Telling their stories

Adam Wade, on his awkward adolescence, in "The Adam Wade From N.H. Show."
Adam Wade, on his awkward adolescence, in "The Adam Wade From N.H. Show." (MINDY TUCKER)

The 10th First Person Festival shares tales both funny and profound. Page XX

Posted: November 17, 2011

In today's cacophony of opinions and information, one person's voice can easily be lost. Yet some voices still rise above the rest, with stories of struggle, survival, and salvation demanding to be heard.

Some of these storytellers will tell their tales at the 10th Anniversary First Person Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art, which began Thursday and continues through Nov. 20 mostly at venues in Old City and offered free or at low cost.

This year, the festival celebrates storytelling that recounts the beauty and tragedy of life, as experienced by real people.

"Telling stories is our basic way of interacting, but it's also developing into something more akin to a crafted discipline," says Vicki Solot, founder of First Person Arts and executive director of the festival.

The lineup unites different ages, genders, cultures, and countries. "The goal is to empower and connect people through real-life experience," Solot says.

On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., "The SHE Project" honors women of color who endure daily acts of racism and ethnic stereotyping. The performance will embrace multiple forms of storytelling, hip-hop rhyme, spoken-word poetry and song. It will be led by Michelle Myers, founding member of the Asian American spoken-word group Yellow Rage, with participants Hmong folk poet Kao Kue, dancer Minh Nguyen and hip-hop artist Native Son.

"Finding the Light Within," at 1 p.m. Sunday, features the stories of survivors trying to rebuild their lives after suicide attempts.

"In these times," Solot says, "it seems like most people are addressing issues of adversity. So we try to give voice to people who don't have a voice, like to young people growing up in the inner city who will say tough things that others might not. We have incorporated previously unheard and seldom heard voices this year, which is a natural outgrowth of what we've done before."

The Philly Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM) will perform for the first time as part of the festival at the Painted Bride Art Center at 7 p.m. next Friday. The young poets also will perform with Spoken Soul 215, an adult spoken-word collective, in the hope of finding a common voice between the young and the old.

"We want to show people that although they're of different ages, they can learn from each other," says Greg Corbin, the movement's founder and executive director. "We have been regressing as a community because of this generation gap. There is a lack of communication over health-care reform, taxes, and unemployment. The young and old are saying different things."

Beyond the mediums of storytelling and spoken word, the message of overcoming struggle resonates within the theater, film, and visual arts - all represented in the festival.

In theater, Liberty City, at 8 p.m. Friday, traces April Yvette Thompson's difficult coming-of-age amid the boiling racial tensions of 1970s Miami, and Lisa Ramirez's Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland), at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, navigates the pitfalls of the mother-child-nanny relationship. Both are one-woman shows. Beaut, at 8:30 p.m. Monday, interweaves two one-man shows into one singular story of growing up gay in conservative Midwestern families.

In film, the documentary My So-Called Enemy, at 6 p.m. Thursday, deals with young Israeli and Palestinian girls struggling to reconcile their unexpected friendships with each other with their preconceived notions of the "enemy." At 1 p.m. Nov. 20, the critically acclaimed documentary A Small Act tells the success story of a Kenyan student sponsored by a Swedish schoolteacher, whose $15 monthly donation would take the student to Harvard Law School and the United Nations.

In the realm of visual arts, the "Seeing Through Young Eyes" exhibit portrays the realities of growing up in the city, through a combination of photography and poetry by students of Philadelphia public and charter schools. The exhibit will run throughout the festival.

Sunday at 7 p.m., poet Sonia Sánchez will open "Peace Is a Haiku Song," a visual arts and poetry project that is a collaboration between First Person Arts and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Sánchez will write a haiku about peace and encourage audience members to write their own during the session at Christ Church Sanctuary. The final collaborative haiku will be part of an art installation designed by Anthony Campuzano that commemorates the festival's 10th anniversary. It will be displayed at Christ Church initially.

Because struggle is painful, says Solot, the festival seeks to celebrate stories that "address it in affirming ways." Humor is the most reliable remedy for suffering in all its forms, be it the portrayal of an awkward adolescence in The Adam Wade from N.H. Show at 8:30 p.m. Friday, or an unexpected bout of social media unpopularity in Will You Accept This Friend Request? at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at Khyber Upstairs. Sexual growing pains are turned into comedy in Stripped Stories at 10 p.m. next Friday.

"We've looked for things that are uplifting, encouraging, funny, and fun," Solot says. ". . . We need hope to be able to step out of our difficult lives to some extent, and to be reminded of what's good in the world."

First Person Festival

The 10th-anniversary festival continues through Nov. 20 in Old City. Many events are free or $15-$45. Tickets can be purchased at the festival box office at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St.; at venues 30 minutes before start time; by calling 267-402-2055; or online at

Contact staff writer Maki Somosot at 215-854-5269 or

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