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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thing 61: Arts on Foot

Arts on Foot Festival 2007

Oh, DC. It is so good to be back. How I’d missed you.

The west coast is nice and all, but you have to drive everywhere and public transportation, if it exists, costs a lot more than Metro. Sure I got to eat at Chez Panisse and the Bi-Rite Creamery, but give me Central or Larry’s Homemade any day of the week. I’ll trade in horses and fig trees for the Capitol dome and my trendy corner of Logan any day.

I hit the DC tarmac running, with a weekend chock full of fun DC activities, which I’ll reveal all in due time. Allow me to start with the Arts on Foot Festival. Food! Music! Visual art! Performing art! Comedy! Drama! Cooking! Cheese! Wine!

Welcome home.

What a joy to walk around Penn Quarter in the September sunshine smelling garlic shrimp and listening to a boisterous gospel choir singing “When The Saints Come Marching In.”

I arrived at the festival near 1:00, after a late and large brunch, which I immediately came to regret because of the all the food booths set up from local restaurants. Cowgirl Creamery had a cheese plate, Rosa Mexicana was dishing out fresh, chunky guacamole, and La Tasca was frying shrimp in garlic olive oil and serving them over paella. All the small plates cost $1 - $5, and while I didn’t sample anything, Jodi was able to make a nice mini meal on the cheap.

I wandered over to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which was selling reduced-priced preview tickets for their upcoming season, selling old props and costumes from prior performances, and offering a behind-the-scenes tour of the theater. After perusing through the leftover junk on sale, I decided to wait for the tour. The tour didn’t start for another 20 minutes, The Timeless Cowrieso I popped across the street to check in with the Bead Museum. Although the sitcoms soundtrack wasn’t playing, it was just as odd as ever. A man stationed at the front was offering the new comers to help them “get oriented” to the museum and its one room. They’ve replaced the Shakespearean exhibit with “The Timeless Cowrie” – a collection of various pieces using the small snail shell that is seen in many parts of the world as sacred or as currency. Or around the necks of stoners and frat boys.

The tour of Woolly of led by the artistic director himself, Howard Shalwitz, and he showed us through the scene shop and into the green room and onto the stage. He explained about how Woolly came to inhabit such prime real estate: the condo complex used to be a federal parcel of land, and the requirement for development was that it must include space for a theater. Woolly signed on with a developer from Texas who worked with them to meet the federal requirements as well as their own, and now they have this angular and spare theater space which includes a fairly large scene shop, two hundred seat courtyard-style theater, and rehearsal and workshop space.
Behind the scenes at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company
After the tour, I wandered back over to the main area of the festival. They had a tent set up proclaiming "cooking as art," which was holding demonstrations by local chefs. Jodi and I waited patiently for the next demo to start, watching a sous-chef unwrap about fifty small paper plates covered in plastic wrap with pretty pink and pale green foods on them. Then the chef from D'Aqua arrived, spoke briefly about his Italian-style seafood restaurant and the process by which they cure their own salmon in-house. The demo itself consisted of his assistant putting a couple of layers of seafood into a round mold, and the wrapping it in cucumber. And then the masses crowded to the table to demolish the fifty small plates of samples.

Cooking demo - sort of - by the chef from D'Aqua
Finally, we headed to 9th and G, across from the library to the Flashpoint gallery and theater space to see a free performance by the Washington Improv Theater. In the small black box theater, five improvisers did a 'long form' improvised show, meaning that it wasn't the games and short skits you may be used to if you've seen Who's Line Is It Anyway? It's a more theatrical form of improv that attempts to tell multiple stories that thematically come together. It's pretty difficult and some of the threads succeeded and some of them failed, ultimately weaving together stories of tadpoles, hardware scandals and love on a train.

I stuck around for the free workshop they offered after the performance, in which a dozen of us learned some of the very basics of successful improvising. Although I knew many of the games and lessons already (I did quite a bit of improv acting in high school), it was fun to jump back into it and remember the rush of getting on stage without knowing what the other person is going to suggest and just going along for the ride.

And after all that, it was nearing 5:00 and I headed for home, tired from the day and exhilarated from being back in this city, surrounded by art, theater, music, good food and sunshine.