Sunday, February 28, 2016

Give Peace a Chance

Some intersections are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

I seriously doubt I will ever again listen to a poet laureate and living legend on the same night I witness a woman in a mini-trench coat lip sync-ing to "Man, I Feel Like a Woman."

The great January snowstorm Jonas had caused "An Evening with an Icon: Sonia Sanchez" to be rescheduled, allowing even more anticipation for it, so waiting in line for 40 minutes just to get in to the Grace Street Theater despite having bought my ticket two months ago shouldn't have surprised me.

Inside the theater, I sat down between two men, both wearing Bernie buttons (one of whom who had been a Sanders' HQ this afternoon when a 4' cutout of Bernie being arrested during a '60s demonstration had been delivered) and both dedicated jazz nerds.

My only value in the conversation was when it came to current jazz cats (their term) in the local scene, many of whom I've seen play at Balliceaux. The Bernie fan to my right, formerly very active in Detroit's jazz scene and a come-here eight years ago, even asked for a list of local acts to check out.

In return, he gave me a book recommendation, so we're even now.

When he found out I'd done the piece in Style about Sanchez, he leaned in and said, "I wanna thank you for writing that article because otherwise I'd never have known about this." Interestingly enough, he had seen her read her poetry back in the '80s.

First we saw the recent documentary about her, "BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez," a fascinating look at her life as an activist, member of the Black Arts movement, teacher and poet as well as the challenges she'd faced - FBI, being a single mother, recriminations from her father, lack of tenure - for being politically active.

When she was introduced, suddenly scores of phones were held up to capture her arrival and a lot of what she had to say, so I could barely see her onstage for the first ten or so minutes..

Asked about being poet laureate, she told a story of neighborhood children about to fight in front of her house and teaching them how to breathe to unwind. She then surprised everyone in the audience by telling us to stand and do deep ten deep breaths with her as a way of calming, a  practice she teaches her students.

"That's what I've been doing as Poet Laureate," she said to much laughter.

She also said many meaningful things, such as, "Each generation has to continue the struggle of the generation before," and "It always comes back to peace," but the most significant admonishment was, "Don't tell me you came and enjoyed this film and you're not going to go back and do something."

I think that's why my seatmates were wearing Bernie pins.

When one man, during the Q & A, asked how his generation could come together in the same way the '60s and '70s generations had, she corrected him, explaining that that only happens once people begin working toward what's important to them and finding like-minded individuals.

Another man asked how to clear his head of negative energy so he could write better and she  became my hero by asking, "Do you walk? Walking frames you for the day. It clears the brain," and went on about the benefits of daily walking. As an 81-year old, she would know.

All I can say is, major props to the Afrikana Film Festival for bringing such a culturally important woman to Richmond to share her life and stories with a sold-out audience. This city's cool points were off the charts tonight.

The only way to follow something so wonderfully high-brow was with, um, something quite the opposite?

Tonight was Late Night Lip Sync Battle at the Basement and it's impossible to convey how much fun it is to watch teams of local theater types compete for nothing but bragging rights.

Tonight's battle was even more special because both teams - the Velvet Rope and Cats Don't Care - were all women teams who, as Sonia had proven, are fearless and brilliant (one, a doula, had participated in the delivery of a 9 1/2 pound baby yesterday). They can even dance.

So much estrogen at battle also opened the door to multiple costume and wig changes, a lot of pumps and lipstick as prop.

You have to understand, there's a million points at stake for each round and three million for the final round. That's millions of meaningless points.

In between, there are erotic vegetable poses, scavenger hunts (Sarah won because I gave her my ballpoint pen, the requested item) and beer chugging to determine who goes first.

The Velvet Rope killed it with their opening song, "Alexander Hamilton," complete with whisky bottle and umbrellas to further the story and followed strong with Mary singing lead on Beyonce's "Formation," performed in camouflage jackets while tossing out packets of hot sauce.

Pretty impressive, right?

But then Cats Don't Care retaliated with a song from Disney's "Hercules," which Sarah had never heard before yesterday, having been a late addition to the team and having had parents who didn't let her watch Greek mythology.

Or maybe that was just her story and she was sticking to it.

The Improv round is always terrific because the teams don't know the upcoming songs and have to decide on the spot who will handle each. Their consternation is part of the fun of watching.

Watching these woman take on gems like "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," and "What's Love Got to Do With It?" and "Don't You Want to Dance?" and "My Heart Will Go On" was like a primer in the classic gay karaoke repertoire, pure emoting and overacting that worked the crowd into a drama kid frenzy.

The big finales took it even further with TVR doing "Hey, Now" in fur coats and hats and CDC doing "Bang, Bang" complete with black banged-bob.

For those keeping score at home, Cats Don't Care took home the non-existent prize, but, of course, they didn't care and a dance party ensued.

Mind and body got a workout tonight. Tomorrow, like the icon Sonia Sanchez, I will walk to clear the mind.

Only then can doing something follow.

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