“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM), Ep. 13: “Arts as Action” edition, with Dana Embree, Stephanie V. McKee & Sunni Patterson, and Paul Oswell & Benjamin Hoffman

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In response to Friday’s (Jan. 20) inauguration, we wanted to take a look at artistic and creative instruction as a response to political and cultural change. Throughout New Orleans and the rest of the country, we’ve seen creative people finding their own voice in terms of protest and action. There’s the New Orleans version of the Women’s March on Washington and the March for Revolution over in Faubourg Marigny. There was Friday’s J20Nola: Anti Trump Inauguration Rally & March. And plenty of other shows that definitely will infuse the night with plenty of protest themes.

So I welcomed a range of guests to this, our “Arts as Action Episode,” to discuss their works — sometimes directly related to the topic, or just because their current work served as a nice jumping-off point.

To that end, we welcomed as our guests:

Director Stephanie V. McKee and poet Sunni Patterson, two of the creative forces behind Junebug Productions’ current show, “Gomela/to return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue,” which opened this weekend over at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. (Sunni’s work, “Black Back,” opens the show, and I’ve got a video of the entire poem in this post.

Dana Marie Embree, longtime New Orleans-based costume designer for stage and screen and inspirational figure in the very popular, very creative, very artistic and often politically satirical Krewe of ‘tit Rex — which rolls, by the way, on Saturday, Feb. 18. (You can see it if you can crouch low enough.) I pre-recorded our interview so Dana could participate in today’s Women’s March New Orleans.

Paul Oswell and Benjamin Hoffman, co-producers of the weekly “Local Uproar” comedy show at the AllWays Lounge. On Saturday they welcomed Andrew Healan, host of “WHAT A JOKE,” a national comedy festival taking place in 30-plus cities on inauguration weekend to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union — as part of Local Uproar’s weekly show.

SEGMENT ONE: Dana Marie Embree

Dana Marie Embree has parlayed her love of history and dress up into a career, having over 30 years of experience in styling and design for New Orleans, film and television — including costume design credit on several independent films. Embree also studied draping, pattern-making, design techniques at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY. She reproduces historic costume and fantasy fashion for film and personal clientele. She’s also familiar to many in New Orleans’ cultural community through her work with the Krewe of ’tit Rex, which marches this Carnival season on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 5 p.m. from the St. Roch neighborhood into Faubourg Marigny. Learn more about her work at http://www.danamarieembree.com.

I met with Dana in her Mid-City home, and I asked her to place the election of Donald Trump into her own personal historical context.

Our next guests are two of the principals behind a very cool new performance by Junebug Productions — director Stephanie V. McKee and poet Sunni Patterson. They opened their new production, “Gomela/to return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue” over at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center on Thursday and it runs through Jan. 29. It’s an amazing combination of dance, spoken word and music.

Stephanie V. McKee is the executive artistic director of Junebug Productions. She’s a performer, choreographer, educator, facilitator and cultural organizer born in Picayune, Mississippi and raised in New Orleans. She is the founder of Moving Stories Dance Project, an organization committed to dance education that provides opportunities for dancers and choreographers to showcase their talents. In 2007, she was awarded The Academy of Educational Development/New Voices Fellowship, an award for emerging leaders. For the past 20 years Ms. McKee has been involved with Junebug Productions as an artist and educator. Most recently she served as Associate Artistic Director of the first annual Homecoming Project 2011, a place-based performance project that addresses the Right of Return and what home means to communities in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Sunni Patterson hails from New Orleans, and draws upon her local origins, as well as her holistic view on life, to shape her art. She has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, performed at major spoken word venues throughout the country, and is a certified instructor of Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Please, please, please watch the video I shot of her reciting her poem, “Black Back” in the preview post I did for PopSmartNOLA.com

Now, I already posted a podcast interview with them on PopSmartNOLA.com that focused more heavily on the show itself, and that post also includes that video of Sunni Patterson and her poem. But for this show, I wanted to focus the conversation more specifically about how artists like McKee (who speaks first here) and Patterson respond creatively under political circumstances like these.

For our final segment for this, I wanted to hopefully end things with a chuckle. And so I welcomed:

Paul Oswell, a New Orleans-based writer, journalist and comedian. He writes for The Guardian US and co-produces two weekly comedy showcases in New Orleans: “Local Uproar” at the AllWays Lounge and “Night Church” at Sidney’s Saloon.

Benjamin Hoffman, a comedian in New Orleans who co-hosts and produces two weekly showcases, Night Church and Local Uproar. Most consider him a sex symbol.

(LEARN MORE: 16 Comedians on the Role of Comedy During a Trump Administration/Vulture)

Together they welcomed Andrew Healan and the touring “What a Joke” comedy festival Saturday the AllWays Lounge, benefiting the American Civil Liberties Union.

(LEARN MORE: Comic Hero: Why Donald Trump’s Candid Rhetoric Resonates With Supporters Listen)

We also got a chance to feature Margie Perez and her new CD, “Love Is All,” which she will feature at her show tonight (Sunday, Jan. 22) at d.b.a. Check it out at the end of the show, and thanks, Margie!

Last week, I introduced a new segment on “PopSmart NOLA,” and I call it “Relevant Link,” in which I share an interesting story I’ve come across over the past week. I know it’s only a week old, but this week I’d like to divert a little in the interpretation of the title segment and direct you to a link to take action:

Quoting here from an email I received Thursday from the Arts Council of New Orleans: “On the eve of Donald Trump’s Inauguration, The Hill newspaper reported that Trump Transition Team staff intend to recommend that the President-elect eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This decades-old proposal from the politically conservative Heritage Foundation and House Republican Study Committee is expected to be included in this year’s Congressional House Budget Resolution, as it has in previous years. However, it would be much more serious if it were also proposed by the Trump Administration. Legislative and executive branch action will start moving very quickly now. We need everyone to be prepared, organized, and educated about what’s at stake. Please help us recruit more free Arts Action Fund members, spread the word, and raise some money to support our grassroots activities. The Arts Action Fund will continue sending important updates to you.”

You can take the following four steps, which include links! (Yea, links.)

  1. Share this page with your personal network. Ask at least five of your friends to join the Arts Action Fund for FREE.
  2. Post onFacebook and Twitter to help rally national support to save the NEA. There is strength in numbers and your social media friends can help.
  3. Contribute to the Arts Action Fund to help fund our grassroots advocacy campaign to keep the arts alive.
  4. Register for the Arts Advocacy Dayconference on Capitol Hill on March 20-21, 2017.

OK, I lied. I did have a relevant link. For those intrigued by the Shen Yun performance at the Mahalia Jackson Theater this weekend, I offer this in-depth look at the politics (and seemingly cult-like background) of the New York-based performance troupe — courtesy the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, with this excerpt:

Falun Dafa, often used interchangeably with the term Falun Gong, is the organizational structure behind the practice. Practitioners bristle at being called a cult. But some of their communication strategies carry a strong whiff of cult-like control issues, including avoidance of media requests to explain their side (attempts to reach Shen Yun for this story were unanswered), stringent policing of images that forced the use of a five-year-old Associated Press photo to accompany this story, vague platitudes in lieu of specific descriptions and the assertion that their made-in-America show is a more authentic ambassador of “5,000 years of Chinese culture” than cultural-entertainment exports actually based in China. “The thing that irritates Chinese people everywhere is the specious claim that they’re representing traditional culture,” Ownby said. “They don’t, but they don’t do any harm. I grew up among seven Baptists, and they had strange beliefs, too.”

Interesting stuff. Check out the Relevant Link here.

I want to remind everyone that if you like what you hear on “PopSmart NOLA,” we’re here every Saturday from 3-4 p.m. on WHIV (102.3 FM). You can listen to the archived, podcast version of the show on my SoundCloud account, “dlsnola.” Also, you can visit the website at popsmartnola.com, and like our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram at “@popsmartnola” and I’m yammering away on Twitter at @dlsnola504.

Also, if you like our show, we’d love your support in the form of underwriting; email me at dlsnola@gmail.com for more info.

Thanks again for joining us, y’all. For “PopSmart NOLA,” I’m David Lee Simmons, reminding everyone to keep the intelligent discussion going.

BONUS: Check out Stephanie V. McKee and Sunni Patterson discussing “Gomela” above, and Sunni reciting “Back Black” below!)

INTERVIEW: Stephanie V. McKee and Sunni Patterson discuss “Gomela,” at Ashé Powerhouse Theater

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WHAT: Junebug Productions’ presentation of dance, spoken-word and music as an examination of space and place
WHEN: Jan. 19-22 & Jan. 26-29
WHERE: Ashé Powerhouse Theater (1731 Baronne St.)
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

“Gomela/to return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue” is an intriguing collaboration developed by poet Sunni Patterson, dancers Kesha McKeyKai KnightJeremy Guyton, and drummer Jawara A. Simon and directed by Stephanie V. McKee. The show runs this weekend and next (Jan. 19-22 and Jan. 22-26) at Ashé Powerhouse Theater. Billed as a a journey through time and space, “Gomela” is another intriguing exploration of the African Diaspora one comes to expect from Junebug Productions.

Pulling from the Bantu word “gomela,” meaning “to go back to/to return,” the show promises a mix of percussive music and storytelling that connects Africa’s past and present traditions that include the use of spoken word, hip-hop and jazz. There are two dual themes at work here: “It illuminates ‘Place Matters’ — gentrification and the ‘Right of Return’ of New Orleanians displaced after Katrina; and Black Lives Matter — the beauty and resilience of black people, past and present,” the release states. The show, it continues:

… is an experience of collective memories passed down from generation to generation, a tapestry woven by a group of multi-disciplinary artists who represent the diversity of African Americans who call New Orleans home. “Gomela” is based on hope, survival, courage and the resilience that exists in the face of oppression. It is about the heartbeat of a people that will never die, the culture and traditions that continue to evolve, grow and survive the test of time.”

The production crew features lighting designer Evan Spigelman, sound designer Muthi Reed, projection designer Jason Foster, costume designer Janese Brooks-Galathe of Aya Designs and recorded music by trumpeter Troy Sawyer and singer Sula Janet Evans of Zion Trinity.

Here McKee and Patterson discuss this collaboration.

There are a lot of great moments in the interview, but Patterson in particular was eloquent when speaking about the duality of trauma and celebration in the show: “There’s still a lot to celebrate, and I don’t think that, that has to get lost while we are remembering trauma, while we are addressing trauma, while we are calling out oppression, while we are calling out injustice … I’m always reminded of Lucille Clifton and her poem (‘Won’t You Come Celebrate with Me’: ‘Every day something has tried to kill me and has failed.’”

Patterson was also kind enough to recite her mesmerizing poem “Black Back.” Check out the video of that in this post.

NOTES: The podcast audio incorrectly states the second weekend runs through Jan. 26; it runs through Jan. 29. Also, McKee and Patterson will discuss the show as well as artistic and creative expression in a Trump presidency on the next episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM), from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.