The 18th annual First Person Arts Festival gets personal

3 minute read
Jill Mail performing at last year's First Person Arts Festival. (Photo by Johanna Austin)
Jill Mail performing at last year's First Person Arts Festival. (Photo by Johanna Austin)

Philadelphia’s intimate storytelling platform First Person Arts will kick off its 18th annual festival, a citywide event spanning two weeks, from November 3 to the 17. The festival aims to tackle monumental social and political issues with nuance and deeply personal examinations in the form of stories, dramatic performances, and poetry readings, bypassing the headlines and the hashtags to the place where empathy transgresses the line between actor and audience.

Elevating and centering voices

Women’s voices are particularly centered. #IMNOJANEDOE features Megan Twohey, the reporter who broke the Harvey Weinstein story and popularized the #MeToo movement ignited by Tarana Burke, yet two years after the viral hashtag engulfed social media, most of the attention has gone to the men who perpetrated crimes of sexual harassment and abuse, not the women who endured and rose above. #IMNOJANEDOE seeks to re-center the women at the heart of the movement with a series of their true personal stories.

Later in the festival, Engaging Males of Color: Coming Home brings the profoundly American problem of mass incarceration into Philadelphia’s back yard. Featuring hometown performers such as rapper Peedi Crakk and comedian Chris Cotton, the evening promises to find the hilarity and inspiration in coming home through the lens of men who’ve survived the American penal system and had to write new chapters for themselves on the other side. Expect to find humor in the most truly unexpected place in the world and stay tuned for each performer’s in-depth post-show interview.

Let's talk about sex

Fans of First Person Arts’ curated StorySlam series should be sure to check out the Erotic StorySlam: First Time for a raunchy experience that hopes to normalize all the sex we want and all the times we don’t want it. Executive Director Jamie Brunson, who curated the festival, deliberately added the show into a festival that uplifts the survivors of sexual assault, to show how significantly consent can alter a sexual experience. “I think it's also important to remember that sex can be a wonderful, natural experience when (truly) consensual. It can also be empowering in the most beautiful way. I didn't want us to lose sight of that.”

Brunson cultivated this year’s festival not only by paying attention to the big picture events that catapult change in the wider world, but by being a constant presence at Slams and other events, because before anything, First Person Arts is a celebration of art and artists in Philadelphia. She hopes that the universality of the stories shared will connect across all of the intersections that inform our realities. “Hopefully everyone that attends a performance will find that in the stories are an authenticity that they can empathize with. For example, with #IMNOJANEDOE, if you haven't experienced sexual assault or harassment (I'm glad) but come for someone else that has. Be a support. Or Socrates Now—this show is really about staying true to yourself when the stakes are life or death. Coming Home (our show about citizens returning from incarceration), you may not have that exact experience—but I think everyone has had to start over again. Come listen to others talk about beginning anew.”

What, When, Where:

#IMNOJANEDOE will be performed Sunday, November 3 at 2pm at The Levitt Auditorium at UArts, Gershman Hall, 401 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, a wheelchair accessible venue.

Erotic StorySlam: First Time will be performed Monday, November 4 at 7pm at Time Restaurant, 1315 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

Engaging Men of Color: Coming Home will be performed Thursday, November 14 at 7pm at WHYY, 150 North 6th Street, Philadelphia, a wheelchair accessible venue.

For a full list of performances and times, visit First Person Arts online.

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