PW picks: The First Person Arts Festival

For 18 years, the First Person Arts Festival has been captivating audiences.

Woman singing into microphone
StorySlams are the bread and butter of what makes First Person Arts a success. Come see why on Nov. 6 and then again on Nov. 16 when the best storytellers go against each other to be crowned the best in the city. | Image courtesy: First Person Arts

For 18 years, the First Person Arts Festival has been captivating audiences.

As arguably one of the primary organizations focused on storytelling through presentations, discussion and education in the city, this event has served as the crown jewel of FPA’s existence. 

After writing this, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this will be my first time in attendance. Look, I know I can’t be the only one, so I’m helping us all out with the five events you must check out at this year’s festival, running Nov. 3-17. 

The theme here is “Transformation,” which I think is evident in each of the following.  

1. #IMNOJANEDOE

This is the marquee event of the entire festival this year. A night of stories from people who survived sexual assault and abuse and the journalists who broke the doors wide open on a number of high-profile cases. Locally, WHYY’s Annette John-Hall, who created the Cosby: Unraveled series, is part of a panel highlighted by Megan Twohey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who exposed Harvey Weinstein and his alleged decades of sexual misconduct and abuse to scores of actors in Hollywood. This event hopes to explain a number of things: the fear to come forward, the power of voice once you do and the aftermath of how life goes on after such a violation. It’s empowerment, all packed into one two-hour event. | Nov. 3, 2 p.m., $25. Levitt Auditorium, 401 S. Broad St. my.firstpersonarts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=63552

2. Jericho Brown

This renowned writer and poet explores the life of transients who settle in Philadelphia and how their differences make an ever-evolving city. Through a mix of development and subsequent gentrification, Philly is becoming a city where the term “melting pot” has perhaps never been more accurate. But what’s it like to settle into neighborhoods where the old ways aren’t used to new blood? As part of First Person Arts’ Becoming Philadelphia series of shows at this year’s festival, Brown will explore this and more through poetry that plans to make you think. | Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m. Free. Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library, 68 W. Chelten Ave. my.firstpersonarts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=63537 

3. StorySlams and the Grand Slam

These jawns are the bread and butter of First Person Arts. It’s where Philly gets to tell the story and may the best story win it all. This year, participants will choose from three themes: Romance, Comedy of Errors and Sexy; then go to town on a provocative piece of writing that fits in that theme. This is going down at the Ruba Club (416 Green St.) on Nov. 6. Now, the winners of FPA’s 2019 StorySlam season go head-to-head on Nov. 16 in front of a panel of celebrity judges to determine who of the lot is literally Philadelphia’s greatest storyteller. The winner will receive a $250 cash prize, free admission to StorySlams for life and the title of “Best Storyteller in Philadelphia.” | StorySlam, Nov. 6, 7 p.m. $15 ($17 at door). Ruba Club, 416 Green St. my.firstpersonarts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=63550 

GrandSlam, Nov. 16, 7 p.m. $25 ($27 at door). World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. my.firstpersonarts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=63551

4. I Killed the Cow

Larissa Marten is the actress and storyteller who will look to get the audience to look at sexual assault beyond the stigma through a humorous act that uses metaphor to portray assault and misconduct. In it, the New York-based Martens hopes that through reflection we can all look at abuse through a much different lens. I Killed the Cow is part of a nationwide tour for Martens, one that makes a timely pit stop here in Philly for the First Person Arts Festival. | Nov. 10, 7 p.m, $25 ($27 at door). African-American Museum of Philadelphia, 701 Arch St. my.firstpersonarts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=63554 

5. Engaging Males of Color

What does life look like after “rejoining society” following incarceration? I bet you wouldn’t ever think the word “hilarious” would ever be used as a description. It is and a group of formerly incarcerated men, led by comedian Ali Siddiq will explain how. All of the stories are true, deeply personal and plan to portray a real look at life after prison straight from the source. Considering how I think we all have this preconceived notion from what movies and TV shows have conveyed about life after prison, knowing just how true (or completely bullshit) that is for me, is high on the agenda. | Nov. 14, 7 p.m. Free. WHYY 150 N. 6th St. my.firstpersonarts.org/single/SelectSeating.aspx?p=63541 

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    Kerith Gabriel is the editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. Journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.