First Person Arts, the nonprofit initiative that has graced Philadelphia with thousands of personal spoken-word stories for the past 15 years, is marking its crystal anniversary with the 12-day-long First Person Arts Festival. Beginning on Nov. 7 and running through to Nov. 19, some of the city’s top performers in all areas will take to stages all over the city, bestowing their gifts to appreciative audiences. Here are just five of the First Person Arts Festival’s many wonderful events that anyone from the casual observer to the most refined art expert could appreciate.
1. Grand Slam — Monday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. — Underground Arts
What would the First Person Arts Festival be without a strong opening number, one that provides the big payoff of the nonprofit’s most renowned programming? In the spacious and vibrant Underground Arts building just north of Chinatown, the 2016 season’s First Person Arts StorySlam winners will once again take to the stage and compete for the coveted title of Best Storyteller in Philadelphia. The prizes are quite grand: $250 cash and lifetime free admission to First Person Arts Slams, but truly the audience is itself made up of winners. This is due to the fact that they will hear deep, moving, funny, shocking and tragic stories from some of the best- and least-known names in storytelling in the area. The event will be hosted by Chip Chantry, winner of the 2013 Helium Comedy Club’s Philly’s Phunniest Contest and himself a former Slam contestant.
The winner of this year’s Grand Slam will go on to compete against his or her fellow winners from years past at the conclusion of the festival on Saturday, Nov. 19 in the All Star Slam.
2. Poll Party — Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. — Christ Church Neighborhood House Theater
The First Person Arts Festival’s notable lineup marches on the very next day with Poll Party. As one of the most wild elections in U.S. history draws to a close, people across America — and perhaps the world —will be tuning in to their favorite news media to see who will succeed Barack Obama as president of the United States: Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump. But why watch at home where there is no one to share your joy — or grief — with? At Poll Party, you can watch the results with your fellow voters live, with area burlesque troupe Agitated providing much-needed laughter during commercial breaks and the (appropriately-booked) band The Hopefuls providing musical accompaniment. Patrons of Poll Party will also be treated to beer from Yards Brewing Company.
3. I Found God in Myself: A Conversation with Ntozake Shange — Friday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. — The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Perhaps the central event of the entire First Person Arts Festival, this riveting performance and discussion with one of modern literature’s award-winning and celebrated artists is certain to speak to everyone who has the pleasure of attending. Shange will read from her personal poetry collection, including her Tony and Obie Award winning piece “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.” Following the performance, Shange and other special guests will engage in a discussion about her work’s creation and from where she draws her influence.
4. White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show — Wednesday, Nov. 16 & Thursday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. — Christ Church Neighborhood House Theater
In a biting and certainly hilarious one-man show, satirist Paul Zaloom will, with the help of everything from toy cars to dolls, tell the story of the history of the white man. Detailing a fictitious background that explores the white man’s earliest beginnings to his current status as a fearful minority, it is safe to say that Zaloom’s performance will delight audiences of all backgrounds.
5. Sex For Sale: True Stories from the World’s Oldest Profession — Friday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. — Christ Church Neighborhood House Theater
For the first time ever in Philadelphia, First Person Arts Festival attendees will witness all-too-true stories from current and former members of the sex work industry. At times humorous, at other times heartbreaking, and certainly eye-opening all around, this show aims to educate its audiences on what it truly means to live in the most notorious — yet most taboo — underground.