Community Palette

Happy Holidays

December 24, 2017

Donald Trump may not like this headline but since I don’t know whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim or atheist saying “Happy Holidays” seems the appropriate and courteous thing to do.


I recognize even in this tumultuous world my life is blessed in so many ways. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, and most of all, great friends. Some of those friends meet each morning at Java House in Dupont where we debate the outrages of the previous day. Most of us live a life of what would be considered white privilege. We recognize that and maybe because of it try harder during the year to make a difference for others. Lawyers do pro-bono work and submit amicus briefs to the Supreme Court to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community; a professor teaches his students about the world so they have the knowledge to make a difference; environmentalists fight for a real response to climate change; State Department officials work, despite the current leadership, for human rights and to continue to have the United States hold people responsible for the war crimes they have committed. Together we marched for science, for equality, for the environment, for immigration and continue to support the ‘resistance.’


This year, because the world is in such turmoil in what is normally a season of joy and celebration, it’s sometimes hard to generate that feeling. We have ISIS, other terrorist groups and individuals creating chaos around the world and innocent people dying. Refugees are fleeing from war-torn countries and being turned away from borders including ours. Knowing all this it’s not difficult to believe we have lost the spirit and will that leads us to take responsibility for each other. That previous constant, especially true in this season, which led us to do everything we could to make life better for each other.


So to reclaim what should be a season of peace and joy, let’s strengthen the spirit of giving and sharing just a little more. Let each of us commit to doing at least one more thing to make life better for someone else. Surely that will give our spirits a lift. Donate money to an organization like SMYAL or the Trevor Project; donate a winter coat to a child who would otherwise be cold this winter; donate a toy to Toys for Tots so no child will go without a gift this season; reach out to a military family with someone serving who won’t be home for the holidays this year with warm thoughts and a big thank you; or just invite friends and family to enjoy a meal and donate the equivalent cost of the meal to an organization like So Others Might Eat (SOME). Surely doing one or more of these things will help reclaim the spirit of the season.


If enough of us do these things in some little way we will be countering the efforts of a president and Republican Congress that seem singularly dedicated to making life worse, instead of better, for those less fortunate. They seem to get joy from passing legislation and instituting policies that will hurt the working poor, minorities, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community. Instead of trying to make it easier for more people to vote they work to make it harder. Instead of using government to make life fairer and more equal they use the levers of power to make it less equal and more difficult for workers to reach the middle class. They refuse to pass a timely bill to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) potentially taking healthcare away from nearly nine million children. They keep trying to destroy healthcare for millions more covered by the Affordable Care Act whittling away at it even though they couldn’t pass legislation to repeal it. They brag about passing a tax reform package that will hurt the poor and middle-class and benefit the rich and corporations threatening to cut Medicaid and Medicare to pay for it.


So during this holiday season let us each commit to continue to resist and do so with actions both large and small as we wish each other joy and peace. Let’s recommit to caring for each other and sharing with each other the bounties we have; knowing that only by working together will we survive these difficult times and leave no one behind. From my house to yours in unity may we find ways to enjoy this holiday season and spread a little peace and joy.


This column was first printed in the Washington Blade.

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Michael Kahn Introduces the Cast of 'Hamlet'

December 14, 2017

The Shakespeare Theatre has a great tradition of introducing the casts of its plays as they begin rehearsals. That tradition continued on Tuesday evening with the introduction of the cast of Hamlet which opens on January 16th. I was fortunate to be there and have the opportunity to chat for a moment with the lead actor. 

 Federico Rodriquez (Horatio (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Federico Rodriquez (Horatio

There is a large and very impressive cast beginning with Hamlet himself, Michael Urie. Michael was last seen in DC in the award winning one man show Buyer and Cellar, about the mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement. He was hilarious just as he was on TV in Ugly Betty. He recently finished a stint in New York in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy where he got rave reviews. 

So what about his distinguished career sets him up to play Hamlet? If you ask his director, the extraordinary Michael Kahn who was also his teacher at Juilliard, it was his doing a scene from Hamlet in school with classmate, Jessica Chastain. 

Hamlet, who many consider the greatest character of Western literature confronts the meaning of life, the bonds and limits of flesh and blood, and the line between madness and inspiration. In the wake of his father’s abrupt death, Hamlet returns home from university to find his personal and political world changed as he never imagined it could—his mother remarried, his uncle on the throne and a world seemingly gone insane. When his father’s ghost appears and demands vengeance, the increasingly desperate Danish prince must decide: submit or resist. Accept or avenge. Live or die. 

Urie will be joined by some new to the STC stage, others very familiar, others from around the world and award-winning including Oyin Oladejo (Star Trek: Discovery) as Ophelia; Robert Joy (King Charles III) as Polonius; Alan Cox (Translations on Broadway) as Claudius; Federico Rodriguez as Horatio; Madeleine Potter (An Ideal Husband on Broadway) as Gertrude; Gregory Wooddell as Osric/Marcellus; Ryan Spahn as Rosencrantz and STC Affiliated Artist Keith Baxter as the Ghost.

Madeleine Potter (Gertrude) applauds Michael Urie (Hamlet) (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Madeleine Potter (Gertrude) applauds Michael Urie (Hamlet)

Kahn said, “I have been eager to explore this masterpiece with Michael Urie as Hamlet. Now that we have assembled such a deeply talented cast to fill the world around him, I know we are going to see some extraordinary performances. I am happy to welcome back some STC veterans and other gifted artists who will make their debut on our main stage.” He went on to say “As artistic director I feel a responsibility to produce classical theatre that resonates with modern audiences and speaks to people across cultures and generations. I want to ignite conversation. Hamlet is a play about the elusiveness of certainty and the ambivalent nature of revenge, about trust, doubt and finding the truth—or not. I’m curious to see how today’s audiences respond to it.” 

Audiences will find what I know will be an exciting evening in the theater enhanced because of the productions’ award winning design and artistic team which includes John Coyne (Set Designer; Broken Chord, the team of Sound Designer Daniel Baker and Composer Aaron Meicht; Costume Designer Jess Goldstein; Lighting Designer Yi Zhao; Fight Choreographer David Leong; Voice & Text Coach Lisa Beley; Assistant Director, Craig Baldwin; Production Stage Manager Joseph Smelser; Assistant Stage Manager, Rebecca Shipman.


Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedy will run January 16–February 25, 2018 at Sidney Harman Hall

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Spotlight on ARTS Education: A DC Commission on the ARTS and Humanities Program

December 11, 2017

Kudos to Rhona Wolfe Friedman, a member of the DC ARTS and Humanities Commission, for organizing an amazing program at the Library of Congress. For those who don’t know her Rhona is a lawyer and real estate agent in DC who has spent many years fighting for better ARTS programs and curriculum in DC schools. She is passionate and works tirelessly to ensure the ARTS get their appropriate due in our city.

This program, with a standing room only audience, was held in the Montpellier room at the Madison building of the Library of Congress. We were welcomed by Susan Vita who is head of the music division at the library. She gave an overview of what is available to the public at the library across all their collections and it is stunning how broad and deep their collection is. 

Then Rhona welcomed everyone on behalf of the Commission and introduced Jane Chu who is the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts. She spoke eloquently about what the arts mean to the nation and how important they are to each individual throughout our lives. We can only hope her passion translates to an administration that clearly has no appreciation of the arts. 

Rhona Wolfe Friedman (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Rhona Wolfe Friedman

The first panel in the program titled Innovation, Access and Equity in ARTS Education was ably moderated by Mario Rossero who heads the arts education program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Panelists included Dr. Alexander Panteyat, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He spoke about how research shows music is a language that can help everyone from children to adults do better in every facet of their lives. He gave a beautiful violin performance “Meditation from the Opera Thais”. Christopher Morgan from Dance Place spoke of how his organization works within the community to bring people together and continues to provide programming for hundreds of young people. Nathan Diamond, DC Public Schools, spoke about the new programs currently in the schools. He talked about how youngsters are encouraged to both learn about and also participate in the arts from a very young age. He agreed the arts are a language that needs to be introduced to children at a young age. He talked about a music program that is allowing every child to not only listen to music but to participate in composing music from the earliest grades. He then introduced an amazing young man, Jose Andre Montano who is a sixth grader at the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. But much more he is a jazz pianist who has performed at the Kennedy Center and around the nation. His music bridges jazz, rock, blues, bossa nova, and more. He was born in Bolivia and taught himself to play at a young age. He is a prodigy and a totally charming young man. He played two pieces he composed and received a well-deserved standing ovation. The final panelist was Asha Gardner, a twenty-two year old young woman who is a rising lyricist/spoken word artist who is a third generation Washingtonian. She has performed with Alice Walker, Rachel Mckibbens and Grammy nominated Carolyn Malachi. She works with the Split the Rock program in DC schools and shared how she succeeded in school through the arts. She is a shining example of a DC school graduate who now comes back to work in the schools helping other students to succeed. 

At the conclusion of the first panel Library of Congress staff shared information on artifacts at the library and shared materials they have for teachers to use which led into the second panel Creativity and Inspiration Using Primary Source Materials in Arts Education Programs. This part of the program was moderated by Lee Ann Potter, Library of Congress and panelists included Erin Elman, University of the Arts; Johanna Siebert, National Association for Music Education; Katherine Tuchman, Library of Congress; Sasha Dowdy, Library of Congress; and Erin Durham. University of Maryland –musical story time performance.

Once again congratulations to Rhona Wolfe Friedman and the Arts and Humanities Commission for putting on such a great program. It was clear everyone who attended walked away with something that would help them as they worked with students and members of the community in every possible area of the ARTS. 

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