“Storytelling is our passion and our work,” said Ariana Ross, founder and executive director of Story Tapestries, the newest addition to BlackRock Center for the Arts’ Creative Consortium. Along with Arts on the Block and Impact Silver Spring, Story Tapestries will present “Amplify US!,” a program of thought-provoking storytelling by professional artists as well as workshop-trained local performers, on the evenings of June 20 and 22 at the Germantown arts center.
“Storytelling as an artistic medium is something I’ve been interested in bringing to BlackRock for a long time because it bridges so many cultural gaps, whether they be intergenerational, across nationalities or religious divides,” said Alyona Ushe, BlackRock’s executive director.
The 2-year-old Amplify US! collaboration arose “out of concern about the rise in hate crimes in Montgomery County,” Ross said, noting that “it is about shifting the narrative and power dynamic through the arts and conversation.”
At early community meetings, she said, “People identified actions and activities they wanted and so, we did our best to execute them. [Thus] the workshops were born. Then, after the workshops, we decided to honor [participants] with performance or exhibition opportunities.”
Most of the performing community members – adults and youth poets, storytellers, musicians, theater and visual artists – started out by attending an Amplify US! workshop. “They [may] express an interest in growing their skill. Or, we [may] understand that they have a powerful voice that should be fostered,” Ross said.
The workshops, Ross said, “are offered in areas [throughout the county] with residents living in areas in poverty and with diverse cultural backgrounds.” A trained facilitator and a teaching artist team up to create an environment conducive to sharing experiences, perspectives and feelings. Their goal is to guide participants in finding their voices “to tell their personal stories through spoken word and visual arts,” she explained, so they can advocate effectively for themselves and their communities. Equipped with new tools to handle conflicts, they also tend to become more compassionate listeners.
Post-workshop, each individual is paired with a Story Tapestries professional artist who will “support their development,” Ross said. “We are very particular about partnering the right artist with the right community member, paying attention to cultural needs, professional requests and the story/poem being shaped.”
She cited the example of a young woman of color, a visual artist, who asked Ross to support her because she wanted to tell her story of being harassed at an internship for being a young woman. She told me that she liked speaking to me and knew that I was a safe person.”
To date, Amplify US! has performed at Strathmore, a founding partner, as well as at the Wheaton Arts Parade, Silver Spring Town Center, Montgomery College Germantown Campus and several county library branches.
The format of the two BlackRock shows will be the same, Ross said. Each will feature a 20-minute performance by a professional poet or storyteller; a five-minute performance by Ross; a 10-minute excerpt of Michelle Faulkner’s Amplify US! documentary-in-progress; and a half-hour slate of Amplify US!-trained youth and adult performers who will present poetry and stories with themes of race, identity and equity. Post-performance, Impact Silver Spring’s Carolyn Lowery will facilitate a 25-minute conversation about the substance of the stories, and the evenings will conclude with light refreshments – and “continued conversation.”
Poet and Amplify US! community artist and coach Regie Cabico will be the professional performer on Thursday, and comedian-storyteller Vijay Nathan will take on that role on Saturday. Both have impressive credentials.
Cabico, recently cited as the “Lady Gaga of Poetry” by The Kenyon Review, is a spoken word pioneer who won top prizes in three national poetry slams. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and served as an NYU Asian Pacific American Studies Artist In Residence. As a theater artist, he received three New York Innovative Theater Award Nominations for his work in “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind,” with a win for Best Performance Art Production.
Named one of the Top Female Comedian to Watch in March, Nathan’s humor pieces have appeared in The Washington Post Magazine. She works at Story District, a D.C.-based nonprofit that showcases and teaches storytelling. Nathan attributes her humor to “her experiences of growing up as a ‘foreigner’ in America” — despite being born and raised in a D.C. suburb.
Story Tapestries, Arts on the Block and Impact Silver Spring will present “Amplify US!” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 20 and Saturday, June 22 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown. Admission is free, but reservations are preferred. Call 301-528-2260 or visit www.blackrockcenter.org.