A LIFESTYLE + ENTERTAINMENT MAGAZINE
POWER BINGO HOUR
VIRTUAL TRIVIA COMMUNITY
Thereâ€™s something for everyone, each day of the week, with new events and more dates added daily. DCFRAY.COM/VIRTUALCOMMUNITY
ON THE COVER CHRIS CHEN “Local photographer Chris Chen continues to document his experience of Washington, D.C. during the pandemic of 2020.” Follow Chen on Instagram @furcafe. Photo by Nicholas Karlin of Karlin Villondo Photography.
O-SLICE “Quarantine turned my baby sister into my photographer.” Follow her on Instagram @flowsnice.
CASSIDY DUHON “We’re going to be someone else on the other side of this pandemic. I’m working hard to make sure I’m still someone good.” Follow him on Instagram @duhonphotography and check out his work at www.duhonphotography.com. Photo by Cassidy DuHon.
Photo by Funmi Owoeye.
MIKE KIM “Being quarantined has taught me two things: be creative as much as you can and enjoy the little things.” Follow Kimchi Photography on Instagram @mikeekimchi and learn more about him at www.kimchi.photography. Photos by Mike Kim.
CHANNING FOSTER “Debating the scoring pattern for today’s morning sourdough with [my cat] Cosette, who thinks my straightforward slash is getting a bit predictable.” Follow her on Instagram @channinglfoster. Photo by Channing Foster.
ERIK BRUNER-YANG “Amara’s first dumpling-making with Daddy.” Follow Bruner-Yang on Instagram @erikbruneryang. Photo by Pechseda Nak.
EMON SURAKITKOSON “Showing our love for D.C. by staying home from the dog park.” Follow her on Instagram @emonartdc and learn more about her work at www.emonsurakitkoson.com. Photo courtesy of Emon Surakitkoson.
| MAY 2020
TABLE OF CONTENTS
6 District Denizens
34 Emon Surakitkoson
8 Calendar: Stir-Crazy Edition
36 Turning the Page
38 Dance Companies
10 Erik Bruner-Yang
54 In Other Words
12 The Virtual Dinner Party
15 Chefs Keep Cooking
40 Eric Lee
42 New Normal
ROBERT KINSLER Publisher MONICA ALFORD Editor-in-Chief TRENT JOHNSON Deputy Editor M.K. KOSZYCKI Assistant Editor JULIA GOLDBERG Editorial Designer
18 Andra “AJ” Johnson
22 Game-Changing Laws
44 Griffin Yow
25 Cantina Bambina
46 Bradley Beal & Elena Delle Donne
TOM ROTH Key Account Manager
48 Instant Classics
50 Yin Yoga
28 D.C.’s Music Community 32 Little Dragon
52 Crossword Puzzle 56 Illustration Photo by Eric Lee.
WRITERS Kelsey Cochran Shelby Hoefling Keith Loria Kayla Marsh Jean Schindler Alex Thompson ARTISTS E$ James Coreas ON THE COVER See page 2
DISTRICT FRAY |
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
THE HOMEBOUND ISSUE. Another month has passed in this surreal time of stayat-home orders and social distancing, and as our city continues to struggle with the cataclysmic impacts of coronavirus, we are taking solace in the waves of positivity seen and heard across the District. I cannot stress enough how meaningful it has been to watch D.C. brimming with acts of kindness and support across all communities, and to be able to speak with some of the locals whose example we should all be following. While I cannot take credit for the stunning breakfast spread accompanying my letter (thank you, Little Leaf and Salt & Sundry’s Amanda McClements for sharing), I can say this droolworthy smorgasbord is a perfect example of what we hoped to capture with our Homebound Issue. In other words, a glimpse into how we’re all staying sane while in quarantine. McClements was one of several dozen locals who submitted images of what’s helping them continue some semblance of normalcy in their everyday lives while being cooped up inside. Our May cover features a range of these windows into D.C. lives, from chef and restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang cooking with his
daughter Amara and artist Emon Surakitkoson cuddling with her English bulldog Noodle to concert photographer Mike Kim enjoying a glass of wine and a good read on his rooftop. While all submissions will be featured in an online gallery at www.districtfray.com, we were thrilled to highlight a small but diverse group of interviewees and friends of the magazine in their element on the cover. This month, we kicked off each section of our magazine with an interview featuring a local who opened up to one of our writers about how they’re surviving Covid-19, both professionally and personally. Our staff chatted with budding and seasoned photographers, playwrights, pro athletes, musicians, beverage directors, chefs, artists, and more about how they’re taking care of their businesses, their communities, their families and themselves. A resounding theme in most if not all of our conversations was the importance of looking forward, remaining resilient and practicing self-care as much as possible. D.C. United’s Griffin Yow, Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne talked shop with deputy editor Trent Johnson; Serenata’s Andra “AJ” Johnson shared her thoughts on why diversity in our food and bev scene is more important now than ever with assistant editor M.K. Koszycki; veteran D.C. photographer Chris Chen let me pick his brain about three generations of Chens in the District and why he’ll never spend $12 on a soup dumpling; and staff writer Kelsey Cochran chatted game-changing laws impacting the drink industry with Allegory’s Paul Gonzalez, Service Bar’s Chad Spangler, Jon Schott of The People’s Drug and many more. Foodie Alex Thompson and cocktail queen Jean Schindler shared their recipes for your next virtual dinner party, up-andcoming fitness instructor Shelby Hoefling chatted about the benefits of yin yoga, artist E$ created another kickass illustration highlighting life at home, and Keith Loria spoke with dance companies like S. J. Ewing & Dancers and Dance Place about how they’re sharing their art during the pandemic. Plus, we look at how local bookstores are faring, music nerds are staying connected digitally, and chefs are getting creative and giving back. Add a profile on electro-pop darlings Little Dragon and a roundup of our favorite moments in recent pro sports to rewatch from home to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded spring issue of District Fray. We are extremely grateful to our readers for staying connected with us during this time of uncertainty as we collectively brace ourselves for the city’s new normal and strive to remain positive in the meantime. Thank you to the D.C. community for letting us shine a light on your stories of resilience and hope. Support local journalism and let us keep telling stories like yours by becoming a member, and you’ll get our magazine delivered to your door each month. Check out www.districtfray.com/member for more.
MONICA ALFORD EDITOR-IN-CHIEF 4
| APRIL 2020
Photo by Amanda McClements.
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DISTRICT DENIZENS | STIR-CRAZY
BRINGS PERSPECTIVE TO D.C.â€™S CURRENT STATE WORDS BY MONICA ALFORD
DISTRICT DENIZENS | RADAR “What is authenticity? It’s a moving target, just like everything that relates to human beings.” Chris Chen is positing that just because something is authentic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, and in this instance, he’s talking about D.C.’s elevated food scene. While the seasoned government lawyer and longtime photographer is supportive of the waves chefs are making in the local restaurant industry, his definition of authenticity is someone craving a dish the way their mom makes it – even if their mom is a lackluster cook. “I understand why there are chefs trying to make food more prestigious, and that’s fine, but I ain’t paying $12 for a soup dumpling. I don’t care if it’s made with Wagyu beef or whatever the hell you’ve done. I’m glad that you can get away with charging that and some tech bro who’s just moved to D.C. is willing to pay for it. But me, Chris Chen? I am not going to pay that.” In the same breath, he is quick to tell me that he’s skipped the epic line at Columbia Heights hotspot Bad Saint to get his order to-go, which we all know was not as common at trendy restaurants in the city pre-Covid. All of this boils down to one thing: Chen is a bit of an anomaly. He actually grew up in the area and has vast historical knowledge of the ways D.C. has changed over his lifetime, and that of his father and grandfather before him, which is a fairly unique perspective in our transient city. The Montgomery County, Maryland native shares stories of his dad riding the trolley in the District and cheering on former football team the Washington Senators, and his grandfather sporting a racoon coat, driving a Model T and shopping at department store Garfinckel’s, an institution of D.C. past. And yet, he’s a fixture in the city’s creative scene, documenting what makes the District hip and relevant through his lens. He navigates with ease between mentioning local up-and-comers like indie band Den-Mate and divulging how he snuck a film camera from the 1940s into a 9:30 Club show and stealthily took photos of The Jesus and Mary Chain. He has hometown pride, but remains realistic about prevalent city issues like the everlooming and always complicated topic of gentrification – or as he likes to call it, the “lame-ification” – of certain pockets of D.C. “As much as I’ve complained about gentrification over the past few years, this is the same time period that a lot of my friends are finally succeeding – and all of that is at risk now,” he says, reflecting on our current state during the pandemic. “It’d be great for the cost of living to go down, but I don’t want all of my friends to be out on the street. It’s tough, and I’m not any more perceptive than anybody else about how we’re going to come out of this.” Chen says the city’s stay-at-home order feels like a weird flashback to 1991, when he moved home post-law school during a recession. “The city was a lot less cosmopolitan. There were a lot fewer restaurants. None of my friends lived in D.C. so I never saw them. [Now], the streets are deserted and nobody’s out and about. The only difference is I have a lot less hair and a lot more money.” He’s seen the city embrace and resist palpable changes in the past three decades, but has never really wavered from his desire to keep living here. After 28 years as a federal employee living in an apartment in Kalorama, he’s aware that he’s living comfortably, and it allows him to invest a great deal of his livelihood in his photography. “Most of what I do is take pictures of my friends doing cool stuff, so I see myself more as a documentarian than an artist,” he says. “[As D.C.] got cooler, I knew the people who were making it cool. My friends were making the city a better place. I feel like I’m just a tiny part of that by documenting it, but it never felt Chris Chen at Pop’s SeaBar. Photo by Nicholas Karlin of Karlin Villondo Photography.
right that I should abandon them because it’s not like I need to go someplace else. Why don’t I stay here and support my friends? Plus, I can’t afford to move anywhere [laughs].” Chen carries a camera with him at all times. He jokes that he’s like Flavor Flav, except that instead of a clock hanging around his neck, he has 100-plus cameras he can choose from whenever he leaves the house. “If I’m leaving my apartment for more than five minutes, I’m going to have a camera with me. It’s more of a habit now. There are basically two kinds of photographers. Either you like to create images, or you capture them. I’m in the second category. If there’s something that’s interesting, I’ll take a picture of it.” He first got really interested in photography when shooting for a myriad of local publications like Brightest Young Things, which he remembers from its Myspace days, and a much earlier iteration of On Tap Magazine (editor’s note: On Tap rebranded as District Fray in March). Chen took photos at concerts and events, gaining access to bands he wanted to check out and making social connections along the way. “Photography was a way for me to meet people, as well as a creative outlet.” As the years passed, his friend group grew and his need to catch shows for free lessened, but he continued to take photos while out and about. His former blog has been replaced by his Instagram account @furcafe, where he posts both new and old shots from his portfolio. Chen’s Instagram has become a way for him to dig into the archives and pull out some gems from years past. “The bulk of my Instagram is these throwback pictures. Those are the ones that get all the likes. It’s like, ‘Oh, 20 years ago, that was a liquor store? Now it’s a church.’” He also uses social media as motivation to post in real-time, transmitting photos from his camera to his phone and editing them in quick succession for Instagram galleries. Otherwise, the backlog begins to feel overwhelming. He discloses that his freezer is completely full of film and his fridge is half-full, and a leading factor in why he agreed to this interview was to have a reason to sort through photos from the past few years. Chen rotates through his camera collection on a regular basis, exploring on foot and capturing moments and glimpses of D.C. life that might normally go unnoticed by our type A inhabitants. Quarantine has somewhat limited his creative flow since he can’t see or take photos of his friends, but he’s embracing the challenge by spending more time in his own neighborhood and shooting subjects he wouldn’t normally, like trees and cats. It seems there isn’t a nook or cranny of D.C. that he isn’t familiar with, both as it stands now and what it looked like 20 years ago. But he describes each experience as a discovery and not a regurgitation – a mark of true artistry. His fervor for capturing the District in photos extends to his impressive memory of how we’ve ebbed and flowed as a city through the eyes of three generations of Chens, and his experiences building his own community. As he shares a few final nuggets of local history, he says something that resonates as we prepare to shift to a new paradigm as a city. “You don’t know where people are coming from until you know where they are coming from.” Without knowing someone’s story, you can’t truly know what makes them tick. In an era when connecting with the people around us is our strongest shot at rebuilding D.C., Chen’s insight is worth taking to heart. Follow Chen on Instagram @furcafe. DISTRICT FRAY |
RADAR | STIR CRAZY
Just because you have to social distance, doesn’t mean you can’t catch a concert or enjoy a happy hour after work. Events that Washingtonians used to enjoy in person can now be experienced at home, helping us all kick boredom to the curb. Beat the stir-craziness and check out this month’s virtual offerings. WORDS BY KELSEY COCHRAN
The Shakespeare Hour
Shakespeare Theatre Company has started a weekly online investigation into the works of the Bard. Learn more about the world built by Will on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Free for members and subscribers; $10 for non-members. www.shakespearetheatre.org // @shakespeareindc
Filmfest DC at Home
Filmfest DC postponed its live programming this spring, but the festival was moved online starting in mid-April. The free virtual festival will include recent festival favorites as well as new gems. www.filmfestdc.org // @filmfestdc
Kennedy Center Couch Concerts
The Kennedy Center will now stream “Couch Concerts” direct from artists’ homes on its website at 4 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday while the Center remains closed. www.kennedy-center.org // @kennedycenter
Serenata Cocktail Classes
Serenata is hosting online classes on Fridays during the month of May. Purchase a cocktail kit for pickup or delivery by 2 p.m. before the class starts at 5 p.m. Each cocktail kit is $40 and serves two people. www.serenatadc.com // @serenatadc
Virtual Superhero 5K and Fun Run
Best Kids, a nonprofit working to empower the D.C. foster care system, canceled their annual in-person fundraiser race. May is National Foster Care Month, and in honor of that, a virtual race will be held. Complete your run any time in May and email your time to email@example.com. www.bestkids.org // @bestkidsdc
5.7-5.21 Molly’s Salon
Arena Stage’s artistic director Molly Smith will lead discussions with various industry names about the future of theater. Join Smith and her guests at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live. www.arenastage.org // @arenastage
Sixth & I Living Room Sessions
Enjoy free weekly living room sessions with Sixth & I on Facebook Live. Support the featured artists and the unique music venue by donating to Sixth & I when you watch the living room sessions. www.sixthandi.org // @sixthandi
City Brew Tours at Home
City Brew Tours has moved the fun of their brew tours into your home. Learn how to home brew your own beer, or join a beer and cheese pairing happy hour. Five percent of all event proceeds will go to Feeding America. www.citybrewtours.com // @citybrewtoursdc 8
| MAY 2020
Photo courtesy of Serenata.
DC Dogs: Musique Virtuelle
DC Dogs is hosting a free, daily livestream concert on their Facebook page called Musique Virtuelle. DC Dogs hopes to support local musicians and comedians while entertaining everyone at home with these concerts. www.dcdogs.com // @dcdogs
DC Fray Trivia & Speed Dating
Join DC Fray every Tuesday and Thursday for online trivia. Or if you’re looking for love, hop online for digital speed dating on Friday nights. This will be the best $5-$10 you’ve spent in quarantine. www.dcfray.com // @dcfray
Learn to Cross-Stitch in Quarantine
Take this time to learn a new skill: cross-stitching! Dumbarton House is hosting a virtual cross-stitch session and will send you the fabric, needle, embroidery floss, instructions and a pattern for $20. Begins at 1 p.m. www.dumbartonhouse.org // @dumbartonhouse
International Spy Museum
If you’ve already exhausted your Netflix queue of spy dramas, consider learning the craft yourself. The International Spy Museum is hosting an online spy workshop series, virtual happy hours with actors who play spies, reading lists and more as the shutdown continues. www.spymuseum.org // @spymuseum
D.C.-based band Oh He Dead is hosting Jammie Jamz, the biweekly jam sessions held in their pajamas on Facebook Live. Chill out in your comfiest PJs and groove with this local band. www.ohhedead.com // @ohhedead
We Are One: A Global Film Festival
Kennedy Center Digital Stage
YouTube is stepping into the film festival scene with the launch of We Are One, a free 10-day digital festival. Partners involved with the festival include Cannes, Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and Berlin film festival organizers. Viewers are encouraged to donate to Covid-19 relief. www.youtube.com // @youtube
The Kennedy Center presents its digital stage. Find high-quality recordings of past Kennedy Center performances from talented musicians including Beyoncé and John Legend, and turn them up loud enough to feel like you’re really in the concert hall. www.kennedy-center.org // @kennedycenter
AFI Cat Video Fest
Everyone’s favorite Cat Video Festival is back, and it’s online. The AFI Cat Video Festival will be pay what you can, all proceeds going to AFI Silver. www.afisilver.afi.com // @afisilvertheater
African American History Museum
The National Museum of African American History and Culture has no wait time now, as you can visit exhibits online via Google Arts and Culture or the museum’s website. Take advantage of a day at home and explore these exhibits to their fullest capacity. www.nmaahc.si.edu // @nmaahc
Photo courtesy of Sonny’s.
This high-intensity gym in Alexandria is livestreaming free pilates classes on their Instagram account every day at noon, and has virtual classes on demand available on their website. Take your pick and stay active with Sculp’d. www.sculpd.co // @sculpd
Cooking Classes with Sonny’s Pizza
Sonny’s Pizza in Park View is now offering virtual classes for both wine pairing and bread baking. Get ready to impress your friends and family during Zoom happy hours with your newfound culinary skills and budding oenophile knowledge. www.sonnyspizzadc.com // @sonnyspizzadc
DISTRICT FRAY |
WORDS BY M.K. KOSZYCKI
EAT You may know Erik Bruner-Yang as the man behind ABC Pony, Maketto, Spoken English, and Brothers and Sisters, as well as the executive chef of &pizza. Now, he’s adding activist and social entrepreneur to his resume. Bruner-Yang is making a positive splash in the District, adding a bright spot to the dark days the hospitality industry has faced in the wake of Covid-19. His Power of 10 initiative invites you to buy a meal for someone who needs it while also keeping local restaurants running, and &pizza’s Hero Pie program allows customers to buy pizza for themselves and send one to a healthcare worker. Though busier than ever, we spoke to Bruner-Yang about his initiative, his busy life at home and how he’s finding balance. District Fray: When restaurants began shutting down and you were wondering how to help yourself and other people in the restaurant world, how did you land on the Power of 10 model? Erik BrunerYang: We launched on March 26 in Washington, D.C. [after] restaurants were shut down on the 15th. At first, we were just in survival mode: punching our own numbers and trying to figure out what was feasible in regards to what we were capable of doing. The same number kept coming up. If we wanted to keep 10 people on full-time, this is how much money we needed to make every week, and this was about how many dinners we would have to sell. After playing with those numbers a little bit, it became this very clean [formula] of $10,000 a week for 10 full-time jobs and a thousand meals. We realized those numbers would work anywhere in the country. Why was incorporating this twofold benefit – feeding people on the frontlines and supporting restaurants – so important to you? I think it allows people to feel like their donation is touching a lot of people. It’s a kind of classic, trickle-up economics. The more dollars you keep in your immediate community, the more impact it has. So one $10 meal is helping the restaurant owner, which is helping the employees, which is then helping the employees pay their bills, which is then also helping people get free food and the vendors get paid. Then those vendors are able to pay their employees. The circle of one meal donated is really profound.
I know you made the model to be easily replicated. Has anyone outside the DMV done it? Yes. There’s a group in Charlotte, North Carolina. They launched their own chapter of Power of 10, and their website is powerof10initiavecharlotte.com. We also launched in L.A. last week. With this initiative and your other spots offering takeout, would you consider yourself just as busy as before Covid-19? I definitely feel super busy, but also really motivated. Both of the restaurants at [The LINE] Hotel are closed, so it’s just ABC Pony and Maketto. I’m also juggling my job with &pizza as their executive chef. I’ve got three kids at home and one of them is a newborn, so yeah. It’s f--king crazy. How are you balancing all of this and staying sane? What does a typical day look like for you right now? I’m fully in charge of dinner, bedtime and bath time [when] I get home. I get my personal time around 10:30 [p.m.], and that’s mostly just doing last-minute cleanup around the house. I’ll hang out with my wife. We shoot the shit for a little bit, then we start the cycle all over again. I started doing yoga because I generally hate cardio. At 35, and with what’s going on right now, it’s been something I needed to do anyways. I’ll do some breathing [and] stretching, so that’s been nice. I follow this YouTube channel [called] Yoga with Kassandra. I find her not annoying. If you’re a beginner and don’t want to feel too overwhelmed, I recommend her channel. Support the Power of 10 initiative at www.powerof10initiative.com. Buy a frontline worker a pie at www.andpizza.com/heropies or text #feedthem to 20003. For takeout from ABC Pony or Maketto, visit www.abcpony.com and www.maketto1351.com to order. FIRST PAGE. Erik Bruner-Yang & his Power of 10 initiative in action. Photo by Cristian Zuniga // Foreign National. SECOND PAGE. Erik Bruner-Yang with his daughter Amara. Photo by Pechseda Nak.
DISTRICT FRAY | 11
THE VIRTUAL DINNER PARTY WORDS BY JEAN SCHINDLER & ALEX THOMPSON Cooking has always offered a sense of comfort. Fresh snickerdoodles and a patient ear for a struggling friend. Frustration after a hectic day being melted by the motion of chopping vegetables for a hearty stew. Reconnecting with old friends at backyard barbecues. So, with a lot more uncertainty in the world, it’s only natural the whole country has turned to the kitchen – from showcasing banana breads and viral whipped coffees, to introducing their sourdough starter house guests and even creating their own homemade Shake Shack burgers. And while we’ve been busy in the kitchen, we’ve also been busy on our phones and laptops, with video hangouts taking the communal place of kitchen tables and living rooms. So, at District Fray, we thought: Why not take your next House Party, Zoom, FaceTime, etc. up a notch? Flex those new culinary skills, tackle a fun and easy menu, and embrace the marvels of modern technology to create a virtual dinner party.
The Menu Serves two, so multiply as many times as needed.
Cocktail “Everything’s Okay” sangria
Appetizer Bruschetta with balsamic tomatoes
Main Course Garlic- & herb-crusted shrimp lemon pasta
How It Works This is supposed to be low stress; no one needs more of that right now. The entire meal takes 40 minutes (tops) to prepare – we have tried this out and also accounted for socializing. The menu involves very few ingredients – mostly pantry staples, or items that should easily be found on store shelves right now. And finally, this meal is social. Meaning, you should be able to chat while sipping cocktails and cooking together in your separate kitchens. Just as you would if friends were coming over IRL, set a start time for cocktails, appetizers and then dinner. With technology at play, allow time for any issues with connectivity folks may experience. I personally love a 6 p.m. cocktail start (my friends usually log on over the next 15 minutes). Around 6:45 p.m., start making dinner. Set up a solid spot to place your phone or computer so everyone can see you. In my kitchen, I plopped my laptop on a stack of books, facing the counter and stove. Encourage guests to get their cooking area clear and, as best they can, take care of any necessary prep before the call starts. For this menu, that might mean defrosting frozen shrimp, chopping tomatoes, slicing bread for the bruschetta, and zesting or juicing the lemon for the pasta. Once on the call, have everyone first get that cocktail and appetizer ready and enjoy cocktail hour as you chat away. When all are feeling ready, dig into the menu and keep the good times going. The hope is you get a unique evening with friends and family, sharing in the preparation of a meal (albeit a social distancing approved way) and all get to communally enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Pan-seared fruit with brown butter sauce 12 | MAY 2020
L to R. Sangria. Photo by Jean Schindler. Bruschetta. Photo by Alex Thompson.
“Everything's Okay” Sangria Red wine
Let’s Get Cooking First things first: Booze and snacks.
Time to uncork that random red someone left behind when you had a house party.
At the bottom of a glass, put one to three spoonfuls of any jam (more jam if it’s a dry red, less if it’s big and juicy). Last night, I added a few spoons of blackberry jam and one of maple syrup. It was strange and delicious.Then fill the glass about one-eighth full with red wine and briskly stir to break up the jam. Make sure it’s nice and smooth.
Optional Soda water (La Croix is my favorite) Orange bitters Frozen fruit Brandy What else do you have?
Top off about half the glass with more red wine and add lots of ice. Ideally, you have a random can of La Croix to provide a splash, but this bev is ready to party regardless. If it isn’t sweet enough, stir in more jam.
If you're willing an able to do more, consider the following: Do you have a home bar, properly stocked with orange bitters? You, my friend, are winning lockdown. Six dashes in your glass of sangria should be sufficient. If you have brandy or any orange liqueur (triple sec or Grand Marnier), stir in a tablespoon (or two). Fresh fruit? Perfect. Frozen fruit? Brilliant. Actual juice? Yas queen. Add that, too. But if it’s just jam and wine and ice, everything is still okay. Cheers, friends-staring-at-me-from-inside-mylaptop. Let the night begin.
•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Bruschetta 4 slices of bread (Note: Ideally ciabatta or hearty bread, but alas, I had Kaiser rolls, and the sweetness was actually welcome. Cut those in half to get long slices.)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, chopped (if you have other types of tomatoes, go for it)
Clove of garlic, cut in half
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper 1 tbsp. fresh basil or 1/2 tsp. dried
Toast the bread slices and rub with garlic (cut side down). In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and basil. Distribute the tomato mixture on top of each bread slice and top with an added drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Ready to start the meal? Here are a few things to keep in mind. The shrimp takes literally a few minutes, so you want that to be the last thing that gets cooked. Get your water on the stove for your pasta and while it’s coming to a boil, whisk together the lemon sauce and set that aside. While the pasta is boiling, get your shrimp ready to go into the oven. Drain the pasta when it’s done, put it in a serving bowl and put your shrimp in the oven. While the shrimp is broiling, toss the pasta with the lemon sauce, lemon zest and added parmesan. Take out the shrimp and everything is hot and ready to go.
DISTRICT FRAY | 13
Garlic- & Herb-Crusted Shrimp 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Combine the shrimp with all ingredients, pressing the breading onto the shrimp.
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 2 tbsp. dried
If you have skewers, skewer shrimp evenly on the skewers and lay across the cookie sheet. No skewers? Place an oven-safe cooling rack on the cookie sheet (spray the cooling rack) and place shrimp on the rack.
1/2 cup breadcrumbs 1 tsp. salt Freshly ground pepper to taste 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1/4 cup olive oil
Press any extra breading mixture onto each shrimp. Broil shrimp on high in the oven for about two minutes, keeping a close eye; they cook quickly. When breading is browned and shrimp are a light pink, they are ready to eat.
•••••••••••••••••••••• Lemon Pasta 1 lb. pasta 1/3 cup olive oil 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste Lemon zest In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta to boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving one-fourth cup of the cooking liquid. Mix the lemon sauce into the pasta, adding just a touch of the reserved pasta water, lemon zest and a little extra grated Parmesan cheese.
Pan-Seared Fruit with Brown Butter Sauce
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sliced fruit.
Fresh fruit, sliced (apples, bananas, peaches, berries)
Sauté for a minute and then add the brown sugar and cinnamon.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Cook for a few minutes until a sauce develops and slightly bubbles.
2 tablespoons brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Take off the heat and spoon it onto ice cream, cake or other baked goods (even toast).
To keep up with Thompson and Schindler’s culinary and cocktail adventures, follow them on Instagram @sportsfoodalex and @jeanschindler. 14 | MAY 2020
TOP to BOTTOM. Making shrimp. Shrimp and pasta. Sautéed apples. Photos by Alex Thompson.
AREA CHEFS ADAPT TO COOK & SERVE WORDS BY TRENT JOHNSON
What do you do when the world is turned upside down and the community you serve can no longer walk through your doors? You cook. You recede back to the lab, or the kitchen, and tinker. Yet, local chefs are doing more than cooking. Rather than succumb to the disastrous circumstances caused by Covid-19, a number of people you know best for crafting delicious meals are still doing just that, plus a whole lot more. “It’s almost too crazy to wrap our heads around,” says Andrew Dana, co-owner and founder of Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza Company. “It’s probably good we can’t sit back and say, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening?’ We’re just compartmentalizing. How do we get this much amount in our bank account to pay our staff? It’s been batshit crazy, but we haven’t been able to dwell on it. We’re just being positive and staying positive.” Positivity is great, but restaurants need help and are dealing with logistical problems on several levels. Even with this truth hovering over their respective futures, local eateries are grinding to maintain D.C.’s treasured sense of community, whether cooking meals for frontline workers and people in need, adapting their spaces into makeshift grocery markets, or by granting patrons a dose of normalcy. Photo courtesy of Paul Taylor.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS. Dana and his team at Call Your Mother not only offer deliveries and curbside pick-up from their revered Park View location, but also opted to open a new Capitol Hill spot as well, despite limitations and fears caused by the pandemic. The decision was simple: The building was ready, and they had the capacity and are operating with a “safety first” mindset. So why not? “It sort of came together in a week,” Dana explains. “We’re having these Zoom calls with managers and trying to come up with creative ways to make money so we can support people. We just slowly came to the realization that we could make more bagels. The people that live over there know how it works, we’re not reinventing the wheel. And the opportunity to do something fun and positive in this time, we were ready to jump on that, and give a glimmer of good news. ” The feedback from Capitol Hill residents is overwhelmingly positive, despite the deviation from a normal Call Your Mother experience. Another restaurateur who opened doors post-Covid is chef Christian Irabién, with his pop-up Muchas Gracias in Forest Hills. On the heels of establishing an entirely different concept weeks before, Irabién and his team switched up their plans with support from the braintrust behind Comet Ping Pong, and transitioned a “sensory dining experience” to taco platters intended to feed entire families. “Every person we knew who had worked with us or purveyors or farms, everyone was finding themselves in a giant bubble of uncertainty,” Irabién says. “That lit a fire under us to open the doors [and go] back to what we know how to do.” What Irabién knows how to do is serve the community, which extends far past fans of his food. Since inception, Muchas Gracias has partnered with Tables Without Borders and Friends and Family Meal in an effort to do more than feed. The pop-up’s website also houses a living guide for immigrants in D.C. who may be facing hardships such as furlough, which includes a how-to Medium article penned by Irabién. “[That’s] the mission of Muchas Gracias: to support the Latin American community, a giant portion of which is undocumented,” he says. “This community already has a lot less access. There’s language barriers and trust issues, particular[ly] for the undocumented faction of the community. So the messaging is: We’re open to responding and providing food to our neighbors. We can support them in several ways.” ADAPT & SUPPORT. New establishments aren’t the only spots responsible for fresh ways to connect in the city. Adam Greenberg’s Coconut Club, known for its tropical menu items and airy storefront, has undergone several evolutions since mid-March. While you can still dig on spam fried rice and grab a to-go cocktail, Greenberg has also tried his best to give people comfort food, regardless of cuisine. “There’s no time to have an ego or get stuck in your ways,” Greenberg says. “Because of our social media presence and who we are, we just want to feed the public. I don’t give a shit [as to what it is]. Every single week, something new is coming and we’re trying to stay ahead of it.” Some of the new items offered by Greenberg’s skeleton crew in April included chicken and eggplant Parmesan, Passover meals and lobster roll kits. Aside from its food, Coconut Club has also developed a makeshift market within their walls open Wednesday through Friday in hopes of helping people buy essentials without venturing to empty-shelved, long DISTRICT FRAY | 15
EAT lined grocery stores. The restaurant also stocks plants from Salt & Sundry and cookies from Whisked! on a weekly basis. “I saw on Facebook people couldn’t find chicken,” he says. “That’s how the market started. We have all the staples at this point, and people can chime in and ask us to order specific things.” Muchas Gracias has adopted the market mentality too, allowing people to nab Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) grocery packs. But, unlike Coconut Club, you can’t physically shop around. “The big idea behind the market is our hope to provide CSA boxes for our neighborhoods,” Irabién says. “The market items are things people were trying to get a hold of in supermarkets that they couldn’t get. If we have them on hand, we offer it.” FEEDING THOSE IN NEED. Ensuring paying customers have food options is obvious, but supplying those in need or on the frontline has also proved a major focus these past two months. Whether through partnering with José Andrés’ emergency feeding nonprofit World Central Kitchen (WCK) or participating in Erik Bruner-Yang’s Power of 10 Initiative, establishments from fine dining to fast casual are exploring ways to help people eat delicious meals. “Fast casual restaurants are designed to serve low-cost healthy meals at mass scale,” says Sahil Rahman, RASA co-owner. “Throughout the partnership [with WCK] we’ve created over 10,000 meals already.” Rahman and partner Rahul Vinod decided to remain open to employ as many workers as possible. The duo also provides free meals for people on the frontline, 18-and-under children and for their employees, including those who aren’t currently working. In addition to their preliminary work with WCK, in mid-April RASA partnered with the Vernon Davis Foundation to raise more than $30,000 toward the initial goal of providing 5,000 more meals and in hopes of extending their offer to other community members, including restaurant and retail workers, and more. “When the pandemic hit home, and the mayor announced D.C. schools would be closed, both of us, without a thought, considered the kids who go to school to get food,” Vinod says. “The least we could do was offer free meals to children. With regards to the medical workers, these people are putting their lives on the line.” The sentiment is echoed by Drink Company’s Beverage Director Paul Taylor, who’s putting his love of sandwiches to work with the Get a Hero Be a Hero pop-up run out of Shaw’s Columbia Room cocktail bar. Taylor had previously sought a location for a cocktail and sandwich spot, but figured now was a good time to use his passion for hoagies and subs to help others. “During this time of changed lifestyles, I know we wanted to be more essential,” Taylor says. “We want to give back more. [For those] not having access to good food that nourishes you and gives you an escape, we wanted to give back to our community. We decided to put my love of sandwiches to work.” The concept is simple: For every sandwich the pop-up sells, another is donated to an area hospital. Taylor says it’s hard to give a daily average on sandwiches made due to delivery fluctuation, but that they once made 200 in a day, including donations. “It definitely takes all of us to come together to get everything done here,” he says. “It’s a very small crew. I’m here five days a week and I’m the one making the sandwiches. Thirty minutes before we got on the phone, I made 50 sandwiches for [a] Washington medical center. It’s myself and four other people.”
16 | MAY 2020
BANDING TOGETHER LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY. Kwame Onwuachi, of the temporarily closed Kith/Kin, is also working with WCK on a daily basis in an effort to serve the less fortunate, but instead of D.C., he’s cooking for people in New York City’s Bronx, where he grew up. “I was asked to come help, so I decided to come,” Onwuachi says over the phone. “The Bronx is overlooked. It’s one of the hardest hit communities in the world. I’m advocating remotely, but I thought I should mobilize my talents to further expand what they were doing at these restaurants.” No local chef other than Andrés has been as publicly active in advocating for the industry than Onwuachi, who has written essays, gone on cable news and participated in several social media Q&As during the quarantine. With the platform and following he’s amassed in the past few years, the chef says it felt natural to step up. “It wasn’t a role I aspired to have,” he says. “I was asked about topics I felt passionate about. I’m in it and I’m living it. It happened organically. When you have a platform, you have to use it for something.” Onwuachi mentions revisions to the Payroll Protection Program and tax incentives as ways to preserve restaurants as occupancy slowly climbs from zero toward normal. In the meantime, owners and chefs will have to band together as a congregation. “I talk to them regularly,” Onwuachi says of his D.C. contemporaries. “They’re my community, so we definitely try to help each other out. I think that’s what’s beautiful about D.C. – it’s such a tightly knit community and you can tell that we care about each other and the well-being of the restaurant industry.” From Onwuachi’s public appearances to Greenberg and Irabién’s efforts to provide resources for restaurant workers, countless chefs are stepping up to provide relief. Until local governments announce safe plans for reopening and the federal government provides more clarity in its attempts to help economically, the best area chefs can do is keep cooking for their city and stay connected with one another. “My attitude for this is: We’re either all f--ked or we’re not,” Greenberg says. “I’m going to come [in] and bust my ass, or they’re going to come evict me. The stuff that I can control and worry about, that’s what I focus on. I love to cook. It’s what I love to do. It’s always been a part of me; it’s who I am.” For more information about these chefs and how their restaurants are helping, visit: Call Your Mother Deli: 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, DC & 701 8th St. SE, DC; www.callyourmotherdeli.com Coconut Club: 540 Penn St. NE, DC; www.hellococonutclub.com Get a Hero Be a Hero: 124 Blagden Alley NW, DC; www.getaherobeahero.com Muchas Gracias: 5029 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.muchasgraciasdc.com Kith/Kin: Follow Kwame Onwuachi on Instagram @chefkwameonwuachi. RASA: 1247 First St. SE, DC; www.rasagrill.com
FLOURISHING WITH FRUITY LUPULIN RICHES OF PEAR, PEACH & PINEAPPLE
ANDRA “AJ” JOHNSON
TALKS VIRTUAL COCKTAIL CLASSES & DIVERSITY IN D.C. WORDS BY M.K. KOSZYCKI
DRINK Andra “AJ” Johnson has become a fixture behind the bar of some of the best foodie spots in the District, as well as a strong advocate for diversity in dining. She currently runs the beverage program at Seranata, nestled in Latin American market La Cosecha near Union Market. The DMV Black Restaurant Week cofounder also curates conversations about representation through White Plates, Black Faces, which doubles as the name of a book she’s hard at work on. District Fray spoke with Johnson about what diversity looks like in restaurants navigating Covid-19, how Serenata has adapted to the changes and what her day-to-day looks like now. District Fray: Serenata has been hosting virtual Zoom happy hours with kits available for purchase so people can follow along with you at home and recreate specific drinks. How have you adjusted to connecting with customers this way? Andra “AJ” Johnson: It’s definitely [been] a little bit of a shock. I have a pretty big personality, and it’s really about trying to get that to shine through a computer screen instead of somebody sitting right in front of me. I’m trying to still do what we do and stay true to what we do, which is to put out great drinks with a little bit of history and a lot of culture. Trying to find a way to do that without having people in front of you is really difficult. But we’ve done well with keeping the mission of what we said we were going to do: Try to give people something new and different. What has the reaction of participants in your classes been like so far? We’re having fun, and [participants are doing] fun activities at home like cutting their own garnishes. It’s an inside look into how bartenders make your drink pretty and what goes into the physical makeup of the drink, and that reaction has been so cool. I go over shaking and stirring, and we’ve even talked about how ice is a big part of the drink. I think their excitement is really what fuels the energy all the way through. On a larger scale, how have you been adjusting to your new circumstances on a professional level? I’m one of the lucky ones. I am still employed. I go to work six days a week, six to eight hours a day. We’re doing food and cocktails togo. We’re providing meals to World Central Kitchen. I still get full access to my bar so my day-to-day hasn’t changed much – except for the fact that there’s less prep and more to clean. It’s lonely for sure. It’s quiet. There’s not really anybody I can bounce my ideas off of. I miss my team a lot. They are the heart and soul of it all. Without them, it’s a little dull. I am just trying to figure out how to stay ahead of things. If and when we [re]open, what does my menu look like? What products am I going to be able to get? What products do I not have that I can’t offer anymore? How are we reworking the cocktails for the season? I’m thinking three months ahead with every single thing I’m doing now. In addition to your work as a bartender, you cofounded DMV Black Restaurant Week and create dialogue through White Plates, Black Faces. How are black- and minorityowned spots specifically being affected right now? There was a lot of work done in the past two or three years, especially regarding that conversation of the lack of diversity in the city with the efforts that I put forth with different groups. What we’ve done at this point seems to have been washed away, as of right now. I say that with a very, very, very heavy heart. But I think FIRST PAGE. Photo by Rey Lopez. SECOND PAGE. Photo by Andrew Seavy.
that it’s also two-fold in that the playing field is now level. Whatever you would do to support any business is what you should be doing to support your black- and minority-owned businesses. What can be done by community members to support these businesses? Check to see if they’re selling gift cards or doing fundraisers. One of the biggest helps has been understanding the resources that are available and open. If there are programs out there you think somebody would qualify for, send them a message and say, “Hey, I love you guys. I want to make sure you guys are doing okay. I heard about this program opening up. This could be an opportunity for you all.” One of the things we’ve seen is a lack of resources and communication hitting certain demographics and restaurants – namely restaurants with people of color. They’re not getting all of the access to the information they need in order to be successful. If there are resources, grants and programs out there, reach out. Outside of that? Buy, buy, buy – if you have the money to spend. How has the immediate community supported Serenata? Really trying to forge that connection and being that word of mouth to a restaurant is super helpful. The biggest marketing tool I’ve had is the people who have taken my class. We doubled our numbers from the very first to the second class [because] one couple told all their friends. [We went] from 15 to 30 people in that next class. It was super important and super helpful. As restaurants, we’ve always leaned on our customers, and I don’t think that changes right now. Customers are definitely taking on a bigger responsibility to try to help in that way as well. I don’t think that applies to one demographic or restaurant. It applies to all of them. Help them if you like them. Johnson leads cocktail classes every Friday at 5 p.m. To attend, order a virtual cocktail class kit via www.serenatadc.com for pickup or delivery, and you’ll be provided with a Zoom link to access the live class. You can find other ways to support Johnson and Serenata by visiting www.serenatadc.com/fundraiser. And to keep up with Johnson, follow her on Instagram @whiteplatesblackfaces. DISTRICT FRAY | 19
RELIEF RESTAURANT EMPLOYEE RELIEF FUND The Restaurant Employee Relief Fund (“Fund”) was created to help restaurant industry employees experiencing extraordinary hardship in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Get assistance Grants will be awarded as soon as possible to those individuals who meet the prescribed eligibility criteria, as reviewed and verified by the NRAEF. Subject to the availability of funds contributed to the Fund, a one-time grant of $500 will be disbursed.
APPLY AT WWW.RERF.US
INITIATIVE SUPPORTED BY
SUPPORT D.C. BUSINESSES While it is important to keep some “social distancing,” it’s also important to remember your fellow Washingtonians and lend a (sanitized) hand to those in need. District Fray has rounded up a number of restaurants and bars that you can support in order to ease the strain during this time. This list will continued to be updated at www.districtfray.com. VENUE
FAT PETE’S BBQ
SFOGLINA VAN NESS
ACROSS THE POND RESTAURANT & PUB
VISIT DISTRICTFRAY.COM FOR MORE INFO
GAMECHANGING LAWS SHAKE UP THE DRINK INDUSTRY WORDS BY KELSEY COCHRAN The beverage world is changing, for better or worse. This is clear from the swift introduction of legislation permitting the delivery and takeaway of cocktails from bars in D.C., Maryland and Virginia with the sale of food items. Wineries, craft breweries and cideries in the DMV can now ship their alcohol across state lines. Businesses have been pushing for such changes for years, but the introduction is bittersweet. Lawmakers are hoping that implementing looser restrictions on the sale of alcohol will soften the economic blow small businesses are facing, but not every business has the bandwidth to take advantage of this opportunity. Locals in the drink industry spoke with District Fray about how their businesses have been impacted by Covid-19, and how these game-changing laws have shaken up the trade. 22 | MAY 2020
ALLEGORY Eaton Hotel’s acclaimed cocktail bar has completely shut down operations until June at the earliest. Because the downtown hotel closed its doors, Allegory did not have the ability to stay open for delivery or pickup. Head bartender Paul Gonzalez is keeping his chin up despite the setback. Focusing on silver linings, Gonzalez is excited that the Allegory team has time to go over a new menu release with a fine-tooth comb. He hopes that by the end of quarantine, he will have a fun and approachable menu to present to customers. “It’s definitely going to be different, but different doesn’t necessarily mean bad,” he says. “[It’s] not going to be a full bar, but that just means you should be taking the
extra time to really cultivate and craft an experience for your guest.” Gonzalez has also been staying busy and getting creative by drawing and painting, working on the Allegory brand, hosting virtual cocktail classes, and reaching out to regulars. He knows that Allegory may not be able to see another packed bar for a long time, and is trying to get used to that new future. “Being physically together is something we took for granted for so long and now…” Gonzalez’s words hang in the air. He looks forward to greeting his customers and the challenges of the post-Covid world when all of this is said and done. Jon Schott of The People’s Drug. Photo courtesy of Jon Schott.
DARU THE PEOPLE S DRUG Those who can deliver their cocktails to customers know that it’s a whole new ball game. “How do you package a cocktail that still looks and feels the same?” asks Jon Schott, general manager of The People’s Drug in Old Town Alexandria. “They’re not in the glassware and don’t get the garnishes,” he says of the cocktails. “And you don’t get the service. You don’t get to see them made. It loses a lot of its appeal.” In Virginia, every two cocktails ordered to-go or for delivery must be accompanied by a food order, and each order can have a maximum of four cocktails. Schott and his team are happy to stay open, but must tackle challenges such as preparing drinks that stay fresh after 30 minutes of travel. Thus far, The People’s Drug has crafted 11 cocktails for drinking at home and Schott is planning to sell cocktail kits with bar tools soon. With people unable to enjoy their drinks at the bar, Schott is finding himself competing with the corner liquor store. He’s trying to make drinks that people might not make at home for lack of ingredients or bartending skills, and deliver the satisfaction of sipping a cocktail at the bar. “A lot of us had to get really creative and innovate new ways for our restaurants to thrive, and out of that came new ways for us to grow for the consumer.” One direction Schott is looking to grow in is with offering more non-alcoholic cocktails. As someone who is four years sober, he knows how difficult it can be to abstain from drinking if you’re alone. “This is a really tricky time for people because you’re supposed to be at home alone. But when in recovery, you’re supposed to be with people so that you don’t do anything. I think having something on the menu that’s fun and interesting is helpful for anyone in that situation.” Before the legislation passed to allow the delivery of alcohol, Schott reached out to a local CBD store in Alexandria in the hopes of collaborating on a spiritfree CBD drink. Schott wants people to be able to enjoy a mocktail that isn’t just a sugary, citrusy last resort. Cocktails are supposed to be elegant, dynamic and relaxing. By incorporating CBD into his offerings, Schott hopes those at home can join their friends’ Zoom happy hours without the pressure to make a “real” cocktail. When The People’s Drug is able to welcome guests again, he intends to keep these new zero-proof cocktails on his menu.
The name “Daru” may not ring any bells, as this D.C. bar near H Street hasn’t actually opened yet. The team originally planned on opening the Indian craft cocktail bar in May before the coronavirus ravaged those plans. Pre-pandemic, bartender Holly Lowe was able to drum up interest in Daru by hosting popups throughout the city, but that is clearly no longer an option. Without any regulars to rely on when everything reopens, the Daru team is utilizing social media to stay connected. No one knows what the landscape will look like after this, and everyone is just adjusting as they go. When Daru does open, they may be limited to welcoming only 10 customers at a time. Lowe admits this time has been hard to navigate, but she and her team prioritize serving their community and neighbors safely. There has been discussion on using their space to help the H Street neighborhood by offering goods such as books, groceries and spices. At the end of the day, Lowe only wants to
put a smile on people’s faces when they enter her bar. “I really just look forward to making people’s day again,” says Lowe. “Being able to give that hospitality makes a special memory for someone.” In the meantime, Lowe and her husband (Gonzalez of Allegory) are looking to assist those in the industry who cannot receive government help in this precarious time. The pair has been busy generating awareness about undocumented workers by sharing and supporting the work of local nonprofit Ayuda. As Lowe points out, many in the service industry are not lucky enough to get the same privileges as the rest of us, even with benefits they pay into. “A lot of people our guests interact with and enjoy services from are out on a wire right now, so it’s important for us to remember those people and find ways to get them what they need and support them during this time,” she says.
THE VINEYARDS AT DODON Maryland is a fairly strict state when it comes to the sale and consumption of alcohol, so the introduction of legislation allowing wineries and breweries to ship their product anywhere within the state came as a shock. Now consumers can have their favorite wine or beer sent directly to their doorstep without having to find a local purveyor to go through. Davidsonville-based winery The Vineyards at Dodon has been able to supplement some of the revenue lost from vineyard tours and tastings by shipping wine to club members, thanks to Governor Hogan’s decision to relax restrictions. Though such a change has supported the business, owner and head winemaker Tom Croghan would like to see more substantive changes in the long-term. Croghan wants us to move on from the pandemic as a society that pays more attention to the growth and distribution of food. “Wine, of course, is meant to be enjoyed with food,” he explains. “A more [evenly] distributed, local supply of food would solve many of these challenges, as well as help produce better, more nutritious food.” DISTRICT FRAY | 23
LOST BOY CIDER
Alexandria’s Lost Boy Cider was the first cidery in Virginia to close its doors when the reality of the current state of affairs began to sink in. Going from a mainly onsite tasting sales model to canning all products for home consumption was tough, but founder Tristan Wright is thankful to continue his business in any capacity. “At the end of the day, the health and safety of my employees and customers matters most,” Wright explains. “If that means we can’t have [on-site] tastings like we
used to, then we will be prepared to continue getting customers our cider from afar.” Lost Boy can now ship its beverages to 49 states and self-distributes within Virginia. Customers can still pick up cider to-go alongside nosh from local food trucks and restaurants that have partnered with Lost Boy during this time. Wright hopes these looser laws are here to stay after the virus is more contained, as he knows things may never truly go back to normal.
Allegory: www.allegory-dc.com // @allegory_dc
Legislation allowing alcohol delivery has been crucial for Service Bar in Shaw, as 90 percent of the bar’s sales are alcoholic drinks, according to owner Chad Spangler. His team had to adjust the menu to make drinks that can easily be poured over ice and taste as good at home as they do at the bar. But ultimately, he’s just happy to keep their doors open. “Before, 99 percent of our sales were on-site,” he says. “Shifting has been somewhat challenging, but we’re getting more and more used to it.” Spangler tries not to look at the new measures Service Bar is taking as a bandage, but rather a new business model. He launched a YouTube channel to stay connected with guests, and is working more than ever before to ensure the delivery and to-go at Service Bar run smoothly. While he’s not expecting to open his doors to customers anytime soon, he knows he will have to adjust how he serves patrons in the future. Service Bar is relatively small, without the room to space tables six feet apart. He hopes that lawmakers will uphold the new laws after businesses open again to ease the burden of such restrictions. “We will have to try to figure out some sort of hybrid blend because we’re not going to be able to accomplish what we used to without standing room or seating at the bar, which is a huge part of our business.” While the change in laws has been helpful, Spangler emphasizes they are not enough to keep Service Bar afloat as this continues into the long-term. The rollout of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans was promising until it ran out of money, without granting any funding to him or other restaurateurs he has spoken to. What he believes would help Service Bar and others in the industry the most is a stronger, more unified government response. “If [local] governments can come at this together and figure out a more responsible approach than what’s happening right now, and find a logical way to get things reopened and active again, it would instill confidence in the consumer. People would feel like it’s not so dangerous to go out and socialize again.”
24 | MAY 2020
Ayuda: www.ayuda.com // @ayuda_dmv Lost Boy Cider: www.lostboycider.com // @lostboycider The People’s Drug: www.thepeoplesdrug.com // @thepeoplesdrug Service Bar: www.servicebardc.com // @servicebardc The Vineyards at Dodon: www.dodonvineyards.com // @dodonvineyards
MARGARITAS & MAKESHIFT BARS
Virtual Happy Hour with Cantina Bambina WORDS BY KELSEY COCHRAN Once upon a time, District residents could make their way down to The Wharf for a margarita or two at crowd favorite Cantina Bambina. Sunny spring and summer days begged for a drink at their open-air bar overlooking the water. But, with the state of the world today, it seems these trips have to be a thing of the past for now. Until Cantina can welcome everyone back with open arms, bartenders like Beth Hanko plan on staying connected with patrons by hosting virtual happy hours. Hanko recently hosted the spot's first virtual cocktail hour alongside her coworker Marley Robertson via Zoom. This inaugural remote event opened the door for Hanko, Robertson and their fellow bartenders to stay connected with valued customers and friends. They’re not just sharing cocktail recipes – they’re checking in on one another and discussing how everyone is coping with the current situation. Hanko enjoyed being back behind the bar, even if it was in her own home. “It was nice having everyone together and seeing everyone’s faces, seeing what they’ve been up to,” Hanko says. Many bar regulars are probably missing their favorite watering hole, and Hanko is missing them, too. She and the other bartenders plan on hosting more cocktail hours in the future to stay connected with regulars and new customers alike. In the meantime, Hanko has stayed in touch with her co-workers by texting their group chat and joining Zoom brunches with them. “It’s been a little crazy staying in the house all the time, so it’s nice to know we have each other and can check up on one another to make sure we’re all doing all right.” In addition to offering a way to talk with her customers, the online happy hours have presented a fun challenge to Hanko and her fellow bartenders. Not everyone has a full bar in their house, which means finding alternatives to traditional ingredients and tools when teaching people how to Illustrations by Julia Goldberg.
make a drink. “It’s fun having random ingredients and trying to put them together, sometimes they fail and sometimes they’re extra delicious,” Hanko says. “You kind of just grab what you think everyone has lying around the house and throw it all together, shake it up and see how it turns out.” While these happy hours are intended to be a fun distraction from the realities of the pandemic, they are also meant to keep Cantina workers afloat. During the first Zoom cocktail hour, Hanko received donations of bottles of alcohol and Cantina T-shirts to raffle off in order to support staff members. Patrons are encouraged to use the link in Cantina’s Instagram profile to send tips to their own workers and others in the industry around D.C. Until everyone can return to work in a normal capacity, Hanko and other industry workers will have to rely on tips and donations from generous Washingtonians. Luckily, there has been an extraordinary amount of contributions made by customers. Hanko looks forward to the day where she can get back to work and show her appreciation to everyone who has upheld the Cantina family. “I just can’t believe the [amount of] support we’ve gotten from our bar regulars, and even just random people. It just shows how much people care about us.”
Dockside Donkey • 2 oz. Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka • Ginger beer • Squeeze of fresh lime
Follow Cantina on Instagram @cantina_bambina for updates on virtual happy hour offerings and ways to help their team.
• Mix all together
Cantina Bambina Margarita • 2 oz. tequila • 1 oz. fresh lime juice • 1/2 oz. agave • Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake it up • Pour over fresh ice in a glass with a salted rim • Top with a floater of Grand Marnier for a Cadillac and garnish with a lime wedge
DISTRICT FRAY | 25
MUSIC O-SLICE CAN DO IT ALL
NOW SHE WANTS TO SHOW YOU WORDS BY TRENT JOHNSON
MUSIC On April 15, O-Slice posted her first “Blue Room” video on social media. The two-minute clip features the rapper standing center, flanked by a musician behind a keyboard and another with a shining brass trumpet. The song she performs is titled “Ahri’s Reprise,” and though it’s technically a “No Scrubs” cover, it’s not. There’s an elongated verse before you ever hear the chorus TLC made famous in 1999, but the words beckon thoughts of poetry and could easily be spoken onstage in a dark coffee shop. When you do finally arrive at lines you’d normally sing aloud, you don’t. You can’t. Instead you hear O-Slice. For these two minutes, they belong to her. O-Slice is in the midst of change. The song is an exception to her online presence. Instead of melodies and spoken word, you’ll likely discover ferocious raps marrying the lyricism of Eminem with the unrelenting energy of Busta Rhymes. This is a calculated move, she wants to reach out, grab you, shake you and leave you with no thoughts beyond, “Holy shit, she can really rap.” “I think my new music is right in between the two personas,” she says. “I think the ‘No Scrubs’ song is super soft and sweet and has strength. But I think the music itself is softer than what I want my overall feeling to be. I want to be in the middle where it’s not as hard as [2020’s] Energy and not as soft as ‘Scrubs.’’’ Instead of honing this new sonic direction in a studio, Slice is holed up with her family in Prince George’s County. Yes, she’s still working and reworking both new and unreleased music (she describes herself as a hoarder when it comes to her catalog), but she’s also taking on all comers in Madden (she runs with the Chiefs), tweeting through Insecure and guarding her extremely, very secret seven names. Between it all, we caught up with her to talk about the aforementioned change and all things quarantine. District Fray: Is the Blue Room a series we’ll see going forward? O-Slice: Oh yeah, the day I did that I also did two other songs. I’ll roll those out. Other than “No Scrubs,” I did my song “Two Hands,” and a mashup of others I’ve done over the years. Did you record these during quarantine? So funny enough, I actually recorded those a year ago. I initially wanted to release them during Women’s History Month, but now every moment is the right moment. That makes sense, because you’ve posted about being a perfectionist on social media. What part of the process sort of holds you up? Is it the lyrics, the beats, the videos? It’s the entire thing, because I’m so hands on. I’m there – move this, move that – I touch every single part. The vision is so precise that it can be a hindrance. There’s a science, [but] I’m trying not to be as particular. I’m trying to work on getting it right and letting it go. Does quarantine help or hurt your quest for perfection? It’s doing both. Working digitally really sucks for me, but it’s forcing me to be creative about content I already have. Sometimes you have to put things out there and see what happens. It’s forcing me to look at what I already have and make something of anything. You released an EP titled Energy in January. The lyrics in the song “20/20” call for more of everything, whether it be freedom, money, etc. Was the release date purposeful? I wrote that song in Nigeria, while seeing the places I came from and knowing I could be the person to give myself and my O-Slice. Photo by Joseph Abay.
family more. That’s where that energy came from. When I wrote it, it was 20/20 vision in mind, but I released it in 2020, so it worked out. Ah, so that was another you had stashed away. When I did “20/20,” once again it was one of those things where I have a crazy backlog. I want to flesh that out before I start this new phase of my career. I have all these older works I started, finished or just stopped working on, so if I don’t release them now, it won’t make sense going forward. Whoa, that sounds major. What’s changing? Okay, so I think I have this thing: I am almost two people. There’s the Slice you see online prior to the Blue Room, these super hard raps – not street, not gangster, but ferocious and fast. At my shows, you get to see the rappity raps, but at the same time you see me do more melodic stuff. It’s a more well-rounded artist experience. You started rhyming when you were 9 in school bus rap battles, what made you want to do that? I was super shy and had terrible social anxiety and didn’t do the best in social situations. When I did the rap battle, that was the first time some people actually heard me talk. With rapping and being good at it, that built up my confidence. What was the moment you knew you wanted to make a career out of it? I always knew I could do whatever I put my mind to. I always knew I loved rap and loved doing it. I performed at an Apollostyle talent show when I was a sophomore in high school. When I came up on stage the boos started immediately [laughs]. The audience didn’t give a damn, they were ready to chew me up, but I started to rap and they went crazy. It was such a wild experience. I’m looking at a full theater of people who honestly wanted me to fail and now they’re blown away. One thing that’s constantly coming up here is your live performance. What about it is so dynamic? I command an audience. I have them engaged from start to finish, have them try and sing along to songs they’ve never heard. As fun as it is to perform in front of someone who knows me, I enjoy it more when someone doesn’t know me. They might not be expecting anything. I love that feeling. I made you pay attention to me, and now you want to know everything about me. Is it frustrating to be referred to as a best kept secret? No artist wants to be a secret, right? I wear it like a badge of honor. Before, I felt like I was good and was being left off of lists or wasn’t getting what I deserved. I realized if people don’t know me, I need to let them know me. I can’t say people are sleeping on me when they can’t find my stuff. The best kept secret is that people will find out eventually, it’s my job to get the secret out. The best place to find more information about O-Slice is on Twitter @o_slice and Instagram @flowsnice. Hear her music at linktr.ee/flowsnice.
DISTRICT FRAY | 27
ALL ALONE, ALTOGETHER Connecting to Music in an Era of Social Distancing WORDS BY M.K. KOSZYCKI There’s something to be said about the energy a live concert carries that no other form of live event can quite capture. The joy of being packed in with anywhere from dozens to thousands of other fans in anticipation of experiencing a favorite artist live, and the shared communal experience it creates, is one that’s particularly missed in our current era of social distancing and nonessential business closures. At the time of writing this, it’s been well over a month since said shutdown, enacted in the hopes of quelling Covid-19’s looming threat. While it’s obvious why this had to happen, many people reel in its wake, for personal and professional reasons. And while the nation eagerly awaits safely attending shows again, we spoke to three DMV residents who are all lifelong devotees of music and involved in the local scene about how they’re coping, what their relationship with music looks like right now and recommendations to tide us over until we’re all packed in at a show together again.
Jake Ramirez Freelance Music Writer
This D.C.-based freelance writer was set to cover SXSW this spring, before it became one of the first festival casualties of Covid-19. “I was set to travel to my hometown of Austin to cover SXSW in March,” Ramirez says. “I had been going to a lot of shows to ease back into writing and drinking and being awake past 11 p.m. As it turns out, I was training for quarantine – not SXSW.” All this prep did still come in handy, as Ramirez kept writing anyway. A contributor to the late, great DC Music Download and more recently Capitol Sound DC and Blisspop, he also runs a music blog and listening club podcast – both named “Critically Acclaimed.” “The weight of being labeled a podcaster is a heavy cross to bear, so it’s more of an on-again off-again thing,” he notes. Still, you can surf through archives of guests deep diving into their favorite albums alongside Ramirez for thoughtful analysis via his podcast website. [Full disclosure: I was a guest on an episode about Beach House’s Bloom late last year]. And in a period of self-isolation, Ramirez now puts together journals centering on what he’s watching and listening to right now. “I’m a critic by nature, but I’ve needed to turn off that analytical part of my brain for music,” he says. “I think I’m interacting with music like many people are right now. I’m listening to feel like my stress or restlessness is shared and understood. I’m not as interested in listening to music as some 28 | MAY 2020
intellectual thing at the moment.” Ramirez hopes that outside of selfreflection and music serving as an even bigger connector right now, that there is also a change in the way we talk about music and its monetization, as the lid has been blown off the problems of financial insecurity that many creatives are currently facing. “This is an important moment for music journalism to challenge the status quo. If our society gains so much value from artists, why do we let artists struggle to make a living? Wealth is highly concentrated with a few, and everyone else is struggling. I hope we see more journalism that connects those dots to show that when we let artists struggle, we’re only stealing from ourselves. That’s what I want to read, at least.” While the industry and those who write about it grapple with the fallout of social distancing on such a social medium, Ramirez admires the way artists have adapted and fans have shown up in digital scores to support them. “It’s really cool to see musicians recalibrate so nimbly. The idea of the live streamed concert became a household concept overnight. Instagram battles between hip-hop producers and musicians are must-see events. Fiona Apple. There’s a lot to celebrate.” Read Ramirez’s quarantine journals and listened to “Critically Acclaimed” on www.acclaimedpod.com. Photo courtesy of Jake Ramirez.
Jake Recommends “[AuxParty] lets you and friends take turns playing songs for each other.” “Buy music and merch on Bandcamp, a ticket for a livestream show, gift cards for bars and venues – whatever makes sense.” “I watched Cool Hand Luke recently, and besides feeling like the quintessential American movie, it has an amazing soundtrack.”
“D.C.’s Cathy DiToro and Chris Kamesh put on a delightful livestream on their Facebook page, Sugar Highway (@sugarhwyy), which has been fun and lighthearted. It definitely lifts my mood.” Beastie Boys Story on Apple TV “Striped: The Story of The White Stripes” on Apple Podcasts The National’s 2010 “High Violet” Live From Brooklyn Academy of Music concert film
Shantel Mitchell Breen
Live Music Photographer
If you’ve been to a show in the DMV anytime between 2008 and before the Covid-19 crisis, you were probably in the presence of Breen, who has shot for many local outlets including District Fray for 12 years now. “I attend concerts like some people watch TV,” Breen says. “It is definitely my favorite hobby or way to spend my free time.” Naturally, as someone who attends one to two, or sometimes even more, shows a week and captures them through photography, social distancing has provided a huge challenge for Breen in her personal and professional endeavors. “I miss the energy for sure. I love the livestream concerts, but it’s just not the same as being in a club with hundreds or thousands of other fans singing and dancing along to the music. I also miss the volume. You just can’t get that bass drum thump from a livestream. The people are truly missed as well. I loved photographing shows with my fellow photographers. They are truly some of my favorite people.” Breen says she’s turned to exercise as an outlet in the meantime, but “it doesn’t even come close to being at a live show with friends.” She’s also been participating in virtual dance parties like FYM Production’s annual Cryfest and Depeche Mode events, hosted at the Black Cat before moving to a virtual affair. She’s even joined Quarantunes Listening Collective on Facebook (organized by I.M.P.’s Jordan Grobe, more on the next Photo courtesy of Shantel Mitchell Breen.
page) to further connect virtually. As a photographer, though, she’s struggled with the adjustment to virtual events. “This has been a bit hard for me. The first week of shutdown, I was overwhelmed with the number of my musician friends who suddenly found themselves without gigs. I have done my best to promote their livestream events and feature different local artists on my blog or on social media. Around weeks two to three, I definitely hit some low points for sure. I am adjusting to this slower pace and lack of social life, but it is not how I prefer to live.” But Breen is hopeful, and still finds new ways to enjoy and participate in this new iteration of the music world. Her daughter takes after her love of music and shares new songs and artists to check out, and she’s been spending more time diving deep into the work of local musicians. She’s also taken a digging into the music of the ‘90s alongside her husband, starting a blog called Steady Diet of 90s. “While this is a challenging time, we will get through this,” she says. “It is comforting to know that we are all in this together: musicians, photographers, bar tenders, sound engineers, venue workers. We just need to support each other as we work through this and remind ourselves that it won’t be like this forever.” Check out Breen’s photography at www.thesesubtlesounds.com and her ‘90s music blog at www.steadydietof90s.com. DISTRICT FRAY | 29
Communications Coordinator for I.M.P. “I’ve loved music since day one and figured out fairly early on that I wouldn’t be the guy onstage,” Jordan Grobe says. “I distinctly remember being 10 years old or so watching Paul McCartney on TV singing ‘Hey Jude’ for 150,000 people at Glastonbury – 150,000 people gathered together, singing along to every word and forgetting about any of the things that typically divided them. It was the most incredible thing I ever could’ve imagined.” Grobe’s relationship with music grew with experiences throughout high school and college in his hometown of White Plains, New York and eventually in the District, where he attended George Washington University. There, he “dove headfirst” into involvement with the school’s radio station WRGW, serving as general manager, and also helped start house venue Above the Bayou. Before Covid-19 hit, you could find Grobe at any given show hosted by I.M.P. – the concert promotion and production company behind 9:30 Club, The Anthem, Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion – during a regular week serving in his role as communications coordinator. “To go from spending 175 nights [per] year in a sea of ecstatic fans to being stuck on my couch is definitely a big change,” he notes. “My inner extrovert misses all of my coworkers and the raw energy that buzzes through an audience at any concert. When I was working door staff, the main job was to observe everything other than the show itself. I learned pretty early on how to enjoy myself based on the reaction of the crowd rather than just the performance.” As a way to cope and connect even further with music, Grobe decided to start a digital listening club on Facebook, called Quarantunes Listening Collective. It was inspired by the concept of deep listening, where one truly focuses on the music while listening to an album, free of distractions from phones, roommates and the like. “When I thought about that loss of connection to the music itself, I thought about our current loss of connection to each other too. I figured a great way to bridge that gap would be to create something like a book club, but for albums. I started the Facebook group, invited everybody I knew that I thought would be interested and left it open to everyone else. We’re currently up to 150 members. It’s been amazing to meet some new people, reconnect with old friends from college, and bond over some of our favorite albums (or albums we’d never heard before and are just now discovering). We’ve had people join from Michigan to Mumbai, and that’s not an exaggeration.” So if you crave a deeper way to connect with music in the era of social distancing, Quarantunes Listening Collective is a great option. And when this too has passed, join Grobe at an I.M.P. show. You can search “Quarantunes Listening Collective” on Facebook to access the group’s page and join in on their conversations. 30 | MAY 2020
Photo courtesy of Jordan Grobe.
Jordan Recommends Golden Repair by #1 Dads 3.15.20 by Childish Gambino La vita nuova by Christine and the Queens Earth by EOB Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple The Caretaker by Half Waif Song For Our Daughter by Laura Marling grae: Part 1 by Moses Sumney It Is What It Is by Thundercat Either Light by Vundabar
celebrates new record Through New Reality
WORDS BY M.K. KOSZYCKI The album was done, the tour was announced and audiences were given a sneak peek of what was to come with lead singles. Everything was in place for the beloved Swedish band Little Dragon to release their sixth studio album in April. Then, as we all know, the whole world turned upside down. No artist has been immune to the effects of Covid-19, but a previously slated album release date and tour landing smack in the middle of a pandemic (March 27, to be exact) was unprecedented for this band of 24 years. The band had played three dates, including their hometown of Gothenburg, before drummer Erik Bodin says borders started to close and they realized they were on the brink of having to halt their whole tour. He says they made the decision to pack up, head home and prepare for an isolation period along with the majority of the world. “It’s very strange, I must say,” Bodin says of cutting a tour short for such unfamiliar reasons. “We were so hyped up, we were well rehearsed, and at the few dates that we managed 32 | MAY 2020
to do, we felt like, ‘Wow, this is gonna take off,’ and were super excited.” The band felt torn between wanting to continue their shows and wanting to go home and be safe. “[We were] also thinking, ‘Oh, damn,’ you know? We are trying to be as safe as we can, but now we have a lot of free time to make more music.” But as far as the album that just came out, New Me, Same Us, the band has much to be proud of. Formed in 1996, it’s quite a feat to just stay a band as long as Little Dragon has, but to gain and keep acclaim and a fervent fanbase (read: two sold-out, jam-packed nights at our own late, great Rock & Roll Hotel in 2018) as well. And though they’ve been together for quite some time, Bodin humbly notes that this album finally gave way to the group being able to sit back and really reflect on what they’ve created, with New Me, Same Us and over the years. “It’s rare that you come straight out of the whole process of making an album still wanting to listen to it. I feel like we’ve
L to R. Grik Bodin, Yukimi Nagano, Frederik Wallin, Håkan Wirenstrand. Photo by Ellen Edmar.
grown enough to allow ourselves to be proud being in a band. I don’t think we’ve tapped each other on our shoulders enough over the years and said, ‘Hey, well done.’” You can hear the cohesion, like always, but there’s a quiet confidence creeping in as well. Little Dragon’s signature sound – typically an amalgamation of R&B, pop and electronica – still reigns supreme, but there’s also a tinge of world music influence, or maybe even worldliness in general. Though it’s easy to get lost in frontwoman Yukimi Nagano’s voice, each band member seems to hold their own even more on every track. No instrument, voice or lyric is more important than the next. “The process in making this album was very collaborative in comparison to previous ones. We were not scared to break away from the original demos,” Bodin recalls. “We wanted to do all the songs from scratch. And I feel like that opened up a lot of discussion, and in those interactions we developed and evolved. I love the album myself, but I also love the fact that we’ve become so much closer and honest [with] each other.” In the vein of collaboration, albeit a much different one, is the band’s ability to let other musicians into their sonic world, and to enter the worlds of others. If you’re not familiar with Little Dragon’s work on its own, chances are someone else you listen to has collaborated with them: Gorillaz, DJ Shadow and Odezsa are just a few. Kali Uchis guests on the New Me, Same Us track “Are You Feeling Sad?” and it’s easy to wonder after years of sharing songs with so many other visionaries in modern pop if there’s anyone the band dreams of working with. “No,” Bodin says with a laugh when asked if any one artist or band tops that list. He and his band are more concerned with what someone brings to the table musically, not just their name
or staying power. “But who knows? I think what we realized in doing these collabs is that no one person can be lifted to the sky as a complete genius. Sometimes, where our studio is at home, there’s this guy outside playing this string instrument day in and day out, no matter the weather. He is like the true king of showbiz. I don’t even know his name, but it would be nice to bring him in somehow.” Until they can bring this mystery musician into the studio or even tour again, Bodin and the band are relying heavily on social media to connect with fans – a combination that sometimes borders on bittersweet. “We did a little YouTube concert and it felt very emotional,” Bodin says. “Over the years, we’ve played so much that just for fun, we’ve been saying, ‘Okay, let’s do that show like it’s our last day alive. It’s got to be good. Let’s do this for real.’ Then all of the sudden, it felt like we didn’t have the option to do anything else but that. It was very serious. It was a very emotional event. I think all of us were close to crying during the set because we just felt how fragile this thing is.” Little Dragon was previously slated to play the 9:30 Club in April, but the band is working to reschedule tour dates when things are safer. While they may come out of this time of isolation with more music and more fans through social media connection, no doubt the feeling of wanting to return to the stage is mutual among the band and their fans. Hopefully, this will serve as a celebration of the new album and being together. For updates on Little Dragon’s new tour schedule and for more on New Me, Same Us, visit www.little-dragon.net. Follow them on Instagram @littledragonflicks.
CONNECT . FEEL INSPIRED . SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISTS
YOU NEED TO KNOW
: MIXED-MEDIA ARTIST
WORDS BY MONICA ALFORD
CULTURE D.C. is a small town. So small, in fact, that mixed-media artist Emon Surakitkoson and I have run into each other at least three times at rock shows and cocktail bars around the city in the past year. In all cases, we exchanged glances and considered saying, “Hey,” vaguely recognizing each other from social media but unable to pinpoint why. Several months ago, our paths crossed when one of her vast and monochromatic works of abstract art was featured in our magazine, and I finally had an opening to reach out. On a recent Zoom interview, we covered a lot of ground. Surakitkoson moved to the DMV from Thailand at 19 and spent more than a decade working in the food and drink industry, building her chosen family, and forging a very driven, very focused path to becoming a self-taught artist. Now, the 35-yearold resides in Park View with her English bulldog Noodle, making art full-time and picking up shifts at The Midlands Beer Garden to stay connected to her friends in the bar and restaurant scene. In just a few short years, she’s nabbed a spot at 52 O Street Studios with her best friend, run Silent Auction Industry Nights for artists in the food and service industry, and sold many commissioned works of art. Now, she’s gearing up for her first solo exhibit at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland this September, a welcome distraction from our current reality. The more she shared with me, the more apparent it became that Surakitkoson is extremely comfortable in her own skin. While staying connected to her family in Thailand and her friends in D.C. is of paramount importance, so is creating art that speaks to her – with no pretension and no illusions about being something she is not. She has mastered the art of nuance, embracing the subtleties that lie within her craft and the emotions evoked when creating them. Read on to learn about her vision for the future, her methods for staying sane in the present – including designing Buttercream Bakeshop cakes, sewing masks with recycled materials, and taking Noodle on nature walks – and the ways she’s carved out her own identity while still maintaining strong ties to her native soil. District Fray: Why did you decide to move to D.C. at 19? Emon Surakitkoson: When you finish college [in Thailand], you’re [expected to] get married and become a mom. I told my dad when I was younger, “Hey, I want to do advertising. I want to make commercials.” My dad said, “No, no, no. You have to be a nurse or a teacher, and then you can do art part-time.” Going to art school back then wasn’t an opportunity for me with Asian parents. I feel like I didn’t really have the opportunity when I was younger to find out who I am. When did you start teaching yourself how to make art? Almost three years ago. When I first started, I was managing two bars and my relationship wasn’t great. I was like, “Okay, I think I have depression.” But I didn’t know what depression was because in my culture, nobody had depression. You get up and go to work. My friends said, “Well, start doing it more.” I did it more and now, it’s my job. I wake up and paint every day. A significant portion of your work is monochromatic. How would you describe your style as an artist? I work with white, black, gray, and sometimes gold and silver, but I change the tone of them a lot. Working with colors sometimes stresses me out, and I don’t really like doing stuff that stresses me out. I’d rather use black, white and gray, and then I make it interesting using dots and lines. Photo courtesy of Emon Surakitkoson.
What inspired your Silent Auction Industry Art Nights? I run them to show people, “If you love something and work on it hard enough, it could become a thing.” When I moved here, I started working in bars and restaurants. Then I started painting and a bunch of people who supported me [were like], “Em! Keep it going. You’re doing great.” If I didn’t have those people, I don’t think I would have become who I am. What’s next for you as an artist? Hopefully, my dad can come to see my solo show [at Strathmore]. I’m also trying to apply for a grant where you can go to a different country and learn about art. Then at the end of that period of time, they will have a show for [your art]. Would you go back to Thailand? Yeah, I want to go back. My uncle is an artist in Thailand, and he’s done a lot of props for movies. I want to learn how to do sculptures out of foam. Maybe if I can get the grant and I do the show, I’ll get to spend time [with my family] and then maybe my dad won’t worry. I’m the youngest, so he’s always worried about me. What do you want to accomplish in the meantime? Next year, or maybe after the [Strathmore] show ends, I’d like a bigger studio and maybe to do more classes for people. Do you teach at 52 O Street now? I have a bunch of people [in their] early 20s who come to the studio all the time. I teach them what I know: You have to be happy when you [make art], because if not, why are you doing it at all? I tell them, “Don’t do it because it’s cool. Do it because you love it. One day, it’ll become uncool, and then you’re not going to want to do it anymore.” I’m a bit old-school. Remind yourself why you make art. Art aside, how are you handling the social distancing milieu? When [Covid] first started, I sent out a letter in my neighborhood to see if anyone needed groceries or anything like that. Midlands gave me a bunch of T-shirts, and I [made] them into masks. I’m going to drop them off to So Others Might Eat. You have to do little things that make you feel good and a part of the community. We’re all here going through this together. It must be hard for all the people who have less. Do you have any other projects in the works? I [recently] designed and painted a cake with [Amilye Saunders of Buttercream Bakeshop]. I make clothes [with] recycled [materials]. These sweatshirts, I give them to a lot of friends. If you ever see these with the crooked sewing and recycled materials on them, that’s me. People just need a little project, you know? You and me both. What about self-care? I read a lot. I FaceTime a lot with my friends to check on them. I clean and rearrange from time to time. Luckily enough, I have a backyard, so I garden. I smoke sometimes and it’s kind of like, “Ahhh. Everything will be okay.” I miss going out to the bars and reading a lot. That will be the first thing I do: Go read at a bar and get drunk. Don’t miss Surakitkoson’s solo exhibit at Strathmore from September 8 to October 31. Go to www.emonsurakitkoson.com to learn more and follow her on Instagram @emonartdc.
DISTRICT FRAY | 35
WORDS BY TRENT JOHNSON
36 | MAY 2020
“What is this obsession people have with books? They put ‘em in their houses like they’re trophies, what do you need it for after you read it? ‘Books, books, I need my books.’” Jerry Seinfeld poses this question to George Costanza in a 1991 episode of Seinfeld. While he’s right that a collection of books does serve as a trophy case proving a person’s mental acumen, the general disdain he has toward the very idea of owning books is one of the worst hot takes in sitcom history. Why wouldn’t you want to keep books you’ve read? Incredible stories don’t expire. Even after you’ve turned the final page, owning a copy allows you to return to the respective worlds again and again, when times are tough, slow or anywhere in between. Purchasing novels or texts also boosts the local economy, as long as you’re shopping with indie bookstores. Undoubtedly, you’ve one-clicked on Amazon here or perused a Barnes & Noble there – and look, it happens. We’re not judging you. Hell, I’ve done it too. But luckily for us (you and me and the person you’re locked in an apartment with), the DMV houses a number of local retailers who specialize in moving books – both new and used. And like their peers in other industries, they’re morphing with the times. THE EVOLVING BOOK BUSINESS. “[Foot traffic] was our main source of business,” says Angie Sanchez, a bookseller at Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. “Especially in our location, right along the water. Most of our traffic was people who hadn’t heard of us before, tourists. [Since], we have been super busy with online orders. It’s been a complete transition. We’re basically a fulfillment center now.” Nearly all industry peers are in a similar boat, moving desks and tables around their locations to increase shipping capacity. Halls once organized and designed to shepherd people toward colorful spines and eye-catching titles are now stocked with empty cardboard boxes, packing tape, and stacks of books people bought online. With no customers coming and going due to restrictions on nonessential businesses in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, all small bookstores have come face to face with this reality. East City Books, Politics and Prose, and Second Story Books have made similar transitions, but luckily already offered online sales. “We’ve laid off 30 people,” says Allan Stypeck, owner of Second Story Books. “We’ve been shut down, and we have no realistic time[line] as to when it will open. It’s impacted us greatly.” Stypeck’s business is more than a place to pick up a fascinating paperback or hardcover. The historic business touts rare texts, arts and antiques, auctions, appraisal services and a litany of other items. So far, he says they’ve been able to move several high-priced books during the quarantine, but auction and non-book sales have fallen. A popular adjustment to combat these kinds of losses are subscription boxes or bundles, which help stores move aisle items other than books. “These are different, and they are new,” says East City’s adult book buyer Emilie Sommer about the packs. “These are a way for us to sell non-book items people love so much. People love cards, stickers, gift books – something you’d buy for a friend. ” East City has several options including four varieties of book subscriptions and surprise packs; Old Town Books offers themed care packages and its Book Love initiative, which allows customers to purchase one for frontline workers or children in need; and Second Story Books is selling bundles of eight books for $25 and 16 books for $50 complete with a tote bag. COMMUNITY ON THE COMPUTER. Events, meetings and workshops were the first activities at the mercy of our societal changes. With social distancing went large crowds, Curbside pickup at Old Town Books. Photo courtesy of Old Town Books.
and the majority of gatherings altogether. Politics and Prose, a local bookstore chain known for its robust calendar of in-store author events, immediately began shifting a number of already scheduled programs online via Crowdcast. “We’ve always seen ourselves as a place where people can deal with the world by gathering,” says Sarah Costello, the deputy director of marketing at Politics and Prose. “We have a strong author events series that brings people through our doors. The quick realization that that was no longer safe for our community has definitely had an impact on our store.” Both East City and Old Town Books have also moved offerings to virtual, whether they be book club meetings, café-writing sessions or other workshops. However, well-curated storefronts constructed to invite people in for events or talks aren’t the only appeal of independent bookstores for locals. Each shop plays a pivotal role in their respective literary communities through active conversation. This sentiment is why Meg Ryan’s character as a small-time children’s bookstore owner in You’ve Got Mail is easier to root for than that of co-star Tom Hanks, the face of a soulless big-box competitor. Without the face-to-face interaction, social media has become an increasingly important tool to help communicate recommendations and pointers, and East City has taken it a step further in maintaining this spirit by inviting people to text or call a hotline (202-539-2554). “People know they can talk to someone knowledgeable who can make a recommendation an algorithm can’t,” says Sommer, the other end of the hotline. “I really like it. That’s my favorite thing to do in the store.” FORECASTING THE FINAL CHAPTER. All stories require an ending, but tracking the day-to-day minutiae of Covid-19 news is a tiresome task for anyone – especially for those running small businesses. The shifting dynamics make planning nearly impossible and when it comes to the book industry, the effects are already being felt from publishers on down. In the meantime, books provide an escape to new worlds, an opportunity to explore and learn and feel. Perhaps more importantly, these leather-bound temporary reprieves from reality connect you with an engaged community. “I think it’s a safe way for people to escape when they need a minute to not look at Twitter or the news,” Sanchez says. “Talking about books is a great way to stay connected.” So when you’re sitting around searching for the next opportunity to support a local business, don’t be Jerry Seinfeld. Consider a purchase from an indie book shop, and if you don’t know where to start or perhaps don’t care, they can help. “We’re extremely devoted to our clientele,” Stypeck says. “We respect the fact that people need books and we’re not going to abandon anybody. The unity with the community is one of the only positive things we’ve gotten from this.” To shop online with any of these stores and to see if they deliver, visit their respective websites. East City Bookshop: www.eastcitybookshop.com Old Town Books: www.oldtownbooks.com Politics and Prose: www.politics-prose.com Second Story Books: www.secondstorybooks.com
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WORDS BY KEITH LORIA
HOW D.C. AREA DANCE COMPANIES ARE SHARING THEIR ART DURING THE PANDEMIC
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the creative arts massively, with performances being postponed and classes being canceled. Thankfully, dance companies throughout D.C. are doing what they can to ensure dancing continues. Already, we are seeing amazing performances streamed online, new projects being created for Zoom and Instagram Live, and dance classes held virtually for students of all ages.
MOVING ONLINE Christopher K. Morgan, executive artistic director of Dance Place, which normally offers live performances every weekend and classes for adults and kids, says it has put up virtual classes throughout the week. “We also started a virtual presentation series, which is a combination of conversations with artists and video screenings of excerpts of their work,” Morgan says. “Some of the work that was intended to be presented in our theater, and some giving context to the artist’s full body of work.” The company is using Facebook for the streams, which he notes is super accessible to the entire dance community. “We wanted to stay as connected to our community as we could during this time,” he continues. “We’ve been seeing within the field of dance, really important artists and institutions doing screenings of full-length works that are beautifully lit with multi-camera shoots, and while some of our artists in our series do have access to that type of documentation of their work, we wanted to create a virtual presentation series that highlighted what we do: engaging in conversation and sharing art.” Sarah Ewing, director of contemporary dance company S. J. Ewing & Dancers, notes the company is in the early development of its next work, Techne, which is set to premiere in August. “We are very fortunate that DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has already confirmed funding for the work, and that they are being very 38 | MAY 2020
flexible with us on any shifts we need to make for the project,” she says. “The co-presenter of the work, CityDance – where I am resident artist – is also supporting us as we navigate the pandemic.” While Ewing still hasn’t written off the plan for a live performance, the company is building the work knowing it may need to move the performance to a virtual setting. “My collaborator, Dylan Uremovich, and I work with a lot of technology – motion tracking and interactive projections – for the company’s dance performances, and so imagining how we could utilize technology to potentially present the work through a virtual platform is sparking many creative ideas,” she explains. “If we move our August performance to an online presentation, that will require cameras, projectors, lights, etc. But for now, it’s been an easy transition.” Ewing continues to teach for CityDance, which has moved all of its classes (165 each week) to various online platforms. “It’s exciting to see how we can leverage these virtual platforms for dance classes. So far, I have been able to do everything with just my laptop and a few apps, and some minor adjustments to the furniture in my bedroom. Dancers have been able to connect to classes with their laptop or iPhone.”
Obviously, virtual dance is not ideal, as a big part of the medium comes from connection and working in unison with other dancers. But with no other options, dancers are making it work the best they can. “As dancers and teachers, we are used to being able to touch and see and be with each other,” Ewing adds. “That shared energy is often the place our
creativity and ideas are born from, so not having that is hard. But artists and dancers are agile, and we will continue to find new ways to serve our community with classes and performances. Hopefully, this provides some respite for our fellow citizens as they stay home, and for those on the frontline of this pandemic who work in the healthcare sector and other essential services.” Momentum Dance Theatre has also moved most of its classes online via Zoom. It offers two adult ballet and one adult classical jazz class per week, with a Brazilian dance class coming soon. “All classes are live, which gives us the chance to check in and keep ourselves socially connected,” says Roberta Rothstein, Momentum’s artistic director. To connect, Rothstein uses her Surface Pro and at the advice of a parent, hooks it to a larger 32-inch screen through an HDMI cable so she can better see her students dancing while she dances along. Naturally, there are challenges. In addition to finding enough room to dance in one’s home, audio and visual lags make it hard for everyone to dance together. “As a dancer/choreographer whose strength is musicality and attention to rhythm, I have to accept that all students hear the music slightly later than I do, and they don’t all hear it at exactly the same time,” Rothstein says. “Also, everyone’s signal is different. I can see some students clearly, others are hazier, still others have an unstable signal. Some have to get back into Zoom three or four times during a class or their screen freezes. Sometimes, I get the unstable audio signal and we all have to end Zoom and restart it.” Mary Chase, executive director of Joy of Motion Dance Center, says because of security concerns, she is not offering virtual classes. Instead, she has instructors create video content that students can watch from home and practice along with. “In just three weeks, we were able to put together 508 videos for our prepaid tuition students, which is about $110,000 worth of revenue for us,” she says. “We are doing livestream content through our website, but the beauty and curse of being such a large organization is that if we had tried to do Zoom instead of the prerecorded classes, we’d have over 200 classes a week and only 10 individuals monitoring that.”
FOR THE LITTLE ONES
Studio One Dance offers custom dance instruction for young students ages two to eight. When the stay-at-home order came in, the company’s director, Rebecca Ward, quickly pivoted to virtual teaching. “It definitely took a little while to get into a new routine, but I am so grateful that we have an alternative way to teach our students,” Ward says. “We are hosting our regular schedule of classes virtually through Zoom and have also been going live on Instagram sharing ideas for DIY dance crafts, new steps for dancers to practice and ballet story time.” She notes trying to stay on top of the ever-changing privacy suggestions has been a daily exercise, and keeping students engaged during class is an ongoing challenge. “Virtual learning is really tricky for some children. They crave the social interaction that regular classes provide them. We’re giving 150 percent in our lessons to make virtual learning exciting.” Momentum also has its children’s classes online. When the stay-at-home order was announced, the dance company was preparing for its annual spring performance of ‘ALICE: Why A Girl Needs a Wonderland and What Happens There.’ In response to the situation, one of the student’s parents assisted in setting up virtual classes on Google Classroom.” “We are able to send weekly reminders, assign homework and use our YouTube Channel as a repository for the choreography already done and videoed pre-shutdown,” Rothstein says. “This has allowed us to stay focused and retain most of our students.”
GOTTA DANCE The one thing that everyone in the dance community agrees on is that they are glad so many dancers are continuing to dance during this time. But still, it’s been tough, and everyone feels for those not getting to have their moment. “It’s hard for so many dancers and their continued training and professional careers, but I have to say my heart breaks a bit for high school seniors,” Ward says. “For many of them, this may have been their last year dancing for a while, or for good. The studio you grow up dancing at is such a special place, and I feel for them missing these last moments.” Ewing admits initially it was scary, but she’s glad the virtual shift seems to be working. “We work in environments where we are near our colleagues, and we present our works in spaces with audience members sitting closely together,” she says. “We all understand the necessity of the stay-at-home mandates and want to do everything we can to keep our communities safe and healthy, but it is still scary to see a lot of peers lose income and work stability.” She adds that witnessing how quickly artists and arts organizations have moved to make dance classes and performances accessible online is very inspiring. “Art can’t cure Covid-19, but it makes the shift to social distancing and staying home easier. Whether it be reading, watching movies or streaming performances, we are all being reminded just how essential the arts are to our everyday life.” DANCE PLACE www.danceplace.org @danceplacedc JOY OF MOTION www.joyofmotion.org @joyofmotiondancecenter MOMENTUM DANCE THEATRE www.momentumdancetheatre.com @momentumdancedc S.J. EWING & DANCERS www.sjewing.com @sjewingdc STUDIO ONE DANCE www.studioone-dance.com @studioonedance_dc DISTRICT FRAY | 39
WORDS BY KELSEY COCHRAN
LIFE In the new state of our world, everyone is being forced to reconcile their work life with their personal life as the two spaces converge. Add the workload of earning a graduate degree in photojournalism to this balancing act, and you get Eric Lee. Lee is a D.C.-based freelance photographer set to graduate with an M.A. in new media photojournalism at the Corcoran School of Arts & Design at George Washington University this month, now virtually. From the confines of his apartment, Lee discussed grappling with the unfortunate reality that his graduate thesis will not be seen as it was meant to be, figuring out how to work from home and how his photography is evolving in the time of coronavirus. District Fray: What were you working on before all of this happened? Eric Lee: My thesis has been a year-long project so far documenting this family that lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I got kind of reflective and thought about my own experiences as a young Asian American boy and how that shaped me today. I was curious how parents now, first- and second-generation [citizens], are teaching their children what it means to be Asian American and blending that with [the fact that] Asian Americans, especially men, have been emasculated in popular culture and pairing that with American masculinity which has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years. When I applied to grad school, I knew I wanted to cover Asian American stories, but didn’t have the tools yet or know what stories to tell. But for my thesis, I knew it was just a matter of time to understand a little better about the community and myself.
supporting my graduate studies. Even events with just three to four people would feel inappropriate to do. I want to put the safety of everyone first. I would love to go out and photograph, but we have to postpone until things quiet down more. Has this time period inspired you artistically at all? I have been noticing a lot more black-and-white photographs on your Instagram feed lately. I’ve always been in love with black-andwhite photography, but I think I strayed away from it in the past year with my studies. Lately I’ve just been feeling a bit more free about it. I’m home all day, so I study how light falls in my own apartment. With black and white, you rely on the geometry of everything around you and how the light falls and casts shadows. I have been able to create more dramatic scenes with black and white. I’m just focused on being quiet in the moment and black and white has helped me have that vision. Having a theme and constraints of sorts is helpful to pursue creativity. How has having to work from home changed how you interact with your home space? While at home, we only have one big room and there’s only so many options you have [for a workspace]. To separate work and at-home life in quarantine, you have to adapt. It’s been better for me because I’ve [had to] clean up my apartment and organize things. I have a separate area of my kitchen table [for work] and my balcony patio where I can sit outside and do work. Having those dedicated spaces has actually helped me get a lot more done than I usually do when I’m home.
How have you had to adjust your work on your thesis without being able to go out and photograph? I did one thesis-related photo shoot. I went to shoot my subjects at their home. I stood outside the door and we chatted for a little while, it’s weird because I’ve worked so hard for a year to get their trust and to learn to be in their home, and then all of a sudden, I’m back on the outside. And that’s just a physical thing, but it felt a little shocking and I felt a bit disappointed to not be able to continue that work that, to me, had felt so intimate.
How do you think you’ll be able to share your work now? Will it change how you present your photographs for people to view in the future? Instagram’s such a great platform because it’s photo-based and where a lot of photographers, editors and the audience come together to look at work. I love it for that reason. I love that we can connect with anyone from across the world and share photography, but the scary part then is that anyone can come and say, “We own this,” and take it. I have been looking at other ways to share work, and I actually took a photography book class where we learned to bind and curate a book of our work. I’m making a photo book for my thesis, so I’m learning to sew the pages together and bind it.
How is this affecting your freelance career? I’m mainly an event photographer in D.C. and the MidAtlantic. Just over the last three weeks, I’ve lost several events – from weddings to fundraisers – all the way through July. I’m disappointed to not only not be able to see clients I’ve been talking to for a long time or work with old clients, but financially it’s devastating right now to lose my main source of income. It’s not what I do every day, but event photography pays for everything from my rent to insurance for the gear and was actually
What’s the appeal behind the photo book? While it’s really time-consuming and I don’t know how much more hand binding I’ll do in the future, I love the idea of something physical that we can all hold onto and share through the medium of photography. I’m hoping to maybe turn all of this work from the pandemic into a small zine and share it with friends and family so that they can see how I see life through all of this.
Photos by Eric Lee.
For more on Lee and his photography, follow him on Instagram @itselee or check out his website www.ericlee.co. DISTRICT FRAY | 41
SELF-CARE, SOCIAL MEDIA & MEDITATION EMBRACING STAYING AT HOME WORDS BY KELSEY COCHRAN & M.K. KOSZYCKI By now, we know the precautions to slow the spread of Covid-19 have taken a toll on social lives, work habits, daily routines and mental health – and the virus remains an unsolved threat. As the world adjusts to its current state of affairs, the phrase “new normal” is getting thrown around quite a bit. But what is the “new normal” and how do you adapt to it? That depends, largely, on who you ask. For some, the new normal includes more time spent talking to family and friends, while others are throwing themselves into art projects or meditating and connecting with themselves on a deeper level. We spoke with four Washingtonians on a group Zoom call: Sense Salon and Gallery’s owner Erin Derosa, chiropractor and integrative life coach Dr. Darrien Jamar, event and wedding planner Andrew Roby, and photographer Farrah Skeiky, also the 42 | MAY 2020
creative/culture director of The LINE Hotel. It was clear to these District Fray writers post-interview that to get through and thrive in our new normal, our lives will have to involve a lot of self-care and (virtual) human connection. Seeking Self-Care. Long before social distancing became a way of life, the idea of cultivating self-care practices was tossed around friend groups, social media and even in places of employment. But what does that really mean? Vague platitudes often conjure images of expensive retreats, products and carefully curated Instagram feeds showing followers just how balanced one actually is. But now that some of those things are out as options, and we’re all spending much more time with ourselves, self-care looks different to everyone. Dr. Darrien Jamar and Talyah Amoona. Photo by Lucas Goss.
“When I look at self-care, I think of things that have no monetary value,” Roby explains, noting that at the heart of his practices lies the idea of getting back to his happiness, in whatever simple form that may be. “I think of self-care as being able to take a bath and just sit there and clear my mind, and maybe have a glass of wine or some whiskey. I think [of it] as meditating, and really just understanding my peace of mind.” Jamar also notes that meditation is an important part of his practice, as is slowing down and moving away from the rush of things that was so common for all in prior months. Currently, he’s honing in on a new self-care strategy relative to how much news he consumes. “I watch the news twice a day,” he says. “I don’t watch it an hour after waking up, or an hour or two before going to bed, and I watch it for about 10 minutes. So that way, it’s not the first thing I’m thinking about when I wake up, or the last I’m thinking about, and that’s been very, very helpful.” For Derosa, self-care has consisted of giving herself permission to use time in a way that will serve her best and ultimately, create happiness. “[Before], I was taking in what was happening around me so much that I was barely listening to myself,” Derosa says. “This time has been so incredibly meaningful for me to literally just do what I want to. Just having that kind of wherewithal to say, ‘I don’t have to go outside even though it’s sunny and nice. I can stay in and read a book or fill my time with whatever is meaningful for me.’” In a similar vein, Skeiky’s definition of self-care can take on many forms, but at the crux of it is this: “Self-care is the verb of self-love. It’s really just saying, ‘How do I put into action loving myself, [and] reminding myself that I value my time and deserve nice things?’” “As a couple of other people said, it doesn’t have to be trips or bath bombs or things like that,” she continues. “It could be as simple as saying, ‘Yeah, I’m home, but today I’m going to dress up and do the opposite of casual Friday. I’m just sitting around my house and I’m wearing lipstick, and I deserve that just to feel good.’ If it makes you feel good, it’s self-care. If it feeds your soul, it’s self-care.” Connections in the Time of Corona. In a time of hyper connectivity, it seems we have never felt more alone than we do right now due to lack of physical connection with those we love and care for. Video calls and virtual interactions now hold so much more value than they used to as the only reprieve from the constant loneliness we are collectively facing. Now, staying in contact with people in any and all ways is a reprieve from the constant loneliness we are collectively facing. From Zoom happy hours and FaceTime dinner dates to sending snail mail and posting on Instagram, people are finding surrogate connections and maybe even building deeper bonds than they had previously. “Before it was always, ‘I’ll FaceTime you when I find time,’ and now I get to talk and catch up with everyone,” says Derosa on reconnecting with friends. “I’ve felt good about having a pause in time.” Those who own businesses that depend on in-person interactions are also finding new ways to connect with clients on a personal level. As an events and wedding planner, Roby has increased his online activity to maintain relationships with followers and check in with them, while also letting them see a more intimate side. Instead of posting with hopes of netting business when everything resumes, Roby is opening up about his feelings and asking followers how they are coping in turn. These posts are not necessarily optimistic affirmations, but rather a raw look at what Roby and his team are going through. “We’ve been saying, ‘Look, today is a day we cried, today is a day we got pissed off,
but today was also a good day because we got photos back from an event we did or we landed a new client,’” Roby says. “There’s a difference between being positive and not being real.” Some businesses have been able to remain open, but operations and interactions have transformed. Though Jamar’s chiropractic office is still operating, light banter with clients has evolved into deeper discussions about what they’re struggling with. “[I’m] listening to how people have been adapting to the situation in their own homes, especially people with families and kids at home,” Jamar says, reflecting on a particular client who is attempting to form a deeper bond with their teenager. “[I’m] just trying to help people navigate the situation and figure out what they can control, even though there is so much that’s out of our control.” Being present for others in any capacity will help us get through this. Something as simple as letting another person know you’re thinking about them can improve their day. Whether you send a handwritten letter, send a text to a friend or connect with others on social media, these small actions create moments of happiness. In a post-coronavirus future, we hope to take these lessons with us and continue to spread joy whenever we can and not forget the times when we could only communicate from afar. “We’re going to remember the people that made this time less scary and less isolating for us,” Skeiky says of the future. “I don’t think [people] are going to let us go back to normal, because I don’t think we can. We didn’t learn anything if we do.” For more information, follow our interviewees on Instagram. Erin Derosa @erinpaintsgoodhair // @sense.dc Dr. Darrien Jamar @_darrienjamar Andrew Roby @andrewrobyevents Farrah Skeiky @reallyfarrah // @thelinehoteldc
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LIFE KICKS ON FOR D.C. UNITEDâ€™S GRIFFIN YOW
WORDS BY TRENT JOHNSON
PLAY For the first time in years, Griffin Yow’s routine resembles that of a 17-year-old. On a daily basis, he’s doing homework, playing video games with friends and hanging out with his family. The only difference is that this commonality marks a drastic change for the D.C. United forward. Just two games into the team’s regular season, Major League Soccer, like all other sports leagues, was forced to postpone play in mid-March due to the dangers represented by large crowds under the specter of Covid-19. There’s no telling when sports will return to TV screens, and the timeline becomes even more fuzzy when you think about whether or not fans will join them in the stadiums anytime soon. Despite the air of uncertainty surrounding the situation, Yow is still hard at work in preparation for his second season with the team. Like other pro athletes across the sports world, Yow has been forced to hone his craft from home in a series of daily cardio routines and individual drills with cones on (hopefully) open fields. In between schoolwork and athletic upkeep, we talked to Yow about his experience in the locker room, competing with adults and how soccer runs in the family. District Fray: What initial emotions did you experience when you learned the season was postponed indefinitely? Griffin Yow: It was definitely a shock and a blow. I knew it was getting to a terrible point, but the thought never really crossed my mind. It took a little while for it to set in. I’m so used to having a structured schedule and now my days are sometimes filled with nothing. It’s hard to find things to do.
momentum going for me this season. How big of an adjustment was it for you to go from playing with people your own age, maybe a little older, to playing adults who have been professional athletes for a long time? That is definitely the biggest difference. My first year, I was off and on with Loudon United, but the guys in that league are still men and high-quality players. You have to adapt very quickly. People probably want to know: What’s that locker room experience like? I think for me, it’s just to get as comfortable with them as fast as I can. [I want them to] look at me less like a little amateur and more as a teammate. The more I’m on that page, the more I can learn from them. Is it difficult to get to that point? I think for sure at times, there is a sense of putting their guard up as to why there’s a 16 [or] 17-year-old trying to talk to me. That’s when I try to talk to them with my play a little bit and get them comfortable. Can you take me through your first memory involving soccer? The first memory I have was before I started playing, when I watched my older brother and sister in peewee when they were coached by my mom, who played in college. My first touch of the ball was when I was four or five.
Was the postponement more difficult given that the season was just about to ramp up? I’m not sure if it makes it any more difficult. We were in a good spot, and it’s upsetting to come to a sudden halt. I thought the chemistry was there, but we can use this as a time to improve.
Do you think growing up in a soccer family helped fuel your passion? That definitely helped me growing up. Not having a family that was so diverse. We all had a passion for the game – thinking about it, talking about it – so it was always around the house.
Do you have more time to connect with friends? I think it’s just more that I’m able to see that my friends are dealing with the same things as me. We can’t really hang out, but I do spend a lot of time on Zoom chats and FaceTime. I don’t know the last time our schedules have aligned. D.C. United’s season runs through the summer, so when they’re off from school, that’s when the hard grind of my season is.
When did you and your family start to notice that your skill was atypical? When I was seven years old, I started playing nine-year-olds on a travel team. All the way through travel soccer, I played two years up.
How are you approaching this lockdown as a pro athlete? I feel a little bit less pressure because I can use the time to improve and watch game film and work on things I think I can improve on. I’ve been having weekly meetings with assistant coaches and they’ve been going over specifics. What kinds of drills are you cleared to do? With the drills they’ve given us, there’s only so much you can do. They’re basically individual drills with cones, repetition and a couple of shots. Some of the more detailed things I work on is left-foot finishing, left-footed crossing. How do you feel about playing in stadiums without fans? Honestly, that is going to be pretty upsetting and different. It’s going to be something no one is used to. What goals did you have coming into this year and have they changed? They’ve definitely not changed. My main goal was to get my first MLS goal, I think that would prove a big point and get the Griffin Yow and Coach Ben Olsen. Photo by Xavier Dussaq of D.C. United.
You were playing professional games at 16. What was it like to get that call? Never in a million years. I had goals, but I didn’t imagine it would come this early. I took it with a full heart for sure. As soon as I saw the possibility, because obviously Chris Durkin had been signed early [also at age 16], it crossed my mind a few times that it could be an option. My goals were super high at the time, but I did have to reset them and reevaluate. What does it feel like playing for the pro team in your backyard? What does that mean to you, that the people closest to you get to see you compete at such a high level? Honestly, that’s one of the best parts: to see my family and classmates come out and support the team. And also, knowing that if I have a bad game or bad practice, it helps to be able to come home. For more information about D.C. United, visit www.dcunited.com. For more on Yow, follow him on Twitter @griffin_yow.
DISTRICT FRAY | 45
Closed Courts D.C.’s Biggest Hoop Stars Talk Basketball’s Postponement WORDS BY TRENT JOHNSON On March 11, a Covid-19-sized shockwave rippled across the entire sports landscape when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. In an immediate response, the NBA closed its arenas indefinitely, halting an almost finished regular season and putting respective postseason hopes on ice. Other sports leagues followed suit, rendering all answers about when pro team sports in the United States would return up in the air. “I was startled [and] shocked,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal says. “[I] definitely took some time to process and understand what we were facing.” At the time of postponement, the Washington Wizards were ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, one back from a playoff berth. But on the flip side, the team was also 5.5 games behind the eighth seeded Orlando Magic, so if the NBA is forced to come back in late summer on a tightly condensed schedule, any chances of a late-season run for the postseason would probably be mathematically impossible. Despite this, Beal says he wants to play when the league figures out its return plan. “We have unfinished business and the standings won’t stop us from competing,” he says. “[I miss] our fans, the bond with my teammates and the grind.” Beal’s local WNBA contemporary, the Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne, felt the same way when the call to postpone the 2020 season came down. The only difference between the hoop stars was that his season was wrapping up, while hers was just getting started. Delle Donne, in the midst of celebrating the team’s recent championship and her contract extension to stay in D.C., is now focusing on her societal responsibility to be cautious. “It was a bummer for sure, but it’s important we stay home for all of the essential workers who have to risk their lives and be exposed to the virus,” Delle Donne says. “I know we will have our chance. I’m excited to see a banner rise up at the arena. I’ve never really framed this season as defending a title. That title is ours and will live in history forever. I was looking at this season as hunting for the next one and I’m so hungry to get back and do that.” Opening night for the Mystics was originally slated for May 16, which would have also included the championship banner ceremony and a showdown with the recently departed Kristi Toliver and the Los Angeles Sparks. Delle Donne and Toliver joined the D.C. team together 46 | MAY 2020
before the 2017 season and were arguably the two most dependable players throughout the run. “I am going to miss Kristi,” Delle Donne says. “I’m grateful for our friendship and no matter what team we are on or what city we live in, that friendship lasts forever. She will do great things as always in L.A.” To combat the loss of Toliver, the Mystics will welcome former WNBA MVP center Tina Charles to the team, a player Delle Donne can’t wait to share the floor with – the only question is when it will happen. “We were mentally ready for training camp,” Delle Donne says. “But there are bigger issues right now and we know eventually we’ll begin again. Whenever we do begin, we will obviously need a solid amount of time to train and get our bodies right. Training at home isn’t nearly the same as playing basketball.” Another realistic adjustment to expect is performing without a live audience: no raucous crowds and no guys on stairs yelling “popcorn.” “I believe that whatever rules are set will be in the best interest of not just us as players, but of our fans as well,” Beal says. “Everyone has to remain safe and that should be the first concern.” In the meantime, both Beal and Delle Donne have passed time like everyone else. The former is often playing video games, starring in TikTok dances choreographed by his partner Kamiah
Adams and playing with his two children. “They are my sanity,” Beal says. “They are so young and don’t know all that’s going on, so to them this is just fun times with dad. I love watching them grow every day and discovering new things I don’t get to on a regular basis. There is nothing like fatherhood.” Delle Donne has participated in her fair share of TikTok challenges as well, courtesy of teammate Natasha Cloud. Despite being unable to play for her fans, she’s still attempting to put a smile on their faces. “It’s given me an outlet when days are starting to blend and it’s been fun,” she says. “It’s really important to stay busy and active right now, and I’ve had a ton of fun accepting Tash’s TikTok dance challenges. I feel like it’s really important to keep my fans laughing right now, so I’ve been trying to keep content funny and frequent.” Two of the top athletes in their sport, Delle Donne and Beal are also finding ways to work on their games from home, whether it’s on a personal court or in the film room. D.C. sports fans can rest assured that whenever these teams return to the floor, they’ll be prepared to play. Follow Beal on Instagram @bradbeal3 and Twitter @realdealbeal23. Keep up with Delle Donne on Instagram and Twitter @de11edonne.
LEFT. Elena Delle Donne. Photo courtesy of Washington Mystics. RIGHT. Bradley Beal. Photo courtesy of Washington Wizards.
DISTRICT FRAY | 47
Instant Classics: Turn Your TV/Computer into A Sports Time Machine WORDS BY TRENT JOHNSON Last April gave you the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, MLB regular season and NFL draft. This April, all we got was commissioner Roger Goodell chilling in an ugly sweater on Zoom while awkwardly announcing draft picks, and Michael Jordan reemerging in The Last Dance documentary to strengthen his claims as the greatest basketball player and pettiest human being of all time. As the Notorious B.I.G. once exclaimed, “Things Done Changed.” With live sports on pause, save for a few UFC fight cards and Korean baseball airing at 4 a.m. on ESPN, you’re best bet to scratch the itch previously alleviated by incredible athletes, is to hit the rewind button and take a deep dive into the nostalgic end of the pool. Here are six instant classic sporting contests that will capture your imagination as we wait for the live stuff to restart.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams, November 19, 2018 Result: Rams 54 - Chiefs 51 One-Sentence Pitch: Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff compete in the greatest duel of gunslingers in NFL history. The two best teams with the two best offenses on Monday Night Football: what could go wrong? For NFL fans, nothing. These two units and their innovative playbooks put on a firework show, with a final score more similar to high school games than your average pro result. Playmakers littered the field including Todd Gurley, Tyreke Hill, Kareem Hunt, Robert Woods and this guy and that guy, adding up to a back and forth shootout featuring 14 total touchdowns and four lead changes in the fourth quarter. No one wowed more than Mahomes, as the 2018-2019 MVP and eventual 2020 Super Bowl MVP made dynamic plays for both teams, as he tossed six touchdowns and turned it over four times. Watch on YouTube.
Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor II, August 20, 2016
Before the first Diaz fight, opponents who stepped in the cage with McGregor were already defeated, buried under an avalanche of trash talk and intimidation tactics. The formula didn’t work with Diaz. Words that crumbled other fighters, he laughed off. And in the cage, his methodical approach proved the perfect foil for the explosive, quick twitch McGregor as he weathered an early storm before submitting the Irishman. Talk surrounding this rematch was all about how McGregor would be more measured in his advances to keep him from gassing out. After a round and a half of him battering Diaz, the narrative was in place, until about the last minute of the second round. There, Diaz turned up the pace and what followed was a back-and-forth technical brawl. This bout has everything you’d want in a memorable prize fight – momentum swings, violence and drama. Watch on UFC Fight Pass.
Las Vegas Aces vs. Washington Mystics, September 17, 2019 Result: Mystics 97 - Aces 95 One-Sentence Pitch: The Washington Mystics kick start their championship run against the upstart Vegas Aces. Honestly, I could have picked any game from last year’s Washington Mystics title run. The squad was so uniquely talented and forward thinking in their ball movement, player motion and outside shooting, it achieved basketball nirvana by season's end. With league MVP Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver and eventual WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman on the roster, the team never encountered a moment where it didn’t have at least two top-level players on the floor. Vegas was no slouch in this series, but the reason to watch Game 1 is Delle Donne. She’s simply a tour de force of basketball genius: silky turnaround jumpers, a bruising post game, brilliant passing and an automatic 3-point shot. You name it, she’s got it. Watch on YouTube.
Result: McGregor wins by majority decision (48–47, 47–47, 48–47)
U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Netherlands Women’s National Football Team, July 7, 2019
One-Sentence Pitch: MMA’s biggest star in Conor McGregor seeks revenge against the first man to beat him in the UFC Octagon and talk shit about it, Nate Diaz.
Result: UWNT 2 - NWNFT 0 One-Sentence Pitch: The USWNT takes home the 2019 World Cup gold medal after battling hot takes about their cockiness and swagger, oh and the Netherlands. I don’t generally care about soccer, but I loved this team. In addition to
48 | MAY 2020
obliterating other squads throughout the 2019 World Cup tournament, they also battled for equal pay and fought off a strange wave of social media vitriol. People on the Internet seemed to rush at any chance to criticize this group, including claims that they were cocky, showboated after goals and disrespected their opponents. Guess what: who cares? This rendition of the national team was loaded with superstar players including Megan Rapinoe and the Washington Spirit’s own Rose Lavell who laid waste to the competition. The only team to give them a game was this stingy Netherlands squad that kept the U.S. scoreless for nearly an hour of game time. But in the end, overwhelming talent usually wins out . Watch on Youtube.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors, June 19, 2016 Result: Cavaliers 93 - Warriors 89 One-Sentence Pitch: LeBron James brings a title to Cleveland and vanquishes what could have been the greatest team in NBA history. Hoop heads remember this series as the time the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, and they’re absolutely right. In Game 4 of the series, Steph Curry and the Dubs were coasting to their second consecutive title and the winningest single season in league’s history. But then mercurial forward Draymond Green kicked LeBron James in the groin “area” and all hell broke loose. Illustration by James Coreas.
Green, the Warriors third best player, was suspended for Game 5 and the Cavs battled back to even the series forcing this Game 7. From start to finish, the intensity is palpable, which causes a downright ugly game. At times playoff basketball looks more like football, and there’s no one better at that than the physically imposing James. Watch on the NBA app.
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, May 7, 2018 Result: Capitals 2 - Penguins 1 One-Sentence Pitch: Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals finally get over the Penguin-sized hump en route to capturing the Stanley Cup. After years of falling to the mean, angry birds in Pittsburgh, Ovi and the crew blasted their rivals, conquering them in six games during the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. The closeout contest required an extra period to decide the victor, which was no surprise given the teams' shared history. At this point in the rivalry, the two teams knew each other intimately after years and years of postseason matchups. Luckily, the Capitals didn’t let the ghosts of past failures interfere and at 5:27 in overtime, Ovi dished the puck to Evgeny Kuznetsov who split the defense and sealed the victory. You know the rest. The Capitals went on to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. Watch on YouTube. DISTRICT FRAY | 49
WORDS BY SHELBY HOEFLING
Have you ever realized that you’re not absorbing the words in a book? You’ve gone over the sentences, but you have no idea what’s happening. So, you’re forced to flip back and try again, but this time with focus. Finally, upon rereading, you take in the meaning and have an a-ha moment. It takes practice, focus, determination and prioritization for a story to come together and make an impact. This process is how I view my practice of yin yoga. It takes the same amount of focus to absorb every pose and breath as they come together and provide meaning. With all that’s going on in the world today, yoga has the power to impact lives both mentally and physically. Instagram Live has become home to my live 25-minute yin yoga sessions. This is the perfect amount of time to stretch, breathe and open up any of the day’s blockages before releasing that energy to flow freely for a calm and grounding evening. Class ends with a few minutes of meditation, whether you are lying down or sitting up. If you’re new to meditation, it’s a great starting point. Yin yoga targets the deep connective tissues of the body: the ligaments, joints, bones and deep fascia networks. One class takes you through a series of passive floor poses held for five minutes or more. Hold poses for two minutes and you’ll feel an emphasis on the hips, pelvis, inner thighs and lower spine. While you won’t reap the benefits overnight, with practice and patience you’ll notice a more limber body. The way you feel physically might remain inconsistent, but the most beautiful element of yoga is to simply observe and be easy on yourself – and modify when needed. Set an intention when you practice yoga. Being mindful of joy, contentment, grounding, freedom and peace allows you to have something to focus your mind on and take with you from
Stillness is scarce but most essential.
the mat into your life. Yoga students are welcome to send over their intentions based on what’s going on in their lives in real time. Maybe it’s something that will resonate with several others tuning in from all over. Quarantine offers a chance to pause, sit still and breathe. Your mental health comes first, and knowing you’ll show up as a better friend, spouse or parent is key. We are bombarded with stimuli 24/7 – stillness is scarce but most essential. Thoughts come up as you quiet the mind. A checklist of things may feel most important. The more you practice, prioritize and focus to sit, stretch and tune into your breath, the more you absorb all that yoga has to offer. Connecting with a real-time teacher will increase accountability and create consistency for surviving the chaos as your best self. You’ll find more joy, less anxiety, more energy and overall increased happiness. Trust in the power of stillness, stretching, slowing down, breathing and simply just being. Learn more about yin yoga at www.yinyoga.com. Join Hoefling’s online sessions of yin yoga by visiting her Instagram @shelbyhoefling on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. via Instagram Live.
Photo courtesy of Shelby Hoefling.
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DISTRICT FRAY | 51
PLUGGED IN This month’s crossword puzzle comes to you from I.M.P., the concert promotion and production company behind some of the most loved music venues in the DMV. As you might expect, this is for all of the music nerds out there. You may think you’re safe if you listen to only niche local bands or original rock ‘n’ roll, but you really need to be a lover of all music to ace this test. 1
41 43 45
54 55 58
Check www.districtfray.com for the answer key.
52 | MAY 2020
ACROSS ACROSS ACROSS ACROS 1.
Lil Nas X’s breakthrough (and Billboard’s longest running No. 1 single)
TV channel host of the awards mentioned in 17 down
First track of Adele’s 25
All the kids are on it these days
Penman behind “All Along the Watchtower,” by last name
Abbreviated smash hit off Outkast’s Stankonia
Ms. Fitzgerald, jazz legend
First N.W.A member to go solo
Robert Smith’s gothic troupe, minus “The”
Joe Strummer fought it (and lost)
Shorthand for “do it yourself”
What you’d call Mr. Redding, if close
Surname of Gorillaz/Blur frontman
Nine Inch Nails song covered by Johnny Cash
DOWN DOWN DOW
Gang that broke rap intoBillboard’s Top 40 for the first time
Fast food restaurant O.D.B. got popped at on the run in South Philly
Epithet of Jon, Peep and Uzi Vert among others
Napster’s mortal enemy
This boy band is celebrating the 20th anniversary of “No Strings Attached”
London songwriter and “Glow” actress Kate, or, the N in CSNY
The Fugazi ticket price (in dollars)
Lovably zany Icelandic artist who got her start as frontwoman of The Sugarcubes
Tragically late Beastie Boy and quaker school attendee
Signature song for soul deity Aretha Franklin
Infamously disastrous music festival in 2017
Slang for live musical performance
Folk supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and _____
N.Y.C. Clan not to be trifled wit(h)
Jeff Buckley’s one-time love, Liz ______ (of Cocteau Twins fame)
They don’t want “No Scrubs”
Ubiquitous drum break most often sampled in hip-hop and D’n’B
Successor to Joy Division
The first Beastie Boy to rock the sure shot
Her 2007 hit “Umbrella” was nighunavoidable
He’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man
2003 documentary profiling The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols
According to DNA tests, she’s 100 percent “that b*tch” Best-selling album of all time (hint: “Werewolf Dance”)
The P.J. in P.J. Harvey
Guitarist featured in both Dead & Co. and The Chappelle Show
What the British tabloids call Morrissey
Blades cut by blades
Detroit record label and heart of soul
Beastie Boy and husband to Kathleen Hanna
FX TV show starring (and created by) Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino
“Wuthering Heights” Kate, or, ‘90s Sixteen Stone rockers
Hitmaker of “All Along the Watchtower,” by first name
Bag yourself one of these music awards, and you’ve made it
ATL’s most prestigious hip-hop/ RnB family and collective
Reel Big Fish’s genre
O.G. Norwegian black metal musician and fire lover
Legendary NYC punk dive and current John Varvatos store
British music mag, traditionally
Criminally underrated “Walk the Line” parody starring John C. Reilly
Fiercely independent hip-hop label based in Minneapolis
Dr. Dre’s record label
Holiday and Eilish, for example
Competitor to 7 across
Sophomore Foo effort “The ______ and The Shape”
The fabled demand from harvestera Neil Young atop a rowboat: “____ ____!”
Supergroup created between Nirvana and Sunny Day Real Estate remnants
“_______ Style,” the smash hit courtesy of Psy
Downtempo electronica group once prominently featured in Adult Swim bumpers
Bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers
Ms. Stefani of No Doubt and solo fame
924 ______, the all ages D.I.Y. hub of San Francisco
Beyonce’s family surname
“I’ve got the records / she’s got ___”
Krist Novoselic’s “_________ Bass Toss” during the ‘92 VMAs
Missy of hip-hop (and music video) royalty
DISTRICT FRAY | 53
IN OTHER WORDS
DANI STOLLER WORDS BY KAYLA MARSH New York native Dani Stoller is a perfect combination of heart, hustle and talent. The playwright, director and actress is still finding ways display her creativity in the D.C. theater scene during Covid-19, including her show Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes, which Signature Theatre streamed in March and April, and Round House Theatre’s new web series Homebound, which launched on April 27. Amid the craziness of the pandemic, we caught up with Stoller and talked about her work, her dreams and some of her favorites via rapid-fire questions. District Fray: Tell us about the work you’re doing with Round House and what that process looks like from home. Dani Stoller: I’m writing for Round House and they awesomely commissioned 10 playwrights to each write an episode of Homebound, based on people’s lives during the pandemic. Actors film themselves and [Round House] edits it. It’s totally free but keeps the actors who lost work at Round House paid. That’s really f--king special and cool. I feel like you have all this professional experience, and are still so young. I was very lucky I have supportive parents – not everybody can say that. They were like, “If this is what you’re going to do, then f--k it.” That was key – having people foster my dream. What do you love about working in D.C.? I love this area specifically because you can do so much. I can assistant direct shows, I can work as a playwright, there’s so much room to play. There’s great f--king work and that’s been really exciting, that I can continuously work at these incredible theaters with incredible artists and also work on my own projects on the side. 54 | MAY 2020
How do you hope other theater professionals view your work? I’d hope they view me as daring and vulnerable, and somebody who’s on their side. Especially the women. The shows I write are generally based on messy women. My hope is you leave judging yourself a little bit less, or maybe with a new idea of how you should view someone else. Honest, not overly saccharine. Was there a recent point in your career when you felt like you’d made it and this is where you want to be? I remember the first time I did a show at the Folger, I was working with Aaron Posner, who every artist knows as an incredible artist, writer and director. I was so floored, and that was a moment where I was like, “Wow I can do this [solely].” In terms of writing, it was when Joe Calarco, the head of SigWorks at Signature, took me under his wing and became an incredible mentor and friend. He said, “Hey, this play you’ve written, we want to do a workshop with it.” Holy shit, that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen. It was at the Folger f--cking [Theatre]. My heart flipped into my butt. How do you stay inspired to keep writing? How do you have to alter that during this crazy time? Usually, when I’m in the zone, I will wake up in the middle of the night. I get up and write from 2 to 6 a.m. because my head will just be like, “Bdddahahapopbop.” Now that my schedule is lighter, I’m like, “Holy shit. Am I never going to work again? Is this how it’s going to be?” I set up a writing duo with my friend [on video calls], we just write, and if we need some help, Photo by Michael Kushner.
we unmute ourselves and talk it through. Literally any way I can interact with people about art has been the most helpful. It reminds me that art is going to be the light at the end of the tunnel. The idea that something will come out of this and people will need stories and togetherness. Theater is important and working with all these incredible people forces me to get out of my own f--king way. Are there local businesses you want to bring light to that you’re supporting right now? Any theater. Once a week, Signature is doing Signature Strong, a livestream on Facebook where one of the artistic directors interviews really high-up D.C. artists about their work. People sing, they show clips from shows, people play music, there’s drinking games. It’s so fun and wonderful. If you’re not aware of the level of talent in this town, that’s another great way to see what you’re missing and what you can get involved in.
Walk us through some current and upcoming projects you’re excited about. I’m currently writing my first adaptation called Crazy Bitch, and it’s based on Jane Eyre, which is one of my favorite books of all time. I started writing it in September, and I wrote the whole thing and was like, ‘There’s something wrong here.” I pulled the pin out, let it blow up and now I’m putting it back together. It’s so out of my comfort zone. I like to write shows that are in a house or two different spaces that are linear. Then I decided I’m gonna write something that’s totally not like what I do. I’m trying to step out into the unknown. For more information about Stoller and her work, visit www.danistoller.com. Follow her on Instagram @danidangerstolls.
Coffee or tea? Coffee. Black coffee. Plays or musicals? That’s too hard. I love musicals because I don’t dance, seeing people dance is like “wow this is f--king bananas.” Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream? I would say Hamlet, maybe because I’ve done Midsummer a few times and I’d like to do Hamlet. What play will you never get sick of? Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill. It’s pretty f--king stellar and I’m too young [to be cast in it]. D.C. theater with the best vibe? Signature is sleek and trendy, and their shows are sexy and edgy. Even their classics are shiny and seductive. But if you want something that feels kind of like a warm, incredible hug – that’d be Olney [Theatre Center]. Favorite show of all time? Sweeney Todd, not the movie. What’s your favorite show you ever performed in? The Diary of Anne Frank at Olney [Theatre Center]. I played Anne’s sister Margo, I didn’t talk very much. But every person in that production was so f--king good. It was directed in such a seamless, beautiful, specific way. Best actor or actress? Allison Janney. If you were like, “Hey, Allison Janney has to take a dump and you’re going to watch,” I’d be like, “Hey, I’m in.” Do you spend more time in libraries or bookstores? Bookstore junkie. What’s your favorite TV show? Rick & Morty. Where do you go for inspiration? The [U.S. National] Arboretum. There are no people. Just hang out near a bush and write. What place do you miss going to? Starbucks. The idea of going and picking up a coffee and just saying hey to people, that sounds so good. It used to be mundane, waiting in line or picking up the wrong coffee order. Now I would love that weird start to my day. Who inspires you the most? My mom. Beer, wine or cocktails? If it tastes like candy, then I’ll drink it. What’s your biggest goal for 2020? To make sure that Trump is out of the White House. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Having my work produced and creating new work, I’m super blessed. [I want to be doing] everything I’m doing, just more of it. Is there anyone you aspire to be like? Leslye Headland. She wrote this awesome play [turned movie] called Bachelorette, and now she writes [for Netflix series] Russian Doll. She is a great writer who writes this nasty, dirty, funky stuff. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? “Your energy introduces you before you do.” Someone told me that and I wrote it down. DISTRICT FRAY | 55
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