Stories that truly matter on the agenda at First Person Arts Festival

For the past 18 years, the First Person Arts Film Festival has brought provocative think pieces to the stage

Girl holds a microphone
The annual First Person Arts Festival returns for its 18th season beginning Nov. 3. This year’s focal point will be the whistleblowers and storytellers of sexual assault. | Image: Forja Mx

For the past 18 years, the First Person Arts Film Festival has brought provocative think pieces to the stage for Philadelphia’s viewing pleasure.

It’s a tireless effort compiled by a tiny collaborative who for nearly 20 years has delivered great storytelling across multiple topics. It’s a trait that emerges from its routine story slams, and colorful ensemble of guest speakers, writers and actors on any given night, but arguably its the level of documentary art that goes into the festival that puts FPA on the map. 

This year, its annual two-week festival beginning Nov. 3 is comprised of four main themes, encompassing over 20 events: Women on the Revolution, Immortal, Becoming Philadelphia and its popular StorySlam series including a camp for beginners looking to tell their story across topics. 

Looking at the rundown of events, the highlight of the First Person Arts Festival will assuredly be its marquee show, called #IMNOJANEDOE. This event will feature stories from survivors of sexual assault and a discussion with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Megan Twohey, who broke the doors off the Harvey Weinstein case.

In advance of all of these shows, we caught up with Jamie Brunson, the executive director of First Person Arts, and asked what Philly can expect from this year’s festival and just how inspired we’ll all be to become storytellers in our own right once the dust settles on Year No. 18. 

How much planning goes into the First Person Arts Festival and is there always an overarching theme, or does FPA  just search for the best content to convey?

Oh my gosh! Our team works tirelessly on the festival all year. The theme for this year’s is Transformed. We looked for compelling stories that changed the person and the spaces around them. 

What was the impetus into turning this into its own annual festival, and did the success of Fringe in Philadelphia fuel decision making? 

This will be our 18th annual festival. In fact, the festival was our first program back in 2001. It’s the only one in the world that features true personal stories told across genres — no myths or fables for us! It’s all right here in Philly.

Which show or shows should festival goers get excited about?  

I must say that I’m really excited about #IMNOJANEDOE. Most of us can easily name Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, etc. But can we as easily name the women who risked it all to spark a movement? Or the journalists that amplified their voices?  This event opens the festival and celebrates the voice of a woman out to change the world. Megan Twohey, [the co-author of “She Said,” a New York Times Bestseller], will be with us along with Jim DeRogatis, author of “Soulless: The Case Against R.Kelly.” We’ll also have a number of survivors a part of this event as well. 

I would also recommend everyone to check out our workshops that we have. If you’ve ever been interested in storytelling, these workshops are designed to help you sharpen your skills. Our “Becoming Philadelphia” series highlights stories from the people in our very own neighborhoods in Philly — this will be an exciting exchange! And of course our StorySlams, they’re a crowd favorite and always sell out. Honestly, you shouldn’t miss anything — there’s something for everyone!

What do you hope is the one takeaway festival goers leave with? 

We want every audience member to know that they are important. Their voice is meaningful and when they use it, they can [create serious] change. 

First Person Arts Festival | Nov. 3-17, Times, cost and locations vary. firstpersonarts.org/Festival  

A stroll through the street of Old City means so much more when their packed for the annual Old City Fest, coming this year on Oct. 13. | Image courtesy: Visit Philadelphia

ALL THE FESTIVALS

Be better than Oktoberfest. This fall, get some culture, get inspired or just get outside and enjoy the weather courtesy of these upcoming events happening right into the winter months. 

OutFest

Our beautiful city happens to be the home of the world’s largest National Coming Out Day festival. Gather in the Gayborhood to declare, loud and proud, how good it feels to just be yourself. Extravagant celebrations along twelve city blocks will include performances from drag queens, live music and high-heel races. | Oct. 13. 12 pm. Free. Locations vary. phillygaypride.org

Old City Fest

The square mile historic Old City resides was the bustling center of Philadelphia a couple hundred years ago. It remains an important neighborhood, where we go every year for this festival to celebrate art, music, culture, fashion, food and all the other things Philadelphians are so great at. You can get an impression of our creativity by looking in any other neighborhood, but there’s a reason why Old City remains a historical epicenter. | Oct. 13. 11 am. Free. 3rd and Arch Sts. Oldcitydistrict.org

PHS Presents: Sip & Seed

Become a CBD expert as you learn about the hemp plant, its health benefits and how to optimize growth and production at home from Honest Tom, who will also be selling CBD oils. Get the 411 on the importance of soil health from PHS Meadowbrook Farm grower John Rapini. Sample edible CBD fare from Chef Jennifer Zavala and CBD-infused botanical cocktails by the PHS Pop Up Garden’s Melissa Torre. | Oct. 21, 6-8 p.m. $25 (pre-registration not required) PHS Pop-Up Garden, 15th and South Sts. phsonline.org

East Passyunk Fall Fest

The perfect fall-themed festival to bring the kids to. Decorate some pumpkins, sit down for story time and go for a scavenger hunt with your little ones. Feel free to splurge on some food and drink specials and enjoy a live performance from local music group Ben and Dina. There’s something to do for every age and interest. | Oct. 26. 11 am. Free. Locations vary along E. Passyunk Ave. facebook.com

Mischief at the Mutter

There’s no better place to spend Halloween than at a museum all about death. This spooky fest has been turning the party for five years with shocking circus performers, loud DJs and sinfully delicious food and drinks. Participate in the second annual Mutter costume contest, which is only for the most ghastly of ghouls. | Oct. 31. 6:30 pm. $50. Mutter Museum, 19 S. 22nd St. eventbrite.com

Philly Bike Expo

There are two kinds of people: bike riders who swerve through traffic, and those stuck in traffic who curse the bike riders. You have to admit, though, people who cycle around the city have the right idea. This is the perfect opportunity for bike enthusiasts to gather and celebrate all that make their hobby so much fun and so much better for the environment. | Nov. 2-3. 10 am. $15-$25. Pennsylvania Convention Center, 1101 Arch St. phillybikeexpo.com

Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

Diverse talent will be all over the big screen during this annual film festival. Run by a volunteer, non-profit organization, the PAAFF seeks to expose all Philadelphians to the incredible talents of our neighbors. The program of films has been released, so familiarize yourself with some of these groundbreaking filmmakers before it starts. | Nov. 7-17. 7 pm. Prices vary. Locations vary.  phillyasianfilmfest.org

All That Jazz Art Festival

Local jazz musicians’ own visual art will be put on display at this exclusive festival. They’re here to show they can do even more than play some awesome music — they can create paintings, collages and drawings of top tier. Invite everyone you know to come out and support local creators and organizations that continue to enrich our city with art. | Nov. 16. 4 pm. Free. Philly Art Collective, 253 N. 3rd St. eventbrite.com

Philly Zine Fest

This festival has been bringing together small print artists since 2002. Whether you’re one of them or not, come appreciate the creativity of those who print their work in these alternative zines. A diverse community of non-binary, trans/gender-queer and minority artists are encouraged to come and make their underrepresented work known to all. | Nov. 16-17. 12 pm. Free. The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. phillyzinefest.tumblr.com

Feminist Flea Market and Craft Fair

Give your support directly to a good cause as you shop from over 100 vendors who are all women/trans/gender non-conforming. Proceeds will be donated to WOAR/ Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence. This is a cause that anybody could — and should — lend their support to. | Dec. 7. 10 am. $5. Bok, 1901 S. 9th St. housecatpresents.ticketleap.com

West Craft Fest

This art-centric festival has expanded the celebration to two days this year. It’s all happening just in time to give you the chance to pick up some holiday-themed items from local artisans. It’s always nice to hand your money over to a local who will appreciate it, rather than giving it to Home Goods or T.J. Maxx. These artists will have more unique wares to offer, anyway. | Dec. 7-8. 10 am. Free. The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. westcraftfest.wixsite.com

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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.