A look at the design community in D.C. and the fashion week that has given them a platform.
My friend in fashion crimes, Ms. Ashley Bright, caught another round of DC Fashion Week this spring and found a few favorites among the bunch of varied designers. Silvia Huezo of Red Hue caught our eye with her wearable designs, along with newcomer Rudy Wolfe and DCFW veteran Miriam Heydari.
Last week, 350 Clemson students made the 10 hour drive to Washington, D.C., during their spring break. They partnered with local non-profits and governmental agencies and volunteered their time, cleaning up parts of the city and providing resources to others in need.
Dan Lachman and Will Nainas of Sharp Shirter draw on a fascination with animals to create graphic T-shirts that they sell at local markets, including D.C.’s Eastern Market.
After making my final decision to pursue a serious career in journalism, I enrolled at American University and packed my bags and a giant U-Hal for D.C. The program threw us right in from the beginning, with a few serious assignments, including the production of an online news magazine.
One of the most interesting projects I helped spearhead at the beginning was live coverage of both Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally and the NAACP led Reclaim the Dream rally. We set up a blog for the day, and spread out through downtown D.C. with cameras, flip cams, smart phones and old fashioned note pads. We expected conflict between the two groups, and outward disdain if not visual commotion. However, we were pleased to find that the hundred thousand or so attendees who descended on the capital were civil, and both camps focused on religious themes.
Check out the site for a wrap-up, photos and video from the day.
It has been embarrassingly long since my last post, I must admit. I’m going to try to catch everyone up on my work fairly quickly. I finally left Charleston for D.C., but not without finishing a few projects for the City Paper. First I have to go back to a few stories from last spring. In March I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Thiel, a local photographer and comic book writer. He had just debuted the first edition of a graphic novel, Blood Rose. He sat down and talked to me about the process – he uses a cool technique in Photoshop – and comics in the digital age. Read the story here.
During the same period I had been mulling over another story idea, one I developed during Charleston Fashion Week in March. Several designers showcased menswear during the week of shows, a bit of a shift in the area fashion market. I tracked down a few of the emerging designers who embraced menswear as well as two other area men who are helping style Lowcountry gents (including Rhett Boyd of Rogue Wave Surf Shop and K. Cooper Ray, or “the Social Primer.”) Read the story here.
Leaving Charleston would not be complete without the perfect 4th of July however, and this year I managed to make it happen. It began with an early morning boat ride out to Morris Island, the legendary boaters-only island that made news last year for the immense amounts of trash partiers left after the 4th celebrations. This year was markedly calmer, and virtually no garbage was left on the pristine sand. Before setting out on the water, I grabbed some essential supplies that really made the day. First, I made a delicious mix of sweet tea vodka and cranberry juice with a bit of club soda and mint leaves. Then I swung by Piggly Wiggly and picked up some of their outstanding fried chicken and pasta salad. After a full day in the sun, we headed over to the Riverdogs game, where a friend’s family had rented a box for the evening. We sipped a few more brews while watching the sun set over the team. Despite the loss – the Riverdogs had a particularly poor showing – the fireworks more than made up for it. The day could not have been more perfect. Read more about spending the 4th at the Joe here.
Local individuals and organizations have been ready to help curtail the disastrous effects of the oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Loads of shop and restaurant owners have hosted parties and events to raise funds, and I’ve heard reports that the Awendaw Center for Birds of Prey has offered to taken in rescued birds.
Our friends over at Charleston Waterkeeper have been hard at work, with keeper Cyrus Buffum leading the way on a group project to help give real-time news and collect funds. The project is housed at SaveOurGulf.org. Read my story on the website in the Charleston City Paper and check out the site here.
Update: My family had long standing plans to stay at Rosemary Beach, FL, outside of Destin. After much debate, we all went and were very happy with out decision to stick it out. The beaches were pristine during our stay. On the last day, we heard that nearby Pensacola was planning to close public beaches. Hopefully they at least got a good Fourth of July weekend.
Photo is of a small sound by Rosemary Beach.
There are few things I love more than a good book and summertime. To me, it is a matching equal of wine and cheese, or PB&J. And when living in a place like Charleston, local writers are happy to oblige eager readers with new works for plenty of lazy days filled with books on the beach or in a park.
This spring, Katie Crouch captured the attention of literary enthusiasts in the city with the release of her second book. The Charleston native’s debut novel, Girls and Trucks, was warmly received after its release in 2008. The setting bounced between the Holy City and New York, following a troubled debutant and member of the secret female society of the “camilias.” The story does not precisely take a typical climax – resolution plot line. Rather, it trails the protagonist Sarah on a road of self-discovery; a route paved with unfulfilling jobs, poor choices and even worse men. The book is a bit crass, as Crouch openly uses expletives and discusses sex in some detail. However, the tone is accurate for the character. Having been constrained during childhood to fit the proper southern etiquette, Sarah shakes loose her confines and goes a little wild while in college and after moving to NYC.
I attended a reading by Crouch at my favorite book store (Blue Bicycle Books) shortly after her sophomore novel hit the stands, at which she also discussed Girls and Trucks. Crouch said she caught a lot of flack for the book, and I would assume so. Although she changed some names, for Charlestonians, it is easy to pinpoint what she was talking about. The private school Porter Gaud takes a role, as well as the Junior League and some prominent families. I can see the frowns and disdain resulting from pairing these Charleston institutions with discussions of cigarettes, pot, alcohol and fornication. I can hear the gasps and “Oh I never”s now.
But Crouch also acknowledge that the book gained her a lot of attention, especially on a national level. And I think one of the large aspects of that can be credited to her portrayal Sarah’s voice. Crouch shows that this is in fact her forte. Whether or not it is loosely based on her own personality or that of someone she knows, she captures it well. Men will probably not grasp the significance, but for other women, we can relate to the thought process and Sarah’s interpretations of the events in her life.
In Crouch’s second book, Men and Dogs (read my preview in City Paper), she affirms that her ability to capture a female protagonist’s voice is a real talent. Hannah in Men and Dogs, like Sarah, is very bright but flighty, impulsive and frequently unable to make a rational decision. In this novel, there is an even more stream-of-conscious feel to Crouch’s writing. It is the way Crouch envisions the thoughts flowing in Hannah’s head. Slightly ADD, incredibly sporadic, but familiar. It is the type of story telling that sets Crouch apart from the “Beach Read” genre that is both a curse for literary junkies and a (moneymaking) blessing for many female, southern writers.
Author Karen White, on the other hand, seems comfortable with the genre. In fact, she embraces it, often using the term “grit lit” (a clever name for southern women’s fiction, a play off of the cutesy Girls Raised In The South slogan). White revealed her twelfth work of fiction at the beginning of this summer. Titled On Folly Beach, (read my preview in City Paper) is set on the barrier island outside of Charleston that is beloved by locals and often misunderstood by tourists. I can see the confusion for visitors. This is no expansive Floridian-type resort. There are still beach shacks here, few sprawling mansions. People walk barefoot. The only store to buy provisions on the island is the infamous Burt’s Market – a tiny convenience store that is best known for staying open 24 hours a day, selling alcohol and corn dogs to famished surfers.
White did a great job of preserving the integrity of the island. She did not doll it up, but described it as it is: a hippie haven for those who still believe that beach houses should be casual, expected to be a bit sandy, stained with salt and comfortable. Being a bit of a Charleston snob (it happens when you live there for 20 years), I did find a few anachronisms, but mostly White was on point, and I think because she is so fond of the place.
“It started when my kids were small. For our first family vacation we went to Hilton Head and that was my first real exposure to the Lowcountry,” she told me in an interview in May. “I was completely mesmerized. I love the smell of the pluff mud, I know that most outsiders don’t.”
In the book, the protagonist, Emmie, eventually has the same reaction. Having moved from the midwest after her husband’s death, she begins to feel the place is home.
Batt Humphrys is another of the multitude of writers who have fallen in love with Charleston and used her as their muse. Humphrys story, unlike most of White’s, found him, and the result is a work based on true events. Set in chucktown in 1910, Dead Weight follows the story of a murder and unjust trial of a black man through the eyes of a New York Times reporter. The murder really did occur on upper King Street (on the block I used to live on, creepy). It was published in 2009 but I just finished and thoroughly enjoyed so I thought I’d share.
It has been far too long since my last post. I’ll admit, it has been a distracting summer. The beginning of my disappearance from the web was a result of the event that captures the attention of everyone in the Charleston art scene for a whopping 18 days. Spoleto, and its younger sibling Piccolo Spoleto, take the stage of virtually every artistic venue in the city at the onset of each summer. Even the locales not officially involved with the fest catch the creative air and increase their offerings.
The ceremonious start of the arts season in Charleston – the ritualistic unveiling of the Spoleto poster – began with an interesting twist this year. The event typically serves as the starting blocks for creatives, but when the design is misunderstood, or worse, disliked, the reaction can be dramatic.
Artist Maya Lin, famed for the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, sparked controversy with her interpretation – a map of South Carolina abutted with Rhode Island. Pieces of the image were seemingly dug from the Ocean State and dumped on South Carolina, assumingly to show a connection between the two or a migration to the south for the renown festival. And apparently the two are side-by-side in a standard Atlas. Either way, recipients did not get it. I mean, Rhode Island? How does that relate to an international arts festival centered in the Holy City? Nick Smith, an adjunct arts editor for the Charleston City Paper, seemed to best sum up concerns in a thoughtful editorial.
Besides the poster debate, a few other events made headlines, some even across the country; namely, the reopening of the Dock Street Theater, the locale in which the first opera performed in the United States was housed (See NYT review and Washington Post nod). Flora, the first opera displayed on American soil, was revitalized for the event. I was able to catch a glimpse at what was in store at a bit of a pre-screening when the theatre opened in April to small crowd of patrons (read my Scene re-cap here).
Although I wasn’t able to see the full performance, I was able to slip into the after party to grab a few society pictures for the Charleston Mercury. The reviews were already floating around, as the artists mingled with viewers who couldn’t resist heaping praise on the work. I caught up with Tyler Duncan (who sang Mr. Friendly in the act), choreographer Sara Erde and Neeley Bruce, the composer/conductor of Flora (pictured left). The former – along with pianist Alan Hamilton – sang the praises of Neeley for his work in revitalizing the opera, dubbing his efforts the core of the performance’s success.
I was also able to attend the Giselle after party, thankfully this time after having enjoyed the show first. The party was thrown at an outstandingly beautiful mansion on Limehouse, South of Broad. Guests were welcomed to the expansive yard, where gigantic bows of oaks trees were trimmed with glowing chandeliers for the night. Billowy white tents were set out with your typical open bars and finger foods for guests to gnash on while admiring the gorgeous Georgian dancers who began to file in and relax after their opening performance.
I saw the glowing Nina Anashiavili pose for countless photos, although none of mine turned out as my camera refuses to compete with others’ flashes. But I did snag a few with some other recognizable faces (left Nino Tskhivedian and Ann Gorgiashvili). It was hard to converse with the ballerinas though, as my foreign language skills are virtually nil and their English was a solid effort but limited. I also met, albeit briefly, Georgia’s ambassador to the US, Batu Kutelia (photo right, Kutelia flanked by George Slotin and Townes Richardson).
I stumbled upon one more intriguing party during the festival. Actually, the party was more the beginnings of another festival entirely. Pazzo Tomato, held at the quaint (and delicious) french restaurant, La Forchette, was intended to be a bit of a muse for weary, over worked artists during the tenuous festivals. Good in theory, but with a start time of midnight, I don’t think many artists made it. Their extremely long days of rehearsals and curtain calls, from my best guess, probably left most yearning for bed before the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t see any Spoleto artists in the small crowd Saturday night, but Pazzo was held through the three weekends of the festival so I may have missed a more exciting night. The performances at Pazzo were intriguing to say the least. Tres parisian. I don’t think the majority of the audience actually got it. One guest thought Nicole Renaud’s (pictures below) costume and songs were a joke. I overheard the woman ask if it was in fact tongue-and-cheek, to which Renaud answered that she was quite serious. I enjoyed myself, but we will see if the mini-fest gained enough of an audience to continue next year.
While not enjoying the party scene, the Charleston City Paper sent me out to cover several Piccolo shows throughout the three weeks. My assignments ranged from solos to group productions, brilliantly funny to a bit of a bore. The CP has an elaborate system designed to rate the performances. Terms were tightened even more so this year, to truly distinguish the exceptional work from the enormous pack.
The problem, however, is that both Piccolo and Spoleto are graded together. This fact should be taken into serious consideration for anyone following the reviews. The Spoleto pieces typically gather the majority of the As, although it is not necessarily due to the lack of passion or talent displayed in Piccolo. Spoleto is comprised of international companies and professional performers, which makes it almost unfair to hold Piccolo, which is put on by local non-profits and often part-time performers, to the same standard.
I did assign a few high marks to shows on my list, largely to the Stella Di Domani series hosted by the College of Charleston. Joy Vandervort-Cobb, an associate professor of African American Theater and Performance at CofC, received my only A for her hilarious performance in Moments of Joy. The one-woman show had the audience members straining to contain their laughter through the full 90 minutes. Although the show is a repeat, having been performed on a Charleston stage many times, it has lost none of its luster, which some in the community feared it would.
Another repeat show earned an A- on my grading scale. Mary Kay Has A Posse put on another brilliant round of performances, reaching the bar of success the crew set for themselves years ago. The Posse has garnered its own posse of sorts in the Lowcountry, with some serious fans who know great improv is not for men alone.
Lone Star, part of the Stella Di Domani series, earned another high mark. The trio of CofC male students put on a solid act, and seemed to have fun while doing so.
The remaining shows I reviewed were a less successful. Motown Mania and Decadent Divas, offerings by Charleston Ballet Theater, were (I hate to say it) mediocre. My complaints lie not with the dancers, who performed the pieces well enough, and simply can not rival prima ballerinas such as Anashiavili. They seem to all have other jobs and lives separate from the non-profit troupe. The problem, from my perspective, arises from the choreography. It is too “showy.” Picture high school dance project – movements correspond exactly with the lyrics of songs, actual skills are minimal as the story is performed too literally a la musical theater with a few turns and arabesques. This may be harsh, but after watching Giselle with the CBT’s dances still fresh in my mind, I knew I made the right analysis. They were simply incomparable, two completely separate realms. Giselle was phenomenal. The height the ballerinos reached on each jump was sensational. Anashiavili, of course, lived up to all of the hype. Her limbs were effortlessly graceful on each move, and her facial expressions and ability to convey emotion are really what set her apart from the crowd.
The Trial of the Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet was a bit of a bust. Like with CBT, I felt a tinge of guilt saying so as actor Rodney Lee Rogers put forth so much effort in the one-man show. However, the setting simply ruined it for me. The Powder Magazine at first seemed like a brilliant place to house a monologue about a pirate hung in Charleston. But I forgot it was the beginning of another southern summer. I also made the mistake of riding my bike to the venue to avoid parking nightmares. By the time I arrived, I was already incredibly flushed, not realizing the building is devoid of air conditioning and there was no breeze to be had. I could barely take my mind off the heat. The outside noises were another pitfall. I could not help but focus on the numerous distractions, and when I took my attention off of Rogers, it was hard to jump back in. I missed the story almost completely.
Anderson Illusions took the cake for the worst piece I saw during the festival, however. By far I’m sad to say. Some tricks were pretty good, but the entirety of the act was just bad. His singing voice is alright at best, but it turned out to be the majority of the entertainment. And when the last song turned into a bit of a preachy, Jesus saves, revival moment, Anderson lost me all together.