Playing for Others: Night of Gratitude

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

Many times at typical awards shows, the awards are handed out to people who are already rich in adulation and recognition, a sort of self-congratulation for already being famous.

Fortunately, Playing for OthersNight of Gratitude (this Friday, October 6 at Booth Playhouse) is anything but typical. In fact, it could be considered the exact opposite of your typical awards show.

Instead of the honorees collecting awards that do little to effect change in their communities, the real stars of the show are the teens that Playing for Others works with, focusing on personal development, service, the arts, philanthropy, leadership, and much more.

A group of ten individuals from the Charlotte community are hand-selected by the PFO staff to participate in the Night of Gratitude. However, they don’t merely accept an award, smile and give a half-hearted speech. Instead, they will use their notoriety and accomplishments to inspire and motivate the teens, making the young leaders the stars of the night.

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

“The goal is to have this diverse group of honorees that represent all these different areas in Charlotte, and they each have their unique spin and their unique take on how to create change in the community.” Says Jen Band, Director of Playing for Others.

Not content with simply handing out awards and posing for pictures, the production will also include a number of songs and performances by the teens. Several multi-disciplinary performances will be showcased based on the teen’s interpretations of the honorees. Each piece is different, and includes everything from a cappella, full instrumental pieces, or spoken word performances.

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

Band hopes to use the community role models to challenge the teens. “We often ask [the teens] to answer the statement, ‘I am (blank)’, and it’s not a noun. It’s not, ‘I am a teacher, I am a leader, I am an artist’. Instead, it’s adjectives. So ‘I am compassionate, I am driven, I am inclusive, I am powerful’.

“When we have these Night of Gratitude honorees, now the teens have a role model of what that can look like. If they say, ‘I am compassionate’, and they are also passionate about the transgender community, or homelessness, creativity or whatever it is, then they have these role models that are also compassionate, and they’re combining their compassion with their passion to create that change in the world.”

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjo-1

Lara Americo

“I am overwhelmed by the honor of being a part of the Night of Gratitude.” says Lara Americo, one of the 2017 honorees. “I am just happy that there is a group that does this kind of thing in Charlotte.”

Make plans to be at the Booth Playhouse this Friday, October 6 at 8 p.m. for the Night of Gratitude. Get your tickets at PlayingForOthers.org (or you can just click here).

“The best thing people can do to help out is to come and bring other people with them.” says Band. “It’s all about not just spreading the word, which is great, but it’s really secondary to celebrating all the great work people are doing in Charlotte. Let’s inspire others to do the same thing!”

Finally, if you’re in the audience, remember to use wiggly fingers, instead of clapping, which is the official PFO way of showing love and gratitude.

Photos from previous Night of Gratitude events courtesy of Playing for Others. Photo of Lara Americo courtesy of Lara Americo.

How Much a Dollar Cost?

Earlier tonight after work I went into a CVS near my house to pick up a quick prescription when I came across a gentleman trying to do the same. The only difference was that he couldn’t pay for his.

I didn’t really tune into the conversation until I heard him give his birthdate. “Twelve, thirty-one, fifty-nine.” The guy’s got a New Year’s Eve birthday. Then I noticed him getting frustrated because he didn’t have enough cash to get what he needed.

At first, he was trying to get ten pills for $17 and change. He didn’t have insurance, and he kept saying his cousin was supposed to come through for him.

Then he asked about five pills. $8 and change.

Then just one. $3.50.

All he could afford was just the one pill. He had a crumpled up Lincoln in his pocket and that was it.

gohjo-andy-goh-photogohjo-charlotte

As I approached the counter, I gave my name, DOB, etc. and then I asked if I could pay for the gentleman’s medicine. After a quick glance and a nod to her coworker, the lady behind the counter said yes. She motioned over to the gentleman and said that I was paying for his medicine.

I quickly paid, shook the man’s hand and told him not to worry about it. As I was walking away, I heard him yell “thank you” over my shoulder. I turned around and could see that his demeanor had changed from frustrated to grateful. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he reached out to give me as genuine and heartfelt of a hug as I’d had in a while. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m so sick.”

“It’s hard out here for all of us, and we can use all the help we can get. God Bless you, sir.” I replied.

The gentleman, still holding back tears, walked on his way and I walked on mine. We might have been two different people, but in that moment we were two people just helping each other make it through the day.

I helped him with his meds. He helped me see the hope for mankind that I like to believe in despite daily evidence to the contrary. The $8.38 didn’t mean much to me, but it meant the world to him.

All this happened after I had just been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost”, a song about the high price of poverty. The answer to that question varies depending on who you are. If you’re like me, and you have resources, that dollar might not cost much to you, but it can literally make a world of difference to someone in need.

Thoughts on the 2017 Solar Eclipse

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

Just moments after the moon had begun its shift past its darkest point (98% here in Charlotte), people celebrating the 2017 solar eclipse at Camp North End here in Charlotte began looking around as if they pressed the Dr. Pepper button on the soda machine and it spit out an RC Cola.

“Is that is?” a slightly befuddled crowd thought in unison.

That was, indeed, it.

There was no blackout, no wide swath of darkness blanketing Uptown Charlotte, where I watched the event. That 2% gap makes quite a bit of difference, as people just 90 minutes south of us in Columbia and surrounding areas actually got to see midnight in the afternoon.

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

There’s nothing wrong with being a bit underwhelmed with the whole spectacle. There was an enormous build up on social media, and that brand of hype rarely lives up to its promise. I’m sure some people bailed on work and felt guilty that they missed out on prime work flow hours. All totally reasonable.

To me, it was a moment I’ll never forget.

In the days leading up to the eclipse, it was clear that this was the only story that was able to provide some emotional relief from a week’s worth of heinous images from Charlottesville. People slowly but collectively put down their differences in order to make plans to watch the eclipse. Google searches for specially-certified glasses and watch locations soared.

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

And for a brief moment on an otherwise hot and steamy Monday afternoon, everyone stopped what they were doing, gathered together in groups and marveled at a natural phenomenon that maybe isn’t once-in-a-lifetime rare, but definitely remember-where-you-were worthy. Snacks and drinks were shared while paper sunglasses with shiny silver lenses and necks craned high in the air made everyone looks equally goofy. Many people had homemade viewers, constructed out of cereal boxes, no doubt a memorable science project.

As for me, I found myself marveling at how the sun, reduced to just 2% of its strength, still lit our little part of the planet quite brightly, with the temperature still toasty. A testament to life’s indomitable will to live, I’d like to think.

It’s fitting that it takes an event of literally cosmic proportions to get everyone to forget about the daily grind of work, family, and world news and appreciate the natural beauty all around us. The beauty of giant, celestial objects intertwined in an unbelievably precise two step. The beauty of this display happening in a way that visibly reminds us of our trivial size relative to the universe. And the beauty of people of all backgrounds putting everyday worries behind to come together and enjoy it all.

Moments like that only come around so often.

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

I stuck around a little while longer after most people had cleared out of the boiler yard at Camp North End. Just as it had on its way up, I took periodic glances at the moon as it made its way past the sun. The eclipse was something I hadn’t ever gotten to see to that degree in my life, so I wanted to get the most out of it. With my corneas intact (as far as I can tell), I look forward to 2024, when the next eclipse makes its way through the US, and hopefully close to my hometown of Bloomington.

Until then I’ll always remember the random day in late summer 2017, where even a country that is as volatile and chaotic as ever, could come together, put on silly glasses and enjoy a natural spectacle.eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

Seven Questions with Jen Band of Playing for Others

Jen-Band-Playing-for-Others

Jen Band of Playing for Others. Photo courtesy of thesavageway.com

People with disabilities, especially children, often times miss out on some of the joy and wonder than most of us take for granted as we grow up. Events like birthday parties, proms and vacations many times minimize the involvement of the disabled, limiting the exuberance that others routinely enjoy.

Fortunately, organizations like Playing for Others make it a point that kids with disabilities don’t miss out on feeling like they’re the superstar. One such event is happening this Sunday at McKnight Hall on the UNCC campus. For the ninth consecutive year, Playing for Others presents its Red Carpet program which makes the buddies (PFO’s affectionate term for kids with disabilities) the star of the show, both literally and figuratively.

At the center of the Red Carpet program is a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which features performances from both the teens and buddies. Before the show, however, the buddies are treated to a VIP experience, as they will arrive at the show in style. A limo ride to the venue is followed by a walk down the red carpet, where spectators, PFO teens and the buddies themselves are dressed like movie stars at the Oscars. As the cameras flash, the buddies and teens strike poses and bask in the adulation of the event, which is the culmination of homecoming weekend.

Playing for others was formed in 2006 to teach teenagers that you can take what you’re passionate about and use it to benefit the greater good. Today, 75 teens (eighth grade through high school) from 37 different schools participate in the Playing for Others program. Two teens team up with each buddy for friend dates, art experiences and relationship building. One of the program’s main focuses is diversity, with teens and buddies of all races, nationalities, sexualities and economic backgrounds included. Through this mentorship, teens in the program learn personal development, leadership training and public service.

To get a better idea of what to expect at the Red Carpet Event, I asked seven questions to Jen Band (formerly of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte), Executive Director of Playing for Others.

playing-for-others-red-carpet

What are some of the other activities in homecoming weekend leading up to the red carpet event? Friday night we will host HeARTbeat, an evening celebrating 12 local non-profits by bringing their story to life through the music, dance, spoken word, and digital art. Then on Saturday night we’ll gather to celebrate 10 years and watch a premiere of our first ever original musical, Ready. Set. Go.

What was the inspiration for the red carpet event? The Red Carpet event is a PFO staple. It’s a time for our “buddies”, children with disabilities, to be celebrated and treated like the rockstars they are! We believe that every human being deserves love and belonging.

How many teens and how many buddies participate in each homecoming? We have 75 teens in the program and 36 buddies that all come together for a weekend of hugs, high fives and dance parties :)

playing-for-others-red-carpet

How are the performances (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in this case) selected? You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was the very first PFO show. It seemed fitting to do it for our ten year anniversary.

What has the response been like from previous parents or caregivers? Parents are blown away by their experience with PFO. Many talk about how important these friendships are for their kids. The care, attention and love given to the buddies is simply beautiful to watch.

How often do you hear from former buddies and what do they say? Many of our buddies stay in the program year after year, they just can’t get enough of it! Those that move on come back for performances and stay in touch with their former PFO teen buddy. It’s a life-long relationship.

Personally, what is your favorite part of the red carpet event? That moment when I get to open the door to the limo and see all the excited faces inside. It’s honestly one of my favorite moments of the entire PFO season :)  

playing-for-others-red-carpet

Playing for Other’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is this Sunday, March 5 at McKnight Hall on the Campus of UNC Charlotte (9025 University Rd.) at 4:30 p.m. with red carpet festivities starting at 3 p.m. Show up in your freshest attire, and pay what you can at the door.

Sous Terrain – Seven Questions with Rémy Thurston

remy-thurston-sous-terrain-gohjo

Rémy Thurston

Since 1971, North Carolina has been the nation’s leading producer of sweet potatoes, but in general, they’ve always been second class spuds to their more starchy and mealy brothers. Tonight (Friday, January 6), however, the sweet potato rightly takes its place in the spotlight at Free Range Brewing in Villa Heights.

Photographer Rémy Thurston makes his solo photo exhibition debut tonight from 6-8 p.m. with his sweet potato immersion, Sous Terrain. Thurston teamed up with sous chefs from several prominent Charlotte restaurants like 300 East, The Fig Tree, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and many more to present a photo series of sweet potato inspired dishes created specifically for the show. Intrigued by the possibilites beyond casseroles and fries, I asked Rémy a few questions about his show.

GohJo: How did you choose the sweet potato to work with?

Rémy: The sweet potato is actually integral to North Carolina agriculture. The state produces the most sweet potatoes in the country. I chose it because there’s a famous photograph of an Irish potato that sold for $1 million. It was a simple photograph, and I was inspired to recreate it in my own way.

GohJo: How did you first experience sweet potatoes?

Rémy: I think my first experience with the sweet potato was as a puree as a kid. I honestly thought it was carrots, but after questioning my dad, the chef, about it I was assured it was a sweet potato, not funny-tasting carrots. I’ve loved them since.

GohJo: You’ve got a premiere lineup of sous chefs working with you including Alex Verica from Heritage Food & Drink, Myles Scaglione from Heirloom, Andres Pico of Customshop and Larry Suggs, mixologist from The Punch Room. How did you decide upon who to work with?

Rémy: Sous chefs often run the kitchen behind the line and let the more experienced head chefs take the praise. It’s not always the case, but I’ve seen my fair share of it when I was part of the industry. I wanted to highlight their hard work in the same way the sweet potato doesn’t get all the praise I think it should as part of the state’s agriculture.

GohJo: Why sous chefs and not the folk at the top of the food chain? [GohJo note: Pun very much intended]

Rémy: The sweet potato doesn’t get any recognition until it hits the sunlight and the palate. Sous chefs are similar. You need to see and taste their work to realize what they’re capable of. This show serves to do both.

GohJo: What are some of your favorite sweet potato recipes?

Rémy: My favorite way to have sweet potatoes is pretty simple actually. I cut them up into cubes and roast them with lots of salt, cayenne, olive oil and freshly ground cumin. I like the sweet soft inside contrasting with the crusty caramelized spice crust on the outside.

GohJo: How long will your art be on the walls at Free Range Brewing?

Rémy: The art will be on the wall until January 29th!

Hit up Free Range Brewing (2320 N. Davidson St.) tonight from 6-8 p.m. where you can not only see Rémy’s work, but also get some sweet potato tamales from The Masa Casa, sweet potato fries from Terra Flora, sample some sweet potato cotton candy (!!) from Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen and sip on some sweet potato gruit from the fine folks at Free Range Brewing. Afterwards, don’t forget to head down to C3 Lab in South End for Lara Americo’s opening reception for Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life from 7-10 p.m. Sweet!

Chrysalis – Seven Questions with Lara Americo

Lara-Americo_chrysalis-gohjo

Lara Americo steps into the realm of visual art.

Charlotte musician and activist Lara Americo is stepping into the realm of visual art, starting this Friday (January 6) with an exhibition at C3 Lab in South End called Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life.  According to the Facebook event page:

Skin and bones are a cocoon for the soul to develop and grow on planet Earth. Chrysalis sheds that shell and peers into what’s hidden beneath.

Chrysalis is an exploration of what it means to inhabit a human body. It is common to assume that we are our bodies. Our bodies are a shell and our true selves are much more than human flesh. Chrysalis examines this flesh and what if means to navigate the world in these bodies using photography and 3-D molding. Each photo and 3-d mold will examine one subject and tell that person’s story.

Chrysalis (a butterfly which is becoming an adult but still enclosed in a hard case) is Americo’s first venture into the world of visual and art, after having released her debut album She / They in November 2016 (read the Creative Loafing review here). Chrysalis is a mixed media installation featuring photography and physical models, some using live people as their foundation.

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjoAmerico took some time recently to answer a few questions I had for her about the show, which you can see at C3 Lab (2525 Distribution St.) until January 23.

GohJo: Tell me a little bit about what visitors can expect to see at your installation at C3 Lab.

Americo: Visitors can expect to see real life. They will see people, physically. But they will see them in other forms than their human body.

GohJo: It appears that the inspiration for the show may have come from your experiences as a transgender person. Talk about how your gender identity evolution has influenced this show.

Americo: Being transgender forced me to closely examine what it means to be connected to a human body on earth. It made me see that we are not our bodies. The body is just a tool that we use. Even though the body decays we never die.

GohJo: How did you choose the subjects depicted for this show?

Americo: I know it may sound cliché but the subjects choose me just as much is I chose them. Anyone could’ve been a subject for this project. Everyone has a story in a way that they express themselves with their bodies. That’s all that I was looking for.

GohJo: You’ve gained some notoriety for your work as a musician, releasing the album She/They in 2016. What’s different for you in creating an art show versus a musical project?

Americo: I look at both mediums as different forms of artistic expression. Both are ways to describe something that is abstract and both are limiting in their own way.

GohJo: What’s something about the relationship between our bodies and our actual “selves” that people don’t often consider?

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjo-1Americo: Most people, including me, forget that they are not their body and think the opposite is true. The truth whether we like it or not is that our body is dying every moment. This can be scary unless you realize that you will never die.

GohJo: What do you hope people will come away with after viewing Chrysalis?

Americo: I hope people can see that the human body is precious and beautiful because of its fragility. The fact that the body is dying is what makes the body so beautiful. Still, the true beauty is on the inside but can’t be seen.

GohJo: What else do you want people to know about this exhibition?

Americo: That life is beautiful. It’s always beautiful.

Check out the opening reception of Chrysalis – A Study in Human Life this Friday, January 6 at C3 Lab in South End from 7-10 p.m. All answers edited only for spelling and grammar.

365 Days of Modern Art

It’s been a little more than one year since I started my job at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. In that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to photograph the gorgeous Mario Botta-designed building on the southern side of Charlotte’s Uptown. I’d like to share a few of my favorite photos of the museum with you. This is the first of several photo essays on the Bechtler.

The Bechtler Building

bechtler-building-black-white

The precise geometry of the building’s architecture can lead to some interesting optical illusions.

bechtler-building-sunrise

You can see the sparkled reflection of the Firebird against the bottom of the fourth floor in the early morning.

bechtler-column-night-gohjo

The cantilevered fourth floor column, like the rest of the museum, looks its best at night.

firebird-bechtler-building-night

The right arch of the Firebird against the terra cotta exterior of the museum at night is gorgeous.

bechtler-column-sunrise-2

The cantilevered fourth floor column looks its best just before the sun rises.

bechtler-facade-shadows

The genius of the Bechtler’s design is the way the southern sun plays off of the different angles. It’s a new image at each hour of the day, every day.

bechtler-museum-of-modern-art-gohjo

The fourth floor column with Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #995