Home Ruler by Thomas Sayers Ellis 2009 Update:

Crank & Groove: A Go-Go Love Story was a success!  It was featured in the Washington City Paper Fall Arts Guide, Washington Post Express (print), Brightest Young Things, WAMU Arts Beat, Huffington Post DC , WPFW Pacifica Radio and TMOTTgogo.com Magazine. Most recently, American University student Allie Martin used the production as a case study at the Public Anthropology Conference.

Audience members party on stage with Be'la Dona Band after the curtain call!

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Context for this post...

  • I'm directing SpeakeasyDC’s “Crank & Groove: A Go-Go Love Story” September 13th & 14th at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC with support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
  • SpeakeasyDC is a non-profit arts organization based in Washington, DC promoting and teaching the art of autobiographical storytelling.

"Go-Go is more than music; it's a complex expression of cultural values masquerading in the guise of party music in our nations capital... go-go musicians call upon their everyday experiences to create this music... go-go "represents" for D.C. on many artistic and creative levels."

- Charles Stephenson & Kip Lornell, The Beat: Go-Go Music From Washington, D.C.

For the past two weeks I’ve been having those “How did I get here?!” moments. I imagine It’s the gut reaction most builders have when they reflect on a nearly finished work.

We are a few days out from opening night of Crank & Groove: A Go-Go Love Story and instead of looking down from the perch of the director’s chair I find myself sitting in circles with the cast; rather an ensemble of brilliant Go-Go practitioners, griots and lovers of the music and culture. My teachers. From the very beginning, this production has been rooted in collaboration, improvisation and a little scrappiness.

When I talk about Crank & Groove as a SpeakeasyDC production, the origin story matters. The makings of my collaboration with SpeakeasyDC started four years ago. I was a super green, gutsy theater maker desperate to find examples of great cultural producers in the city. After an Arts Administrators meeting at the DC Commission for Arts and Humanities, I ended up at The Heights for dinner and drinks with some of the attendees. At this long community table full of who’s who in the DC Arts scene I was sandwiched between Amy Saidman and musician Christylez Bacon (who coincidentally, is a part of the amazing Crank & Groove ensemble). The whole time I kept thinking, “Geeze, I need to know this funny, loud woman!”

I believe Amy thought my naiveté was charming and that I had good ideas. A few coffees’ later we were fast friends, colleagues and I eventually told stories with SpeakeasyDC, most recently at the SpeakeasyShorts Challenge last fall. As producers do, Amy and I always find moments between camaraderie to talk shop, swap ideas and explore ways to grow our audiences and build capacity.

After my last performance with SpeakeasyDC, I had to reflect on what it meant to tell my “true tales” as sometimes the only or one of few Storytellers of color in the cast…. in “Chocolate City”. Let me be clear, my reflection was less about race, and more about how the lack of diversity on stage (and many stages in DC) is the call for a larger conversation about audience engagement, active recruitment and stories that reflect richer cultural experiences. I love the SpeakeasyDC community. And I know there are so many more stories that should be on that stage. With some hesitation, I shared this with Amy over tapas. She agreed.

So there we were, two wild women, full of ideas, breaking bread together. We began thinking out loud about ways to intervene on SpeakeasyDC. “We should do something with artists…” “What’s unique to DC?” We landed on stories connected to Hip-Hop and Go-Go. I immediately put out the bat signal and spoke with Charles Stephenson, Go-Go historian, activist, Co-author of The Beat: Go-Go Music From Washington, D.C., former chair of the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities, and whom I dubbed my fairy God-Father. He gave me a priceless education, expressed excitement about the project and encouraged us to truly focus on Go-Go as the vehicle for the stories. That was a major turning point for this show. With newfound clarity it was easy to connect how Go-Go, an art form indigenous to DC, would make space for new stories, new audiences and hopefully more capacity for SpeakeasyDC as a cultural institution to produce unique shows like this.

We are a few days out from opening night of Crank & Groove: A Go-Go Love Story and I am so, so, so honored to work alongside Kato Hammond, Natalie Hopkinson, Nina Mercer, Christylez Bacon, DJ Zombie, DJ Mothershiester, Black Picasso, Be’la Dona Band, with photos by Thomas Sayers Ellis and dancing by Da Originalz– stand-alone artists in their own right. And I know there are so many others that could be on stage with them. At Sunday’s tech rehearsal, Kato (who I consider one of Go-Go's architects) said that his was one of many Go-Go stories. I believe that, and I am grateful that we get to hear his.

Coming to the show? Sweet. Purchase tickets here with the code "HeeHaw" for $5 off or 4 tickets for $60.

Check out Amy Saidman's post on SpeakeasyDC about her go-go love story: http://www.speakeasydc.com/2013/09/crank-groove-part-ii/#more-8829