REVIEW: First Person Arts' Summer Grand Slam and Block Party
Words by Julia Askenase | Photos by Carolyn HuckabayAt First Person Arts' first-ever Summer Grand Slam and BBQ, no one held anything back. After filling up on indulgently scrumptious barbecue from Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse (pulled chicken, homestyle mac 'n' cheese, mashed sweet potatoes ... catch my drift?) the audience packed into the Painted Bride's main theater, which either lacked AC entirely or wasn't circulating enough air to reach all the glistening attendees. The heat became a common talking point throughout the evening ("I'm not even wearing Spanx," shared hilarious host Katonya Mosley), but the show pressed on. Storytellers interpreted the event's "Show and Tell" prompt loosely, and sometimes the actual "show" aspect became buried in the details. If there was an engaging enough narrative, though, it usually didn't matter. Judges awarded each storyteller two scores on a one to 10 for content and presentation. More so than straying from to the theme, storytellers were docked points for talking over the 5 minute time limit. The judges seemed a bit finicky and unpredictable, and audience members weren't afraid to boo if they disagreed on scores. Embarrassing or comical sexual encounters became a common thread through many stories, but others centered topics as disparate as a white guy's devotion to gangsta rap and an actress' demoralizing experience with a Russian theater coach. Stories reached greatest heights when the participant could weave in wit and creativity into even the lesser details. R. Eric Thomas, a Philadelphia playwright, exemplified this skill when recounting an agonizing family roadtrip in the Northwest. Without missing a beat, he added in subtle but hilarious and relevant side comments about his family's idiosyncrasies like how much is mother loathes social networking ("Are you tweeting on the Facebook?") or his parents' tendency to take pictures of one another taking pictures of landmarks ("We're meta like that.") Smith ended up winning Best Content, with Best Presentation going to Brenda Gwafila, who told an animated account of her artificial insemination. But Olga Schmutz won the overall title "Best Storyteller in Philadelphia" for her detailed explanation of introducing her lovers to her strap-on, named Carlitos. Like I said, no one held anything back.