The 15th annual First Person Arts Festival wants every perspective

Nimisha Ladva will perform her solo show at this year's First Person Arts Festival. (Photo by Jen Cleary)

This year, among many stories at the First Person Arts Festival, it’s especially appropriate that immigrants are sharing theirs.

“I think with the election season, I started to hear a lot about immigrants, and who they are, and what they’re like, and how we should get rid of them, and have fewer of them, and be resentful of them,” said Nimisha Ladva, who will be performing her one-woman show, Uninvited Girl: An Immigrant Story. “All of this stuff started to make me very uncomfortable, because I’m not just an immigrant. I’ve spent some time being an undocumented immigrant.”

The First Person Arts Festival features both well-known artists and aspiring storytellers on stages throughout Philadelphia. This year, the festival will be kicking off its 15th season on November 7. Throughout the festival, storytelling takes on many forms, including theater, stand-up storytelling, dance, and more.

First person plural

“Our festival is unique in that we only deal with first person stories, true stories told across multiple genres,” said First Person Arts executive director Jamie J. Brunson.

Brunson said that the First Person Arts staff values diverse perspectives that shatter misconceptions. So this year’s festival showcases stories ranging from the election and immigration to family histories and personal challenges.

Some of the upcoming highlights include Sincerely, Philadelphia: A Letter to Our New President, featuring Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher; i found god in myself: a Conversation with Ntozake Shange; Sex for Sale: True Stories from the World's Oldest Professionand Hi, Are You Single? The Festival will also feature the traditional First Person Arts Grand Slam, and the first-ever All Star Slam

“It’s important that the viewpoints be plural. That we hear from all kind of people. Everybody has a story, but everyone doesn’t have the stage to tell their story,” said Brunson.

Ladva has been involved with First Person Arts since the organization’s inception. A writer by trade, she has found joy in the “magic” of sharing in person with a live audience.

“There’s some transaction that happens between the writer, the performer, and the audience that does feel transformative,” she said.

Haverford College and the Leeway Foundation (a festival partner) supported the writing and production of her piece, she continued, as well as valuable input from director Edward Sobel.

Leisure and panic and your stories, too

Brunson said that the festival has grown over the past 15 years, while staying true to its exploration of current issues. That means inviting artists like Charlotte Bydwell, who graduated from Juilliard with a degree in dance, and has incorporated acting into her artistic practice. Bydwell will be performing Women of Leisure and Panic on November 14, a 45-minute dance/theater piece on the complexities of womanhood.

She said that the more she moves into the acting world, the more she uses physical theater through storytelling. The piece she will be premiering in Philadelphia has been in development for six years. It mixes an impression of leisure and ease with the panic that goes underneath, taking material from her own life as an emerging adult. It’s an honest but theatricalized portrayal of some very neurotic behavior, and Bydwell hopes this resonates for anyone beginning anew, or figuring out how to pursue a dream.

Like Ladva, Bydwell credits the team members that make her solo performance project possible. “As a solo artist, your team is your everything,” Bydwell said.

First Person Arts wants to reinforce the importance of the team and family elements within storytelling. Audience members will also be encouraged to share and record their own stories through the premiere of the Story Spark booth throughout the festival.

“We want folks to know that First Person Arts is not just an organization. We consider ourselves a family, and that once you come, you’re part of us for life. So we really, really, really want to meet new people and hear new stories,” said Brunson.

The First Person Arts Festival will take place from November 7 to November 19, 2016 at locations throughout Philadelphia. Buy tickets and check out the full schedule online.