. I was telling a lot of pussy jokes, which meant I had to change up a lot of the material. I was in my email the other day, and I saw some of my old material from 2002 or something like that. Some of that stuff made me sweat. I wasn’t performing in gay clubs, either. I was performing in urban nightclubs. I did have some people who said things—I’ve been approached in parking lots before, and that really changes you. When I was telling the pussy jokes, everybody thought that was great. But then I came out and started talking about what my life was really like.

And I was already, then, struggling because I was dealing with the religion issue, I was going through a breakup, I was dealing with suicidal urges, and very severe depression. This depression was more painful than anything you could imagine. The pain from this depression was so intense that I could almost feel my insides ripping apart. But I got on stage every night, and that’s the only place I had to pull myself out at. You would hear people in the room laugh, and then as soon as you said "I’m gay," [the room would go quiet]. And immediately, I would break out into a ball of sweat.

Read more D.C.-Bred Comedian Sampson on Growing Up Gay, Black, and Pentecostal

AB Gets Erotic on His New Track, “A Quarter After Morning”

Ab Music"Can't think of a better way to start my day, than wrapped up in your chocolate legs."

That's just the opening line of Aaron "AB" Abernathy's new song, "A Quarter After Morning," out today. From there, the Deanwood resident uses a high-pitched falsetto to lay out exactly what he plans to do. "I know it's after hours, I know you're all alone," AB sings. "You don't have to touch yourself tonight."

"A Quarter After Morning" is the sensual first single from AB's forthcoming EP, 45 Series, Vol. III, About Last Summer..., out August 13. "It's a song about those late-night hours," AB tells Arts Desk. "You're feeling those feelings and you just put it out there. I think it's a very forward song." The track recalls 1980s soul, carrying a soothing knock that works just as well in the daylight.

The EP tells a semi-personal tale of his past relationships. "I look at music like books," says AB, who collaborates often with Detroit rapper/producer Black Milk. "Most of the stories are about me. I like to describe what we go through with these relationships." Booty calls included.

Stream "A Quarter After Morning" after the jump.

Read more AB Gets Erotic on His New Track, “A Quarter After Morning”

ToDo ToDay: Michael Borek, Honeyblood, and Chefs Behind Bars

borekIt’s been more than a quarter century by now, but my recollection of reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in my freshman-year college European lit class remains fresh. Even for a cocky college kid, reading about Gregor Samsa’s transformation into an insect was unnerving. There’s nothing quite as creepy as Kafka’s famous character in Michael Borek’s photography exhibit at the Czech Embassy, which commemorates the 90th anniversary of Kafka’s death. Still, many of the works exude an uneasy vibe. One image lays bare the scarred surface of a wall where a metal silhouette had once been affixed; it now reveals several drilled holes that suggest bullet wounds. Read more >>> The exhibition is on view to July 31 at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom St. NW. Free. (202) 274-9100. mzv.cz/washington(Louis Jacobson)

EAT THIS

They can cook, but can they mix drinks? Six D.C. chefs will go head-to-head in a cocktail-making competition called Chefs Behind Bars at Union Market from 6 to 8:30 p.m. tonight. Among the participants: Bart Vandaele of Belga Café and B TooDoug Alexander of Art and SoulFrank Paris of Sona CreameryFrederik de Pue of Table and Menu MBKGeorge Pagonis of Kapnos, and Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple and Roofer’s Union. The $40 ticket price will include drinks from all the chefs plus small bites from Union Market vendors. Attendees will have the opportunity to vote for a people’s choice award winner. Young & Hungry columnist Jessica Sidman is one of the judges, so stop by and say hi. Purchase tickets here. The event will support Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in America. Chefs Behind Bars at Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE; ce.strength.org/events/chefs-behind-bars-enjoy-cocktails-created-your-favorite-chefs(Jessica Sidman)

OH AND ALSO

Melodic Glasgow duo Honeyblood plays DC9 with Cincinnati rock trip PUBLIC. 9 p.m. at 1940 9th St. NW. $10.

Read more ToDo ToDay: Michael Borek, Honeyblood, and Chefs Behind Bars

Arts Roundup: Farewell, FreeFest Edition

Virgin Mobile Freefest won't be coming back to Merriweather Post Pavilion this year. [Arts Desk]

Watch the sexy, playful music video for ACME's newest tracks, "California Girls" and "Numbers Game." [D.C. Music Download]

Accusations of cronyism and drama galore at the Corcoran's first day in court... [Arts Desk]

...and on the second day, details of the school's proposed move to GW [Post]

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is offering discounted admission for every Sunday in August. [Washingtonian]

In It Together Fest's founders, Geoff Shobert and Mike O’ Brien, on how a strong community breeds a vibrant arts scene [BYT]

Warren G. Harding's steamy letters to his secret lover (in which he nicknames his penis "Jerry") are now on view on the Library of Congress' website. [DCist]

Photos of Phish at Merriweather Post Pavilion [The Vinyl District]

We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place: Notes on Capital Fringe’s Last Year at the Fort

Move Me two miles east. (Paul Gillis)

Move Me two miles east (Paul Gillis)

“We want the cops to come,” Julianne Brienza boasted to the audience at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar Sunday night, as she prepared to announce the ninth Capital Fringe Festival’s award winners. “We want them to try to shut us down.”

But five hours later—still an hour before the beer garden closed its gates on New York Avenue NW for the last time—the place was pretty quiet, and no law enforcement had intervened. The last big group of us, about a dozen, all seated in the area cordoned off from the sidewalk by a yellow plastic chain, packed it in a little before 1 a.m. For the six years prior, a group of diehards had always remained on the festival’s closing night to shut the bar down, but this time, it was like we’d all already accepted it was time to move on.

Capital Fringe has a $1.65 million payment due on its new home at 1358 Florida Ave. NE on Oct. 1. At the closing ceremony, Brienza announced that the Share Fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region had pledged a donation to the festival of $1 million—a big step toward paying the estimated $9.2 million total for the new space, which includes renovation expenses and an operating reserve. When I follow up with Brienza to confirm the award, she says Fringe will make half of it a matching grant, meaning the festival will return $500,000 if another donor doesn’t pledge another $500,000.

Fringe’s job this year was to impress potential donors. To the community of artists and patrons (and artist-patrons) that's returned to it with an admirable rate of recidivism in the six years since the festival installed itself at the former A.V. Ristorante Italiano, its bonafides and its bummer-fides have been long established. The festival is trying to turn some of these folks into financial backers, with a $10,000 capital campaign that runs through Aug. 7. With suggested donation levels of $1, $20, $50, and $250, this one isn’t just targeted at the well-to-do subset of Fringe fans.

In its ninth iteration, the festival felt like more of the same, in a pleasant if unexciting way: The across-the-board uptick in quality that became evident in 2010 or 2011 was preserved, although there seemed to be more cancellations than usual, with four shows scotching their entire runs and Fringe opting to end a fifth, Secrets of the National Mall, following customer complaints.

The single-ticket sales tally of 31,395 that Brienza announced on Sunday night represented a modest uptick from 2013's 30,868 tickets. But sales of multishow passes declined by about 20 percent, from 1,582 in 2013 to 1,274 this year. Payout to artists totaled $226,538 last year and will be $215,015 this year.

14637702801_601b201ee0_oOne hundred and nineteen performances sold out in 2014, compared with 100 last year, but it’s difficult to compare apples to apples given the change in venues. The addition of three of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s four performance spaces this year provided two new large-capacity venues, the Sprenger Theatre and the Lang Theatre, with 280 and 262 seats, respectively, as well as the 90-seat Lab II.

As the Atlas is located just one block south of Fringe’s new HQ on Florida Avenue NE, its use gave festival goers a taste of the transportation headache that the new location could bring. Though already a proven arts and entertainment destination, the Atlas District is far less accessible by public transit than Fringe’s old New York Avenue digs, with the nearest Metro stop more than a mile away and only the twice-hourly X2 bus serving the area late at night. One hopes the DC Streetcar’s H Street/Benning line will be running in time for the tenth Capital Fringe next July.

Contentwise, this festival was as robust as in recent years. Some shows scored big with winning, easily communicated concepts: Live Arts DC put their R + J Star Cross’d Death Match in the bar DC Reynolds on George Avenue NW in Park View, and sold out its run. (The show was voted Best Drama in TheatreMania’s Audience Awards, and producer Heather Whitpan has arranged for a six- or seven-show remount to begin performances at the bar on Sept. 20.) A Dream Within a Dream—an entry in the festival’s new site-specific program this year—sold through its stock and added more shows, albeit with only 10 tickets available for each one, according to Brienza.

Field Trip Theatre's production of Patrick Flynn's original drama Giant Box of Porn was a critically hailed hit. The original opera A Fire in Water won raves, including one from Fringeworthy (née Fringe & Purge) founder Trey Graham. Coosje, from the New York City-based No. 11 Productions, was an out-of-left-field delight, charting the love affair and creative partnership of sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen with a light touch and a graceful command of the show’s varied but seamlessly integrated tools: flying set pieces, tasteful video accompaniment, and a sentient pear (played by Sina Heiß in a fruit costume) that found its way into the script after one of the troupe’s members described Oldenburg and Van Bruggen as a “sentient pair” and another mistook her meaning.

relEASE-SELF

Director's Award recipients Pasquale Guiducci and Tori Bertocci

The Wandering Theatre Company’s Antigone took the Best Dance & Physical Theatre award. The Director’s Award, which Brienza bestows and the City Paper sponsors, went to relEASE’s SELF, a dance and storytelling show devised and performed by Tori Bertocci and Pasquale Guiducci.

The Best Comedy and Best Overall awards went to Fringe perennial Nu Sass Productions for Stone Tape Party, a New Orleans-set ghost story by Danny Rovin that differed substantially from the company’s prior offerings: In 2012, their Tent of Dreams: An Occuplay addressed the Occupy movement, while last year’s 43 ½ : The Greatest Deaths of Shakespeare’s Tragedies was a crowd-pleaser unburdened by any political payload.

But many returning companies seemed to play to their established strengths.

Pinky Swear Productions’ fourth entry in their popular tent-bar Cabaret XXX franchise, Everybody F*cking Dies, took the temperature of the festival and killed off its three primary character before the show even started, treating us to the amusing spectacle of Allyson Harkey, Karen Lange, and Toni Rae Salmi all playing more conservative characters eulogizing their more flamboyant, and departed, alter-egos. (While they haven’t ruled out one-off return appearances, both Lange and Harkey have said this is the end of the line, as far as the cabaret’s regular appearances in the festival.)

"The Tournament" belongs in the Winners' Circle.

"The Tournament" belongs in the Winners' Circle.

Live Action Theatre, a company dedicated to elevating the art of stage combat that made its debut in last year’s Fringe, doubled down and gave us the fight-film parody The Tournament. It was 100 percent funny as last year’s The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy, but with 200 percent of the prior show’s fisticuffs (and swordicuffs, etc.). Alexandra Petri turned in another hit comedy for classics majors, Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Agency for Literary Characters. It wasn’t all that different from Tragedy Averted, her 2013 play about the doomed heroines of Shakepeare’s tragedies going to summer camp together, in the sense that both played like extended sketches. But it was funny and well-performed and made you feel smart for getting the joke.

Ron Litman delivered another two-hander mini-musical with his songwriter partner Tom Pile, Waiting for Armageddon. Less directly autobiographical than his prior shows DC Trash or Fish Outta Water, its paranoia about all the ways the world could end felt genuine, and most of the songs were good.

Vaughn Irving, who’d won Best Musical and shared the Director’s Award bestowed by Brienza last year for Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk, had another hit (and another award-winner, for Best Musical) in You, or Whatever I Can Get, a collaboration with Flying V Theatre that he and Steve Przybyiski wrote in collaboration with Irving’s castmates Suzanne Edgar, Farrell Parker, and Doug Wilder.

The show was about four housemates’ romantic travails at or near age 30, with each of them gradually resolving to stop grieving for the past and face the future with optimism and confidence, or at least an open mind. In that regard, it was the show that defined the festival. Maybe we don’t need to close down the bar every night to feel like we’re having fun.

Capital Fringe images © 2014 Paul Gillis Photography

Virgin Mobile FreeFest Isn’t Happening This Year

Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2013

Once upon a time, it wasn't fall until Merriweather Post Pavilion welcomed a slate of buzzy bands and EDM purveyors to play a free show for what seemed like half of D.C.'s under-25 population and all of its flower-crown wearers.

Those days are over—at least for now. Virgin Mobile USA announced today that Virgin Mobile FreeFest will not return to the Columbia, Md., venue this year.

Instead, where the company once asked concertgoers (particularly those who missed the free ticket giveaway or wanted VIP access) to donate money and time to nonprofits like the Sasha Bruce RE*Generation House, Virgin will now make a "significant" donation to the organization separate from any entertainment event.

But according to Seth Hurwitz, I.M.P. chairman and Merriweather's operator, this might not be the end of the big annual freebie.

"The Freefest was this fantastic product of a crossroads of [Virgin Group founder Richard] Branson and some very creative people at Virgin. The mixture got shaken up every year, and it always settled at the last possible moment for that year," wrote Hurwitz in a statement to the Post and the Baltimore Sun. "That was part of the spontaneous magic that everyone could pick up on I think. Unfortunately, the pieces are not all there right now with Virgin. Whether they are again who knows. But the Freefest concept is fantastic and we are exploring options to continue it at Merriweather.”

Virgin Festival was held at Pimlico Race Course for three years before going gratis and moving to Merriweather for the past five. Next stop—the moon?

Photo by Brandon Wu

Photos: North Carolina’s Merge 25 Festival

Merge_25-cover2

Merge Records celebrated turning 25 last week, and it capped things off on Saturday with an outdoor festival at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, N.C. with some of the best bands on its roster. The members of D.C. favorite Ex Hex wowed the crowd with their tough-yet-cheeky attitudes. The trio's a powerhouse—it's hard to believe they haven't even been together a year yet. If you missed their set at the Rock & Roll Hotel last week, block off October 5; their debut record release party will be at the Black Cat with Speedy Ortiz as an opener.

Another great trio—Bob Mould, Jason Narducy, and Jon Wurster—also made a hot day even hotter at Merge 25. Mould, now a D.C. expat, played tracks from his latest record, Beauty & Ruin, and even reached back to his Hüsker Dü days for the stunning "Hardly Getting Over It." Mould brought emcee Margaret Cho onstage to sing a few songs with the band, including "See a Little Light," and  Teenage Fanclub frontman Norman Blake watched Mould's set with a huge grin plastered to his face for the duration. Probably the best description of Mould's set was posted on Twitter that morning by Narducy:

https://twitter.com/SplitSingleband/status/493080137223929856

Photos from Merge 25 Festival are in the gallery.

On the Corcoran’s First Day in Court, Its COO Gets Grilled

corcoran-1Anyone who thought that the Corcoran’s dissolution was a foregone conclusion would think again after yesterday’s court proceedings. It was the first day of the D.C. Superior Court evidentiary hearing for the institution’s cy-près petition, which would allow trustees to amend the Corcoran's charter and toss the museum and the college to the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, respectively, and it was contentious as anything.

Though no one’s being prosecuted for anything, it had many of the trappings of a traditional trial: expert witnesses, cross-examinations, official documents entered as evidence, tense exchanges between counsels. But where most trials have a prosecution and a defense, this hearing is triangular—the trustees, the D.C. attorney general’s office, and opponents of the dissolution (representatives from the Corcoran’s student body, faculty, and staff) will all get an equal chance to introduce evidence and give testimony.

The latter group, backed by the advocacy group Save the Corcoran, is known in court as “the interveners,” as its members stepped into the middle of what might have been a quick, clean break, considering that Attorney General Irv Nathan has already filed a brief in support of the trustees.

To kick off yesterday’s hearing, Judge Robert Okun asked each side to identify their proposed witnesses. The AG’s office, unsurprisingly, had none. The Corcoran’s trustees, represented by Charles Patrizia, named three:

  • Corcoran Chief Operating Officer Lauren Stack
  • Sean O’Connor, senior vice president of Development Guild/DDI, a consulting firm that’s assisted the Corcoran with strategic planning for two years
  • Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University

Read more On the Corcoran’s First Day in Court, Its COO Gets Grilled

ToDo ToDay: Crisis, Hessismore, and ShowPony

kennedyMore than half a century after it premiered on television, the National Archives invites contemporary audiences to view Robert Drew’s 1963 documentary, Crisis, in conjunction with the March on Washington Film Festival. The film chronicles President Kennedy’s battle with Alabama Gov. George Wallace over the integration of the University of Alabama, and because equal access continues to be an issue on college campuses—the University of Alabama made national headlines this year when its student senate killed a resolution that would support integration of its fraternities and sororities—the documentary remains rife with talking points. Read more >>> The film shows at 7 p.m. at the National Archives McGowan Theater, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free. (202) 357-5000. archives.gov(Caroline Jones)

EAT THIS

DGS Delicatessen is partnering with former Art & Soul chef Wes Morton for a special “Schmutz and Schmaltz” menu tonight. The southern-meets-deli menu will include dishes like okra and watermelon rind pickles; corn bread with sorghum butter and gribenes; grouper stuffed with smoked whitefish; and jambalaya spiked with smoked chicken and braised tongue. Three courses are available for $35 from 5 to 9:30 p.m. DGS Delicatessen, 1317 Connecticut Ave. NW. (202) 293-4400. dgsdelicatessen.com. (Jessica Sidman)

OH AND ALSO

Danish musician Mikkel Hess performs with his seven-piece orchestra, Hessismore, at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. 6 p.m. at 2700 F St. NW. Free.

Read more ToDo ToDay: Crisis, Hessismore, and ShowPony

Arts Roundup: Silver Line Design Edition

EU's Sugarbear on anti-go-go ordinances and the genre's marketing pitfalls [The Arts Fuse]

Photos of Beck at Merriweather Post Pavilion [BYT]

The design of the Silver Line prioritizes function over form. [Post]

A playlist of music from the bands of this weekend's In It Together Fest [D.C. Music Download]

Photos of Chain and the Gang at the Black Cat [Bandwidth]

Nicholas Cage filmed scenes for an upcoming film, The Runner, on the National Mall Sunday. [DCist]

Photos from the U.S. Air Guitar Championships Mid-Atlantic Semifinals at the 9:30 Club [BYT]

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