Friday, January 29, 2010

District Beat turns 100!

Wow, what a year it’s been. I’ve been blogging for just over 14 months now, and we’ve arrived at a very exciting milestone. This is officially our 100th post to District Beat! And what a long, strange trip it’s been, both personally and for the blog. In the past year, I got a new job, moved, and got engaged (the last of those items I hope goes to explain my slowness to post these last two months). And on the blog side, my intrepid team of reporters and I have brought you information about 110 shows (yes, I counted). We’ve written about all the plays, concerts, events, and food we could get our hands on (much to the chagrin of my budget and my waistline). We’ve written about the good, the bad, and the just plain weird. We've reported on all different kinds of arts, as well as important world events. This whole thing gone from being a crazy idea that TheClubScout and I had at a concert to a real thing, with real readers (who sometimes even comment). It has been an honor to be on this journey with all of you, and I can’t wait to share with you all our future journeys: both personal and artsy. But before we go any further, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to restate our thesis. As I look back on my first post, where I outlined my vision for this space, I realize that our concept has grown and changed in the last year. I think this is a great chance to take a step back and restate who we are and why we do what we do.

Let me start with what am not. I am not a reviewer. I have the greatest amount of respect for reviewers. I have learned so much from the pros and from our fellow bloggers. It has been a great honor to be taken under the wing of some of DC’s Veterans. I continue to learn so much from them. And we do, often review the performances that we see. But this is not the purpose of our posts. So what, then, is the purpose? If I’m not a reviewer, what am I?

I am an evangelist. Let’s ignore any connotations, either positive or negative of that word for the moment. Let us especially ignore all religious weight of it for a bit. In esscane though. evangelists just love something so much that they can’t help but share that excitement with you. Evangelists share their joy with everyone they meet. Evangelists have seem some sort of light, and they want you to see it too.

I love the DC arts scene. I feel so blessed to be living here and living here now. Did you know that we have more theater companies than any other metropolitan area outside of New York? How cool is that? That is my joy and my light, and I hope to share with you.

I noticed at a certain point, back when I thought that I was a reviewer, that I rarely if ever reamed a show. Instead, I always seemed to find something to like. At first, I thought this was a failing. A true critic, must be critical. It's in the name. But I was saying things like "well at least the set was cool," or "this might be some one's cup of tea, just not mine." Lady AWesome can tell you that I was really stressed because I thought that I would loose all my credibility as a reviewer if I was being too forgiving. And then I realized why I was going so easy on everyone and I forgave myself. I love going to shows, and so I am inclined to find the good in each one. And more importantly, I want you to love going to shows. So, for instance, if cool sets are your thing, far be it from me to discourage you from checking some out. I just want to be your information broker. I want to help you all find things that will get you as excited as some of them get me. So I'll find the good in almost anything, just in case that one little part was exactly what you were looking for.

I also realized something else about myself. While I am a general fan of the arts, apparently I am particularly passionate about theater. I have been a theater buff for as long as I can remember (I was the only kid in my kindergarten class who wanted to be a set designer. No joke). But I didn't realize, when I started this project, that I would want to focus on it so much. But, as a good evangelist, I know that theater won't ring every ones' bells. So I am trying to branch out, and to add in a few writers who can share their passions. Hopefully, you will find some light in all of this that makes you as happy as it makes us.

So there it is. That's who I am. I'm not a reviewer and I'm not a critic, though I do review and criticize. I have the utmost respect for those professions, but please tell me if I err to much in that direction. Our job is to get the word out, to share the love. We've got our ear to the street, so that we can share the beats that we hear with you. And if it strikes your fancy, leave us a comment. Tell us what you thought. That's what the comments section is for: It's a place where you too can evangelize about the things that moved you. And hopefully we can bring you along with us for the next show.

And the Beat goes on...


Friday, January 22, 2010

They did not Stick the landing.

Show: Stick Fly
Theater: Arena Stage, Crystal City. 1800 Bell St. Arlington, VA.
Metro: Crystal City (Blue and Yellow Lines). Directions here.
Genre: Living room Drama
Dates: Through February 7
Rating: 2.5/5 Starving Artists

The hardest shows to talk about are the ones about which I did not have strong feelings. I’d be happy to share with you my icy dislike or the warm glow of my enjoyment, but what do I say when I was just lukewarm? How do I describe a play that was good, but barely good enough?

As for our recent outing in this category, Stick Fly was… interesting. I was intrigued by the story, and wanted to see how it ended, but I can’t say it wasn’t predictable. The playwright, Lydia R. Diamond, tells the story of an particular American minority: the “Black Upper Class”. I liked where that was going. That’s a world I know nothing about, and I’m always excited to learn about people about whom I know nothing, especially in a theater. My favorite parts of the play were passing references to their world, like Jack and Jill, a sort of high society club for African American children. These little bits of culture were quite captivating, but they were too sparsely interspersed in a larger web that was much less captivating.

Lady AWesome and I were having trouble deciding what made it so bland. At first we thought it might be the acting, but I’ve decided that I was impressed by the acting, but not blown away. Amber Iman was particularly good as Cheryl, especially in the second act. Then we thought it might be the story, but that was intriguing enough. So we have come to the conclusion that it was the writing. The dialogue was hard to believe. People seemed to say exactly what they meant at any given time. Characters were able to receive hugely revelatory information and then joke about it in the next moment as if it were old news. Everybody seemed upset most of the time, but nobody talked as if they were surprised by much. The actors were doing the best they could with material that made them hard to believe. All this left us with a play that was just ok. Certainly not as great as the last few things we saw at Arena.

As is often true, my reviews of the uninteresting shows are the shortest. There are much better things playing right now, and I’ll write about them in a few days. But my next post is going to be VERY exciting, so stay tuned…

Monday, January 11, 2010

Music Monday: Utopia? That's Setting The Bar Pretty High...

Greetings DB readers and Happy New Year! The first month of the year can be the hardest; The holiday season is behind us, the biting cold has decided to stay, and musician's are all taking time off - so there are only a few shows to see.

Now that I've bummed you out, let me bring a ray of musical hope: DC has tons of amazing places to get warm and hear weekly performances. Many bars and coffee houses have great house bands who cannot be deterred by bad weather and the doldrums of the first quarter of the year. "I have not found them!" you say? "Where, oh where can these band be found?" you ask? You didn't think I'd keep you out in the cold, didja?

U-topia Bar and Grill (Link)

Utopia is located right in the heart of the U St. neighborhood's jazz corridor and is a welcoming cavern of music, drinks, and art. The medium sized two room establishment serves up date-worthy ambiance; red brick walls, dark woods, high ceilings, and candle light create nice ambiance. Drinks are reasonably priced and the beer selection will keep all but the Brickskeller crowd happy.

The crowd on the night of my visit was in their young 30's and was interested in music - the room where the band plays was full, but the other room (where conversation can more readily happen, but the band is a bit further away) was mostly empty.

As for the music - the important part of this review - Wayne Wilentz, who plays every Sunday and Thursday, was really great. Those who have read my last post know that I am a fan of "understandable jazz", or jazz that is accessible to those who need to tap or hum along to make sense of what they are hearing. I'm happy to report that Wayne's style is understandable while still complex (I know that sounded like an ad for whiskey, but I mean it) and is fun to listen to. He played a few songs that I have heard before as well as some that were new to me. I'd love to go back and check out his Brazilian Jazz Trio there on Thursdays.

I would absolutely recommend Sunday evening (in particular) at U-topia as a nice stop on a date or as a place to meet up with friends for a drink. I had no problem getting a seat or talking to my date and we enjoyed the experience immensely. We'll be going back.

A few insider tips:
1. Mondays are "industry night" and the bar gets a bit more clubby. Not recommended for those looking for a quiet evening.
2. Sundays and Tuesdays are the quietest for conversation. I have not yet been on a Tuesday, but I'll be going to hear Bill Heid (who plays every week) in the not-so-distant future.
3. They have a couch area in the back that is open on Fridays and Saturdays or by request during the week. Ask for this area to be away from the music (though it is audible anywhere in the bar), particularly if you are with a group of four or more.

Have you been there? Feel free to leave a comment below with your two-cents.

I'll be checking out more places with house bands soon. In the meantime, stay warm!

Here's a video of Wayne you might want to check out:

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