Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Black Femininity Honored in Dara Meredith's Dance Premiere, "The Bridge of Our Roots"

Dara J. Meredith is a noted Choreographer, Director, and Educator. She is a Dance Instructor at Eleone Dance Unlimited in Philadaelphia and a longtime member of the Dance Faculty at Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington, Delaware. 

We were honored to catch up with choreographer Dara Meredith and talk about the inception of her newest contemporary dance piece, the inspiration behind it, and what it symbolizes for her and many other Black women. 

The Bridge of Our Roots. Photo by Shannon Woodloe.
Commissioned by the Delaware Art Museum with support from Art Bridges, the soul-searching full-length dance work, The Bridge of Our Roots" is inspired by Southern Souvenir No. II (1948) — a riveting painting by Eldzier Cortor, depicting disembodied figures of Black women. The performance of "The Bridge of Our Roots" premieres at Delaware Theatre Company Friday, September 17, at 8:00pm with a post-performance discussion with the artists. Tickets are available HERE

What does "the Bridge of Our Roots" mean to you, and why did you choose it as the title of this work? 
Eldzier Cortor stated, "...the Black woman represents the black race and the continuum of life". It is my belief that Black women represent the bridge between Black culture and the European culture, and therefore serve as the foundation for continuity in American culture. Since slavery, the Black woman has been the nurturer, giver, and provider for her master and his family as well as her own family; it was evident through the recipes that fed their bellies, her breast milk that nourished their bodies, or the actual giving of her own body to create her own children and the bastard children that were created through the abuse of her master or anyone else who saw fit to have her.
 
Why did you feel compelled to create this piece?
This work encompasses the stories of so many little girls, and women who feel alone, misunderstood, or silenced by societal norms and the lack of empathy and understanding of what Black women have endured and continue to endure. When we get a chance to share a piece of our story, it is important to tell it in the most authentic and genuine way, to represent every ancestral and living woman whose screams and cries fall on deaf ears. I felt a need to represent what is not represented — me, us!

What was the most challenging thing about creating this performance? What did you love most about it?
The most challenging part was narrowing down what themes and stories I wanted to tell and making sure I did it in a way that not only told my story and emotional attachment to the work, but to represent all facets of black women in its multiplicities and abundance. It was unbelievable pressure to get it right, as well as live up to the magnitude and importance of the actual painting, Southern Souvenir No.  II.

What I loved most about creating this work is the journey of re-learning and shedding my own layers in a therapeutic process with beautiful Black women who were willing to do the same. The amount of support that we have received from each other made the process rich and layered with a sense of genuine humanity, and an offering for us each to recognize our own resiliency — because of and in spite of  our journey as Black women.
 
Is there imagery of [the painting] Southern Souvenir No. II incorporated into this piece? Where can audiences learn more about this critical work?
I incorporated the imagery of the dismantled parts of the Black female body on the painting. The nipples of the breast that Eldzier Cortor created in a more 3-D fashion emphasizes the way in which her breast was how she nourished the babies to create continuity. This repetitive movement that was created based on this imagery finds its way in every section of the work, creating its own continuity in the work. The painting itself is on display at the Delaware Art Museum and can be viewed until October 2021.

What do you feel are the hallmarks of Black femininity? How are they depicted in this performance?
One hallmark of Black femininity that is depicted in my work is the passion that Black women have to always prevail and overcome, despite any circumstance. We will make sure everything and everyone is taken care of, despite the hardships or adversity we may encounter. She is resilient, and if asked to be anyone else in the world, she stands proudly in her skin and would have it no other way in spite of her tumultuous ancestral past and the plight ahead.

How did you choose the music for this piece? How does it complement/play against the dancers' movements?
I chose music that evoked the emotion of what I wanted to say in each section. Some of the music led my decision to talk about a certain theme, such as "Everything Must Change", sung by Nina Simone. In other sections, I wanted to enrich what I already created. The music drives the point home and complements the movement.

I see that you included elements of singer Nina Simone and poet Ursula Rucker into this performance; who else is represented?
I included music by the Gulluah Choir — Songs of Hope and Freedom  which was the group of people (Gullah and Geechee People) Cortor researched and studied when creating this painting. The work also features a local poet from Philadelphia, Kai Davis, as well as the words of Iyanla Vanzant, Michelle Obama, and Stacey Abrams, with a gut-wrenching score from singer Moses Sumney.

There is so much about the Black experience  and specifically experiences of Black women— that are not often understood, realized, and/or acknowledged. How do you feel this piece speaks to those issues?
I think the work gives an inner look into not only the pain that is present, or why we feel ostracized, but also it represents the resiliency of the Black woman in spite of all she endures. This work explores themes of Sistahs Catching Sistahs, the 'angry Black woman' stereotype, the exploitation and commodification of Black bodies, childless mothers at the hands of police brutality, overwhelmed immunity, how to find healing, and the resiliency that comes from these struggles.

You note that this work speaks to experiences of Black women in the South; do you feel Black women in other areas of our country have similar, related, or different experiences?  
I think women in other parts of the country have a related experience through their histories, but experience it in the present slightly different. In the South, there is a sense of wanting to keep things as they were, so the blatant racism that exist is used in an effort to keep you in your place, whereas being in the North or West sometimes camouflages these same feelings in a way that seems more passive-aggressive, digestible, or sneaky. In other countries these are some of the same experiences and issues they face — being ostracized, abused, and separated at the hands of a patriarchal system and the male gaze.

What message(s) or feeling(s) do you want audiences to take away from this performance?
Every take away is different. I would want people of other cultures to walk away with a level of empathy and care that they move forward with while examining how they situate themselves in creating the change in the world that is necessary on the most micro level. 

I want Black men to walk away with an appreciation and understanding of how to foster more care for their mothers and grandmothers; just because they do everything does not mean it is healthy for them or that they should be taking care of everyone. I want them to examine their role in the family and how they take care of the Black woman in a way that creates balance and encouragement.  

For the Black girl and woman, I want her to walk away knowing that she is not alone in all that she embodies and experiences on every level. She is worthy and beautiful just the way she is, and others are here to support her journey in navigating life.

Was it challenging for you to create (or not create) during the pandemic? How did you handle that?
It was actually good for me to create during the pandemic, because I had time to sit and think about how I wanted to approach this work. It was almost as if the world stood still for a moment, and there was this perfect time and space to focus on something so timely and necessary given the climate in America at the time.

What are you working on next and where can audiences experience it?
I am working on the expansion of this project on a tour as well as the dialogue between this work and my other full-length show, "Beneath the Surface," which is about mental illness.   

What advice would you give to young and/or emerging artists of color? 
I would say, as artists of color, we have to speak our truths in its most authentic, raw, and genuine fashion, because if we don't tell our stories, we invite others to tell it for us. Historically we have to hold on to our cultural tradition of story telling and artist are the ones who get to uphold this tradition.  The revolution starts with us and we can't be afraid of our power and the power of our voice, as it liberates others to do the same!

Friday, August 27, 2021

Artist Sug Daniels Celebrates New Music, EP Release

Sug Daniels, aka Danielle Johnson, is a solo singer-songwriter as well as frontwoman of the funky blues/soul band Hoochi Coochi, and a proud Wilmingtonian. The new EP, Franklin Street, will be out via Weird Sister Records on September 3.

Artist Sug Daniels. Photo by Nathalie Antonov.
I was thrilled to chat with Sug about music, community, and creativity during a pandemic...

Congrats on the new EP! First, what made you want to do a solo project outside of Hoochi Coochi?
Thank you! It was actually just a quarantine project. I wasn't able to get together with my band and write music like we usually did, so I had to fend for myself. Although I lost the ability to play live, I didn't lose the desire and need to create music.

What are the differences — artistically and individualistically — between Danielle Johnson as frontwoman of Hoochi Coochi and Sug Daniels as a solo artist?
To be honest, not too much except one is holding a ukulele and the other is gripping a microphone and jumping on bars. I like the challenge of having to deliver music and entertainment in a more stationary position. This project is less performance-based and more music and lyrics centered. I can (and have) performed the music solo, in a duo, and with a full band. It's always moving and shifting. Better believe when I can figure out how to get myself and ukulele up on a bar...I'll be doing that too, though!

How do you feel you have evolved as an artist since Hoochi Coochi got their start?
I would hope in every way. I really try with each song to be more vulnerable than the last song. I'm constantly trying to figure out how to make the show more electrifying. I worked my tail off to figure out the business side of the music industry as well.

What made you want to create music during the height of the pandemic? Where did you find the most inspiration?
I always want to create music. It's my favorite way to flush through ideas and learn about myself. During the pandemic, I wrote a bunch of songs mostly focused on my friendships, relationships, and how I view the place I live. The songs were all very introspective and personal because I had nothing to do but sit, think, and mull them over in my mind.

I love your collaborations with "Tiltlandia Mayor" Rob Pfeiffer! How did you two get together and start creating?
Yea, Rob Pfeiffer is a dream! I went through a transition during quarantine, and Rob was there to lend a hand. I started living on his third floor, and we became fast musical buddies. Along with making music together, we work in a community garden putting on events that bring neighbors together in the city. I used to see Rob at breweries and shows all the time, but I never thought that our amazing intergenerational friendship would be the catalyst to an amazing solo career. He is a true angel and one of my biggest supporters. I couldn't ask for a better chosen family. We often will be eating dinner and one of us will say to the other, "Wow, we are so blessed."

You call Sug Daniels "the curious creative." What does that mean to you and what does it mean to your fans?
I am and will never be done learning. Next to expressing myself, figuring out how to do things is what drives me.

Do you see yourself as more of an Americana/Singer-Songwriter artist than an R&B artist, or will you continue celebrating and creating in both?
I see myself as both and more, too. I listen to so many types of music so when I create, I subconsciously pull from so many places. I've never been into the idea of limiting myself.

You got a really great review for your "Time & Space" track from Country Queer.
Do you feel a responsibility/need to be a mentor or voice for LGBTQIA+ artists coming up/creating in this time?
I absolutely feel and accept the responsibility to be a leader in my community. I really believe it's an artist's duty to be true and authentic in their stories and expression. We are mirrors to people, and we can provide them the language and examples on what it simply means to be alive from a certain perspective. We bring people together and give them a voice. I do not take that lightly.

What is your favorite track on the EP and why?
My favorite track on the new Franklin Street ep is "Space & Time." I recorded all the instruments on the ep, and this was my first time playing guitar. It's very fun and spacey, and I know some chords but I had never played ambient stuff like that. It was fun and frustrating, but I love the way it turned out.

Of course, I'm assuming Franklin Street is an homage to where you live here in Wilmington, Delaware. There seems to be a great group of artists and creatives in that area. What makes the neighborhood so special?
Yes, this neighborhood is what dreams are made of! Not only are there so many creative people but just plain ol' respectful and caring people. The neighborhood is also very diverse, which I love. I think places that are this free and mixed just draw creative types.

What do you envision as your next "level" artistically...what's ahead for you?
Honestly, I'm not sure. I just hope to continue to learn and grow. Maybe learn some more instruments so I can sit in with other people. Maybe a move to a big city to get more "in the mix" and make more connections. Who knows? I don't.

NOW, some 'lighter' questions...
What song(s) is in your earliest memories, and what does that music bring back for you?
My younger brother's father used to play Jimi Hendrix when he would take us to school in the morning. At that age, I'd only ever heard gospel music, so it was such a sweet treat to hear this amazing guitar guy with his cool voice singing poetry. It started a fire in me to continue to look for weird, strange, and creative music that I still feel to this day.

Who is your 'dream' musician to play with?
At this moment, Jacob Collier. He is a creative genius, and he's only in his early 20s. Highly recommend his tiny desk concert.

What's your go-to nosh after a successful performance?
I am addicted to the tofu and veggie drunken noodles at Southeast Kitchen in Wilmington. I want it before the show, after the show, and in this very moment.

What's your favorite live performance memory and why?
One of my favorite memories was at The Queen during the Ladybug Festival several years back. I was living in Dover at the time, but announced during our set on stage that I had plans to move to the city — and the whole place erupted in this big applause. I felt very loved and validated.

What's one song you wish you'd written?
All of them, honestly! I have very bad song envy. Recently tho, "Little Things" by Big Thief. I think the driving guitar and Adrianne Lenker's voice are the most perfect thing, and I can't stop listening to it.

Find more music & info about Sug HERE!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sister Act Provides a Joyous Return to the Theater!

By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Seeing a live show again is such a joyous experience after theaters were closed for the better part of 2020 and this year. And, what better show to see than The Choir School of Delaware’s boisterous production of the Broadway musical, Sister Act!

Although based on the 1992 hit film, the musical changed the setting to Philadelphia during the late 1970s, where Deloris Van Cartier, a struggling disco singer, witnesses a murder committed by her thug boyfriend, Curtis. After reporting the incident to the police, she is sent to live at a convent for her protection. Reluctantly, she puts on the habit and the shenanigans ensue as she brings new energy to the parish’s fledgling choir.

Amioluwa Balogun-Victor shines bright as the wannabe disco diva, Deloris. She lights up the stage with her strong vocals and comedic timing. It was hard for me not to dance while she performed the electrifying opening number, Take Me to Heaven. Nashon Colon is delightful as Deloris’s old school friend, Officer Eddie, who is working on her case. He hits all the right notes and delights with his big number, I Could Be That Guy. Lex Bowers delivers a frighteningly funny performance as Curtis, and Olivia Drumbore is stunning as the stern Mother Superior who unwillingly accepts Deloris into her parish. Olivia’s beautiful voice soars throughout the sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church.

The late 19th Century church’s beautiful stained-glass windows and exposed organ pipes provides the perfect setting for the production. Director Thomas Emerson is able to make the large space work well for this musical spectacle. Choreographer Amber Rance has the cast gettin’ down --- whether in gold lamé or in habits --- to the dance-infused score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Conductor Arreon Harley-Emerson has assembled an outstanding band to support the stellar cast.

Unfortunately, Sister Act was a one-night-only performance. However, the Choir School has plenty of other programs planned for this year and into 2022. 

For example, the organziation is offering a musical Bootcamp, running August 23-26, 2021.
Interested youth from the Greater Wilmington area in Grades 2-12 can enroll in the FREE 4-day camp, focusing on music education and choral singing. The camp runs Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm and includes breakfast and lunch. Students can enroll by August 19 online at  https://choirschoolofdelaware.org/bootcamp/.


Visit choirschoolofdelaware.org or call 302.543.8657 for additional information.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Writer-Director Returns to Delaware to Film Newest Project at Cab Calloway

Delaware Arts Info connected with Maren Lavelle and Matt Steiner, Co-Founders and Executive Producers at film and television prodcution company One-Eyed Rabbit, to talk about their new film Wendy, which was filmed onsite at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, with current Cab students. Here Maren talks about the development of the film and the process of creating it here in her hometown. 

P.S. This interview's a bit lengthy, but it was so great, we didn't want to cut anything! ENJOY!

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
Images from the filming of Wendy, which was
shot on location at Cab Calloway School of the Arts.

I don’t think I knew being a filmmaker was an option for me growing up. My mom was disabled and unable to work, so we didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t afford a camera. Also, I grew up before young people had access to smartphones, so there hadn’t yet been the boom of technology that made filmmaking way more accessible to those outside of Hollywood.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer and a storyteller. When I was very young I wanted to be a journalist. As I grew up I wanted to be an actor. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that my mentors told me I should focus on directing. I was like… “too late guys, my parents already spent thousands of dollars for me to audition to go to college for acting!” But by the time I graduated from Pace University with a BFA in Acting I knew I should be writing and directing.

Starting to work with Matt Steiner, my producing partner and, now, life partner, is when filmmaking really clicked into gear for me. When it comes to crafting a story for the screen, our strengths seem to fill in the other’s weaknesses. Being able to work in such a strong unit is what has really made filmmaking a reality for me.

When you were a student here, what were your favorite films or films you looked to for inspiration?
When I was a student in Delaware, I was heavily influenced by films like Ben-Hur, Dances with Wolves, Lawrence of Arabia, Amadeus, Singing in the Rain, etc. My Dad was a sucker for a good Oscar winning movie, so we would spend hours upon hours on the weekends watching some of the greats. Some of my favorites growing up were Forrest Gump for its impeccable story structure, Titanic, because you can’t find a better love story than that, and Legally Blonde, which I still to this day think is a perfect movie.

Why did you want to make this film?
Matt, my partner, wrote this film back in 2019. I always loved the story. It was so simple and sweet. One of the big inspirations for Wendy was being able to create something that could give young Queer folks their own over the top, in your face, middle school love story. With an abundance of content out there featuring young boy-girl love stories as the main plot point, we wanted to give representation to the young Queer students that deserve to see themselves reflected on the screen.

But as far as actually taking the steps to produce the film, Cab Calloway School of the Arts and the Cab 8th Grade theatre majors are what made me want to make this film happen! Once we started to ponder the idea of making this film at Cab right now with the current 8th grade theatre majors, it just seemed like we had to make the film and we had to make it now.

Whereas with our previous films we were definitely making the films for ourselves, either as a proof of team, for me to be able to direct, or for Matt to be able to act, making this film was almost entirely for the Cab students. I was very focused on the educational aspect of providing the students with the experience of working on a professional film set at such a young age. I thought a lot about how amazing an opportunity like working on this film would have been to me at that age, as it would’ve opened up so many more possibilities to me than I knew were available at the time. I wanted these students to be able to experience that and see for themselves what it’s like to make a film from scratch!

Do you feel this story represents the culture you experienced at Cab as a student? How do you see Cab's culture now?
It’s so interesting because Cab is a very unique school as far as acceptance goes. Of course, it is still difficult in any setting to be able to navigate the social hierarchy that is middle school or high school when you’re an LGBTQIA student and/or a person of color… but Cab certainly leaves more space than most schools for acceptance of any sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, etc.

The story of Wendy is certainly representative of the culture at Cab. At Cab, it’s so easy to talk to your teachers about what you’re going through when you need advice. Identifying as gay or Queer is pretty common place at Cab. Though I think the eponymous character, Wendy, feels more hesitant to be publicly out than she would at the real life Cab, I still think the story of Wendy is something that would 100% happen in the halls of Cab Calloway School of the Arts.

I graduated from Cab nearly 10 years ago, and though Cab was quite progressive in a lot of ways back then, it has grown even more so in the decade since I graduated. Working with Cab students now, I found the students to be way more comfortable in themselves and even more widely accepted, even at younger ages than high school, than was the case during my attendance. The students are also way more politically active and involved than I remember me and my comrades being. They are active and vocal allies for underprivileged folks, and use social media as a tool for making long lasting change in the society they will soon inherit.

What about Cab Calloway made it your choice for location?
Matt Steiner & Maren Lavelle of One-Eyed Rabbit.
Photo by Dondre Stuetley
Cab was an obvious choice for this film, but funnily enough it took me two years since I originally read the script to realize that. Returning to the Cab halls and working with Cab students was the main impetus for producing this film when we did.

Cab was an ideal location for multiple reasons, for one: the community. Being able to have the Cab community rally around this film and help make it happen was so wonderful and fulfilling. Also, I knew the caliber of student actors at Cab was going to be significant compared to anywhere else we could have filmed.

Also, the full circle nature of returning to Cab as an adult to work with the students and direct this film was a huge part of the choice and experience. It was SO fulfilling to walk those halls and see the imprints I still had on the school: my senior photo and a photo of my childhood dog are still up on the board of one of my high school teacher’s rooms, I’m in a photo of the school jazz choir from 2010 that’s up in the halls, and my name is on a plaque on one of the front row seats in the school’s theatre. Returning to the school and seeing how present I still was, while also giving back to the community and the current students by providing this opportunity was unlike anything I could have ever imagined. The experience was so nostalgic and incredibly rewarding, and I can see the influence that had on the film as well.

Did you tap any of Cab's theater students for this film? Any other Cab 'resources'?
Absolutely. Ava Ramey, incoming Cab freshman, played our lead, Wendy, and Lexie Rubincan played opposite her as Wendy’s crush, Cassie. The rest of the recently graduated 8th Grade theatre class from Cab filled out our featured ensemble. These students are REMARKABLE. The talent is insane. Working with Ava and Lexie was more wonderful than I could have imagined. The two are best friends, which helped provide an incredible intimacy on screen, but besides that, they jumped right into these very challenging and nuanced roles without missing a beat.

Long shoot days are no joke, and these young women were in every scene working for 10 hours a day two days in a row. That’s longer than a typical school day! And I did not take it easy on them! But they were beyond professional and continued to give vulnerable and subtle performances that blew the script out of the water. I can’t believe the luck we had in being able to work with these incredibly professional and remarkably talented rising young actors.

We used the Cab premises for our film, including the theatre, hallways, and classrooms. We were so grateful to work with Amanda Curry, the 8th Grade theatre teacher, who helped us organize auditions for the film and helped us with the logistics of production. Brian Touchette, the theatre manager at Cab, was invaluable in ensuring we had all the equipment we needed for filming and helping us use the recently renovated theatre and all of its capacities to help tell our story as honestly and artistically as possible. Julie Rumschlag was the dean at Cab when I attended back in 2008 - 2012, and she was so supportive of our venture every step of the way.

The support from the Cab community has been incredible, and I’m so grateful to every person who helped make this film a reality.

What do you want audiences to come away with after seeing it? Where can they see it?
Wendy should fill audiences with a sense of wonder, magic, and glee. We want our film to reach young folks who otherwise might not see themselves reflected on screen in this way. We want LGBTQIA students to see their story fully realized in the film: we hope those students leave the film feeling seen, heard, and recognized. I hope non LGBTQIA audiences still leave feeling seen and recognized. It’s a relatable story, we’ve all had that deep, all-encompassing teenage crush that we can’t get off of our mind. I think we’ve captured that essence really well in this film. I hope people leave the film and share stories of their most wonderful and most embarrassing moments with their crushes throughout their lives.

Wendy will be submitted to a wide array of film festivals! @one_eyedrabbit will send updates via social media on where audiences can find Wendy as it makes its way around the festival circuit.

 
Did you always envision this film being shot in here or was that a 'happy accident'?
Originally we conceptualized filming Wendy in the Bronx, in a school that Matt has been teaching in as a teaching artist for several years, the students of which inspired the characters of Wendy. But the making of the film didn’t actually spring into action until I came up with the idea of filming it at Cab and casting the Cab students. Once we latched on to that, there was no stopping it, and there was something beautiful about returning home to make this film.

What was the most rewarding thing about coming "home" to shoot this movie? What was the most challenging?
Ohmygosh, so many things. The most rewarding thing was working with the Cab recently graduated 8th graders/rising 9th graders on this film. They were so eager to be a part of this process and they were all so passionate about being involved in a Queer love story, whether they indetified as Queer or not. I also got to work with Emma Altrichter, a recent Cab high school graduate, as my Assistant Director. Most of the students hadn’t worked in film before, and I hadn’t either at their age. I felt like I was giving back to Cab and the current Cab students some of the energy and momentum that Cab gave me when I was there. Community is so important, so being able to plug back in to create this beautiful film with such talented people was absolutely fulfilling.

The most challenging part of producing the film in Delaware was the logistics! Producing indie films is no joke, and since we’re filmmakers based in Brooklyn, we had to work to find a local crew that we thought could help us realize our vision despite not having worked with any of them before. But the team we came up with was magic. My first choice for this film, and for most of my films, was to find a non-male cinematographer who I could easily collaborate with, and for Wendy I found that in Sol Tran. Sol rose to the challenge of an incredibly ambitious film schedule, a big cast, and a determined director and turned out remarkably beautiful shots while managing to get all the coverage we needed. We couldn’t have made this film as well without that combination of professionals.

What is your favorite part of this movie and why?
There are so many parts of this film that I love, but my favorite part is a relatively simple scene between Wendy and her mentor, Mr. Hansen (played by Matt Steiner). It’s not the most showy or colorful scene in the film, but that scene is the essence of the film, the idea that you have to put yourself out there in order to live a fulfilled life. You have to try and sometimes fail, but then get back up and try again. That applies to career ventures, life obstacles, but most importantly, love. Mr. Hansen says a line to Wendy: “You can’t live your whole life in your head, you know?”, and that’s exactly what the film is about. At a certain point, you have to jump off the diving board into the pool of the unknown and risk heartbreak or humiliation, but it’s the only way to learn and grow.

Do you get to come back to Delaware often? What do you miss most about Delaware? Any shout-outs you want to give?
I do come back to Delaware quite often! My ever growing family is still in Delaware. My Mom, Tara Bowers, a local costume designer for Delaware theatres who also costumed our film, lives a short drive from Cab and Matt and I come home to Delaware every couple of months. My niece, Charlie, is two years old and we love watching her grow and learn! And I have a nephew who is arriving at the end of July 2021!

I’ve always loved Charcoal Pit and Pizza by Elizabeth’s, and Woodside Creamery is an absolute summer staple. Can’t miss Lewes and Rehoboth Beaches in the summer too!

What is next on your creativity list? What can we see from you next?
One-Eyed Rabbit has two other films in the film festival circuit that folks can look out for, our debut films Maya and Keeper. Next up we’re looking to produce more of our short films including The Lie and Molly: In Progress. We’re hoping to get funding for our horror feature She Howls, or any of our other short film, feature film, and series pitches.

We can’t stop making work though, so one of those projects will be in production as soon as we have funding!

Learn more about Maren and Matt's projects at www.one-eyedrabbit.com!

Friday, June 25, 2021

Joseph Hodge Named Music Director of Wilmington Community Orchestra

Joseph Hodge is the new Music Director of
the Wilmington Community Orchestra.
The Music School of Delaware's Wilmington Community Orchestra – an accomplished amateur ensemble for ages 18+ that performs standard symphonic and concerto repertoire –has announced that Joseph Hodge will be taking over the role of Music Director for the 2021-2022 season.

"We're very excited to have him on board," said Music School Dean Cheri Astolfi. "We reviewed almost 12 resumes and CVs, and we were delighted when he was interested in auditioning for the position."

Winds and brass players – with WCO members Mindy Bowman observing for the woodwinds and Steve Getty observing for the brass 
 also felt that he was an excellent choice and selection for the winds and for the ensemble.

JOSEPH HODGE BIO
Praised for his “musicianship and energy on stage” (Manchester Journal Inquirer), Joseph Hodge has previously served as the Music Director of the Manchester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale, Connecticut Valley Symphony Orchestra, and Hartford Opera Theater. Guest conducting engagements have brought him across the country to work with opera companies and orchestras alike, including the Jackson Symphony, Charlottesville Symphony, Wintergreen Chamber Orchestra, Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestra, Hartford All-City Youth Orchestra, Charlottesville Opera, Abilene Opera Association, Houghton Lyric Theater, and Oberlin Winter Opera. 

A champion of new music, Mr. Hodge has conducted many World Premieres, including Rachel Peters’ Wild Beasts of the Bungalow with Oberlin Winter Opera in 2020. Mr. Hodge holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, and is currently finishing his Doctorate in Orchestral Conducting at Michigan State University. He has previously studied conducting with Kevin Noe, Edward Cumming, Christopher Zimmerman, and Kate Tamarkin.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Piffaro Artistic Directors Announce Retirement

Content of this post comes from a press release from Piffaro...

(L-R): Joan Kimball, Priscilla Herreid, Bob Wiemken in performance.
Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken – Artistic Co-Directors of the Philadelphia-based period music ensemble Piffaro, the Renaissance Band – will retire from directing and performing with the ensemble. Kimball and Wiemken will step down at the end of the ensemble’s 2021-2022 season and turn over leadership to Priscilla Herreid, a longtime member of the ensemble.

In 1980, the ensemble began as a local effort to explore the then largely unknown world of Renaissance double-reed instruments and to create performing opportunities for early wind players in the Philadelphia region. In the ensuing 40 years of Kimball and Wiemken’s leadership, Piffaro has become a highly regarded ensemble in the expanding field of early music, both in this country and abroad. In addition to its annual concert series in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Piffaro has toured throughout North America and performed at major early music festivals in Europe and South America.

In addition to extensive concertizing, Kimball and Wiemken worked closely with instrument makers to build an unsurpassed collection of over 60 instruments modeled on their historical antecedents. They have unearthed long-overlooked instrumental works from the late 15th to early 17th Centuries and added them to the canon through Piffaro’s 20 recordings.

Kimball and Wiemken approached retirement thoughtfully, beginning with the question, “Should Piffaro continue?” The answer, especially from the ensemble’s musicians, was a resounding “yes!” Erik Schmalz, one of the group’s two historical brass specialists, noted: “It would be a shame to let everything that you’ve built just go away...Almost nobody else is doing the music that Piffaro does or playing those instruments.”

After a two-year selection process and transition strategy, Piffaro’s board of directors announced the appointment of Priscilla Herreid as artistic director designate. 

"The best choice for the ensemble would be...Someone who could maintain the distinctive Piffaro sound and continue to pursue its mission, yet also guide it into new ventures." said Kimball and Wiemken. "Priscilla was the clear choice. She has our full support, as well as that of the band and the board of directors."

Herreid has been a member of the ensemble since 2007. A graduate of Temple University and Juilliard, she enjoys a thriving career performing with top early music ensembles in the United States, but Piffaro has always been at the center of her professional life. Herreid will assume her new role at the beginning of the 2022-2023 concert season.

About Piffaro
Piffaro, now “widely regarded as North America's masters of music for Renaissance wind band” (St. Paul Pioneer Press), was founded in 1980 to recreate the rustic music of the peasantry and the elegant sounds of the professional wind bands of the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. Piffaro inaugurated its Delaware Valley concert series in 1985.

Monday, May 31, 2021

TAHIRA Recognized by NJ Governor; Nominated Best Collaboration for "Freedom Call"

This post content comes from a press release from TAHIRA...

Storyteller, musician, and arts administrator, TAHIRA has been recognized by the state of New Jersey and Delaware Hometown Heroes for her talents as a performer. She recently received the New Jersey Governor's Award for Distinguished Service in Arts Education. The artist, whose works are rooted in African Diaspora culture and tradition, has also been given the nod for her single, Freedom Call, nominated for Best Collaboration by Delaware Hometown Heroes.

The New Jersey Governor's Award provides a public forum for the Governor and Commissioner of Education to recognize students and adult leaders for their achievements in Arts Education. On receiving the award, TAHIRA stated, "My great joy is seeing how storytelling sparks the imagination and nurtures all parts of the human experience. This award affirms for me that my work as an artist and arts advocate is valued."

Freedom Call is an anthemic song written by TAHIRA and executive produced by Darnell K. Miller of HP Entertainment. This single made its way into the hearts and minds of many impacted by the protests and uprisings calling for racial equity. The song that gives light to Juneteenth or Freedom Day's events was performed by the Delaware Artists for Change, which includes some of the state's most soulful vocalists.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, 2021, marks the 156th year since slavery was abolished in Galveston, Texas. The holiday is a celebration of freedom for the Black community, and it is momentous that the song is nominated on the heels of this event.

TAHIRA, who is best recognized for her work as a professional storyteller nationally, has proven her talent as a songwriter with Freedom Call. Her musicianship has been described as "...spiritually infused with karmic joy..." by Delaware music venue owner Esther Lovlie. 

TAHIRA is a storyteller, musician, vocalist, and songwriter and is a Delaware Division of the Arts Established Professional Fellow in Folk Art: Oral Literature.

Check out a preview of the track, which also features a number celebrated Delaware artists...
https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/delawareartistsforchange/freedom-call

For more information on TAHIRA and her work, visit https://www.tahiraproductions.com.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Congratulations to The 2021 Clifford Brown Jazz Award Winners

The content of this post comes from a press release from the City of Wilmington...

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and Cultural Affairs Director Tina Betz congratulated the winners of the 2021 Clifford Brown Jazz Awards presented at Cityfest, Inc.’s inaugural Clifford Brown International Jazz Day Concert on Friday, April 30, 2021. 

This year’s awardee for the Clifford Brown Top Jazz Presenter Award is the True Blue Jazz Festival; of the Clifford Brown Advocacy, Volunteerism, & Philanthropy in Jazz Award is Hortense Priest (bestowed posthumously); for the Clifford Brown Young & Swingin’ Award is Maya Belardo; and for the Clifford Brown Legacy Award is Tony “Big Cat” Smith

The Clifford Brown Festival Band, led by Gerald Chavis.
Photo by Moonloop Photography.
The awards ceremony and concert, held virtually and in person at the Delaware Theater Company, featured performances by trumpeter Terell Stafford and the Clifford Brown Festival Band led by Gerald Chavis as part of the City of Wilmington’s International Jazz Day Festivities.

“We believe that music and the arts are extremely important contributors to recovering from the personal, artistic, and economic pandemic-related stressors of this past year,” said Betz. “With that and the continuing loosening of COVID restrictions in mind, we are planning to return to Rodney Square on August 4-8, 2021 for the 34th Annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. It is important to note that the dates are subject to change or the Festival cancelled in response to changing State public health mandates.”

Clifford Brown Year Round is presented by Cityfest, Inc. and the City of Wilmington with generous support from The Delaware Theatre Company, The Delaware Division of the Arts, WRTI 90.1 FM, The Kenny Family Foundation, Delmarva Power, An Excelon Company, Gerald Chavis Music, Flux Creative Consulting, The Christina Cultural Arts Center, and The Delaware Contemporary.

Proceeds from the Clifford Brown Year Round series support programs like the Urban Artist Exchange, the Arts Work Summer Youth Apprenticeship Program, and the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Rebecca Wisniewski Named Delaware Poetry Out Loud Champion

The content of this post comes from a press release from The Delaware Division of the Arts.

Rebecca Wisniewski of Milford, Delaware's Poetry Out Loud Champion
From a field of 10 Delaware high school students, Rebecca Wisniewski, a senior from Milford High School, earned the title of 2021 Poetry Out Loud Delaware State Champion at the state finals held virtually on March 2, 2021. The first runner-up was Lia Dougherty from Sanford School in Wilmington, and the second runner-up was Janelle Carter of Delaware Valley Classical School in New Castle.

Rebecca is a member of the school drama club and has acted in plays and musical for years. She unexpectedly found that learning poetry has made her a better performer in general, stating, “...you have to put yourself in the background – while you are forming a deeper connection to the pieces. Reciting a poem means you have to pull from your emotions. It’s about being self-aware, even while forming a deep connection to the voices in the poems.” Ms. Wisniewski also took part in Poetry Out Loud previously in her junior year.

Wisniewski chose poems this year with very different energies. “Domestic Situation” by Ernest Hilbert, which Wisniewski calls “a tricky poem,” challenged her with its seeming sarcasm about a somber subject – domestic abuse. “I Felt a Funeral, in my Brain” by Emily Dickinson felt manic and mournful, and “has so much room inside it to perform.” Her favorite, “How to Triumph Like a Girl”, by Ada Limon, was, in Rebecca’s words, “fun, upbeat and has a positive message.” All of the poems scored high marks with the judges.

For her winning presentation, Wisniewski will receive $200 and will compete at the National Semifinals which will be held virtually on Sunday, May 2nd beginning at Noon on the National Endowment for the Arts website, arts.gov. Milford High School will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry materials for its school library. Lia Dougherty, the first runner-up will receive $100, and Sanford School will receive $200 for its school library.

The Poetry Out Loud state competition, sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, is part of a national program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

First State Ballet Theatre Hires Molly Rooney as New Managing Director

First State Ballet Theatre has announced that Molly Rooney will be joining the company as Managing Director, effective March 15. Prior to joining First State Ballet Theatre, Molly was an Account Manager at Dandelions Digital. Molly has served as Director for the National Ballet Competition for the past three years.

As the creator of National Ballet Competition, Molly will be bringing her unique skills in communications, digital marketing, fundraising and community relations, as well as her passion for ballet, to First State Ballet Theatre. Molly is a former professional ballet dancer and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Communications.

“I am beyond excited to join First State Ballet Theatre, a company dear to my heart, as their Manager Director. As a former dancer, I am excited to be on the administrative side and be a part of developing this wonderful organization,” says Molly. “We are super excited about bringing Molly on to the First State Ballet Theatre team. She shows a lot of enthusiasm and passion and we think she will bring great things to the organization,” says Kristina Kambalov, Executive Director.

“Molly is an exceptional person in all aspects of her life. She is very detailed and precise and can provide exactly what is needed,” added Paige Obara, Business Manager.

ABOUT FIRST STATE BALLET THEATRE
First State Ballet Theatre (FSBT) was founded in 1999 with the mission to present professional ballet performances throughout Delaware, offer high-quality ballet training and performing experiences to aspiring dancers, and educate the Delaware dance audience of the future. 

Founded in 1999, FSBT is Delaware's only professional ballet company and this season employs professional dancers under the artistic direction of Pasha Kambalov, a graduate of the esteemed Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. FSBT presents classical ballets and commissions contemporary works from both local and internationally-recognized choreographers. 

FSBT is based in Wilmington's Grand Opera House and attracts thousands of patrons to the City of Wilmington each season, in addition to performances statewide. The School of First State Ballet Theatre enrolls over 100 students ages 3 and up, and offers classes six days a week in its studios in the Grand Opera House and at its satellite location at the Dupont County Club. FSBT students have won awards in international ballet competitions, been accepted at some of the country's elite ballet schools, and danced professionally all over the world. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Exhibit at The Sold Firm Features Works of Incarcerated Artist

Starting this month, Wilmington gallery The Sold Firm 
— headed by owner/gallerist, Nataki Oliver  presents a solo exhibition from artist Sakana Walls. 

Walls, 49, is a Philadelphia visual artist currently incarcerated in a Delaware correctional facility. 

Walls actually began his creative path in the culinary field. He has been incarcerated since 2006 with three years left on his sentence. Walls began drawing seriously in 2010 and painting in 2016, starting with his first piece, “Weathering The Storm,” which is featured in the exhibit.

The exhibit, entitled STORM, opened on February 19 and will run through April 24, 2021. During points in the exhibit, Sakana will be present on video from the correctional facility.

With Oliver's assistance, we were able to connect with Walls and ask him a few questions about his exhibit. Check out our discussion below...

*How long have you been creating? What is your medium of choice and why?
I've been creating for about 11 years now. I started sketching with pencil and charcoal, but I found it more liberating to work with acrylic. I use to observe other artists painstakingly mixing colors, trying to produce a hue that was considered "acceptable," and I didn't see any freedom in the practice. I treat each color as I would any individual: Accept it for its truest form/essence. If we can embrace who we really are, maybe we could come together and create something beautiful.

*Why did you choose the title "STORM" for this exhibit?
It was something that was discussed between Nataki and myself. when I told her my story, we agreed that "Storm" would best describe the exhibit. The pieces that were chosen for this exhibit represent hope, spirituality, and consciousness. All things needed in this trying time.

*What do you want your work to "say" to patrons? 
I really do not want the pieces to say anything. Rather, I want the pieces to act as a defibrillator...to allow the numbness (that has developed over the last couple of years) to diminish. I also want people to think about what happened in the last couple of years with our government, the pandemic, and within our communities.

*What is your favorite piece in the exhibit and why?
My favorite piece is the hooded man titled Weathering The StormIt's a representation of who I've become. The searchlight in the lower right represents the prison life left behind. The rain and the lightning represent the adversity going on in the world. The jacket represents consciousness, protection from all of the elements.

*How do you feel the arts have helped you during this time and how will they serve you going forward? 
Sitting back and doing the same things day in and out does not promote growth. I refused to succumb to the "Groundhog Day effect," so it was important for me to not become institutionalized. I had to find something to do differently. Creating something new every day allowed me to do time purposefully. Going forward, I see the arts hopefully serving as a vehicle to bring togetherness and awareness within the community and beyond.

*What advice can you give to other justice-involved individuals?
Holding yourself accountable will prove to be beneficial in the growth process. If you're experiencing an injustice, educate yourself and make it a fair fight. Adding other than self to the thought process will produce different results.

*What are your goals 
 artistic and personal  now and post-incarceration?
As an artists, I want to continue to make people feel; personally, I want to educate self before I medicate others. After my release, I want to continue to live life with purpose. 

“We must conquer self doubt in order to weather our own personal storm; then we’ll be able to learn, understand and respect one another.” — Sakana Walls

Reservations to attend the exhibit must be made online. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, masks are required while in the gallery. For more information and reservations, visit thesoldfirm.com.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Number of New Artist Opportunities Opening at The Delaware Contemporary

The content of this post comes from a release from The Delaware Contemporary...

The Delaware Contemporary today announced a number of exhibit and engagement opportunities for local and regional artists.  The Contemporary is dedicated to supporting the careers of emerging and established artists through exhibition opportunities and professional development. Active onsite artist studios, complemented with a vibrant and rotating exhibition program, push artists to reexamine and expand the boundaries of their practice. The organization invites and encourages artists of all stages to apply! 

Click the links below for application forms and further info...

The Gallery Shop
  • APPLICATION DEADLINE: Friday, January 29, 2021
  • SHOP SEASON: March 1 - August 27, 2021
  • APPLICATION FEE: $10.00
Starting March 1, The Gallery Shop will display a new collection of featured artists with a curated selection of art and craft alongside new exhibitions in our gallery space. Seeking a fresh selection of products as we continue to promote contemporary craft and to support local and regional artists. Submit your work to be considered for this eclectic assortment of contemporary art, crafts, and handmade products. ALL forms of art are encouraged. If your work is sellable for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or birthdays, the Spring/Summer season is for you!

Submission Requirements:
  • Submit the following information as a single document (.DOC, .PDF) to lhoward@decontemporary.org with the email subject line "Gallery Shop Submission":
  • Short Bio: Brief summary of your artist resume
  • Product description and pricing
  • 5-10 images to showcase variety of artwork attached to submission email Optional: Artist digital links (Instagram, Etsy, artist website, Facebook, etc.)
  • Pay submission fee and include the order receipt number in the body of the submission email.
Call for Exhibit Entries - Natural Movement: Unapologetic Conversations of Hair & Nonconformity
  • APPLICATION DEADLINE: February 15, 2021
  • APPLICATION FEE: $25
The Contemporary is accepting submissions for a group exhibition based around the central ideas of hair and the CROWN Act, a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination; namely the denial of employment, recreational, and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles. How has rhetoric and politics alienated people of color? How does public discourse about hair and micro-aggressions play out in opportunities of advancement? How can contemporary artists and museums move this dialogue forward? 

Summer 2021 Exhibition Opportunity
  • APPLICATION DEADLINE: February 15, 2021
What does it mean to assimilate within accepted cultural norms? How is conformity questioned in contemporary society and what does it mean to “fit in”? The Delaware Contemporary seeks applicants to showcase works that engage in conversations about identity, acceptance, and conformity or non-conformity. Submissions may consider concepts such as religion, ethnicity, culture, gender, and race. Artists are encouraged to discuss any range of these topics as appropriate to them and their work. Artworks submitted may be any media, but must be prepared for museum exhibition.

2021 Artist-in-Residence
  • APPLICATION DEADLINE: February 15, 2021
The Contemporary's redesigned Residency Program extends to all types and forms of creative producers for a 12-month residency. Residents will have the opportunity to fully engage with the community and produce a comprehensive body of work for exhibition and documentation. In support of the museum’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community as well as the organization, The Contemporary has placed emphasis on providing the Residency Program to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and is driven to provide equitable access to career development and capacity-building opportunities for underserved populations and strives to contribute to diversifying the nonprofit and museum industries.

THE STUDIOS @
  • Applications are now open
Join the community of creative individuals at The Studios @ The Delaware Contemporary! Currently, The Contemporary has two vacant studios available. The 26 artist studio spaces are a place where proactivity, public engagement, diversity of ideas, perspectives, and artistic practice are honored, respected, and achieved.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

2021 Individual Artist Fellowships Awardees Announced by the Delaware Division of the Arts

This post content comes from a press release from the Delaware Division of the Arts...

The prestigious Individual Artist Fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts recognize artists in a variety of disciplines for their outstanding quality of work and provide monetary awards.

This year 121 artists applied and 25 were awarded fellowships in the following categories: one Masters; 14 Established; and 10 Emerging. Because of limited programing due to COVID in some of the Division’s regular grant categories, the Division was able to allocate additional funds to the Fellowship categories, thereby enabling the Division to recognize more artists this year. 

Awards are given in three categories: $10,000 for the Masters Award, $6,000 for the Established Professional Award, and $3,000 for the Emerging Professional Award. Fellows are required to offer at least one exhibit or performance during the upcoming year, providing an opportunity for the public to experience their work. Additionally, the work of the Fellows will be featured in a group exhibition, Award Winners XXI at the Biggs Museum tentatively set for June 4-July 25, 2021.

“Individual Artist Fellowship grants provide the recognition and exposure that artists need to successfully promote their work,” said Paul Weagraff, director of Delaware Division of the Arts. “The financial award allows them to pursue advanced training, purchase equipment and materials, or fulfill other needs to advance their careers. The Division was pleased to be able to allocate some additional funds to the Fellowship categories this year, thereby enabling the Division to recognize more artists this year.”

Masters Award ($10,000)
  • Jennifer Margaret Barker, Newark, Music: Composition
Established Award ($6,000)
  • Fostina Dixon (Bear), Jazz: Performance
  • Howard Eberle (Lewes), Visual Arts: Painting
  • Knicoma Frederick (Wilmington), Folk Art: Visual Arts
  • Mara Gorman (Newark), Literature: Fiction
  • Eliezer Gutman (Wilmington), Music: Solo Recital
  • Harold Kalmus (Arden), Visual Arts: Crafts
  • Kim Klabe (Rehoboth Beach), Visual Arts: Works on Paper
  • Jack Knight (Long Neck), Visual Arts: Sculpture
  • Cassandra Lewis (Wilmington), Literature: Playwriting
  • Jame McCray (Smyrna), Dance: Choreography
  • Terry Miller (Milton), Literature: Creative Nonfiction
  • Jane C. Miller (Wilmington), Literature: Poetry
  • Richard Raw (Wilmington), Folk Art: Music
  • Eric Zippe (Wilmington), Visual Arts: Photography
Emerging Professional Award ($3,000)
  • Ann Marie Brzozowski (Wilmington), Literature: Fiction
  • Shari Dierkes (Clayton), Visual Arts: Crafts
  • Siobhan Duggan (Lewes), Visual Arts: Works on Paper
  • Denise Eno Ernest (Newark), Visual Arts: Painting
  • Jason Jellick (Wilmington), Visual Arts: Photography
  • Carrie Sz. Keane (Milton), Literature: Creative Nonfiction
  • Todd Kilgoe (Bear), Jazz: Composition
  • Jack Mackey (Rehoboth Beach), Literature: Poetry
  • Theresa Taylor (Dover), Folk Art: Visual Arts
  • Njideka Wiggins (Wilmington), Literature: Playwriting