First Person Arts Festival observes 10th anniversary

Posted: November 07, 2011

EVERYONE IS a storyteller. When you go on a date, a job interview or chat with the guy standing next to you in the elevator, your daily conversations are made up of stories.

To local playwright R. Eric Thomas, this is why the First Person Arts Festival has thrived in Philadelphia. Its 10th-anniversary season begins Thursday.

"First Person . . . fills a common need to make people feel like they are a part of something bigger and to share their experience," said Thomas, who started telling his own stories at First Person Arts events four years ago. He'll debut his first one-man show, "Will You Accept This Friend Request?" at the festival next week.

First Person is the brainchild of executive director Vicki Solot. Storytelling is her "personal obsession," but she sees value beyond her own interest. We connect to others through what we share. Take "Beaut," two one-man shows woven together by local performers Thomas Choinacky and John Jarboe, who discuss growing up in strict Catholic households in the Midwest.

Storytelling is also a tool for understanding. "Things that happened aren't just dates, places and major battlefields, but personal histories," Solot said.

The Black Power movement comes alive in the one-woman play "Liberty City," beginning Friday. April Yvette Thompson takes on different characters to convey her childhood in '70s Miami.

As always, First Person Arts is not a passive experience, but one with workshops and interactive events, notably a partnership with the Mural Arts Program and powerhouse poet Sonia Sanchez called "Peace Is a Haiku Song," a free event taking place on Nov. 13.

Sanchez will debut a new haiku and lead a haiku-writing workshop where participants can submit haiku for an art installation. (More at muralarts.org/peace.)

Solot credits the Internet for the popularity of personal storytelling; Facebook and Twitter make self-disclosure feel natural. Thomas' show, about being unlikable online, underlines that.

Telling stories through First Person Arts has transformed Thomas' life and work, he said. "It has to do with telling the extraordinary power of telling the truth. Sometimes it's funny and sometimes it's painful but it's all true."


First Person Arts Festival, various locations, Nov. 10-20, free-$125, firstpersonarts.org.

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