January Top Pick: Sovereign Festival, January 9-12
Earth Pearl Collective @ 18th & Union (Central District/Capitol Hill)
The second annual Sovereign Festival returns this Wednesday, with four nights of solo performances by five queer Black women. The format is primarily storytelling, with a good blend of theatre and musicality, and probably some burlesque too. With relatively short run times, weeknight or weekend-evening viewing options, and single-program and full-festival tickets available, the festival is designed for attendees to see all shows, but flexible enough to schedule how you need.
Part of the enjoyment for frequent theatre-goers might be in seeing the further talents and depth, in more personal environments, from actors you’ve seen on bigger stages.
This year’s festival brings Aishé Keita (poet-actor-singer-dancer) (Program 1); Aviona Rodriguez Brown (actor-singer-writer) and Naa Akua (poet-actor-writer-sound artist) (Program 2); and Miss Briq House (burlesque performer-actor-teacher) and Patience Sings (musician-singer-storyteller, visiting from Washington, D.C. duo BOOMscat) (Program 3). Sovereign is hosted by Earth Pearl Collective, an organization led by artist & healer Sadiqua Iman, which is dedicated to Black women’s emotional & physical well-being. The festival is co-sponsored by the Hansberry Project which, under exceptional director Valerie Curtis-Newton, produces Black women in the arts.
Expect a slate of quality efficient, intimate shows that deal with grieving and freedom in beautiful ways. Besides those commonalities, each artist’s show will present something all their own:
- Keita, who won the 2018 Gregory Award for Best Actress in a Play (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, at Book-It), and played this season in Familiar at Seattle Rep and the Guthrie, will perform Griot. (A griot is a masterful poet, storyteller, singer, musician, and oral historian/recordkeeper in the West African tradition, in service of preserving the community’s history and traditions.) Keita’s beautiful voice further enriches her storytelling.
- Rodriguez-Brown, who co-starred in a successful run of Nilo Cruz’s Two Sisters and a Piano at Theater Schmeater, will perform her self-titled new work that delves into the intersections of her Afra-Latina identities — and trying to find a place for herself when neither would embrace her fully. (I’m not here / I’m not there / I’m not anywhere)
- Akua — who appeared recently in Welcome to Arroyo’s at Theater Schmeater and in Book-It’s Welcome to Braggsville — is a prolific poet and spoken-word performer hailing from New York, and will perform Akwaaba. Akua’s storytelling delivery pulses with a matter-of-fact smoothness, where prose sounds like poetry and long-buried tales can’t wait to catch your ear. (I am a bundle of stories / seeking to be unpacked)
- Briq House, perhaps best known as a burlesque performer who runs the monthly Sunday Night Shuga Shaq: An All People of Color Burlesque Revue, is an actor as well, who appeared recently in Seattle Immersive Theatre’s Storyville Rising; she will perform Lessons from the Pulpit. Briq House is saucy, sultry, sexy, with a unique gift for making people feel totally at ease, but here it’s rage that’s on the menu: coming for the church that suppressed her (and generations of others) for so many years, and celebrating and paying forward liberation.
- Patience Sings, the only out-of-town artist, is a Washington, D.C.-based performer and vocalist with the duo BOOMscat. She will perform Good Grief, a memorial to grieving women told through song, a mournful dirge; and storytelling, of surviving grief at losing those closest to her.
The previous Sovereign Festival, held in November 2017, brought performances by Amber Flame, Po’Chop, Angel Gardner, Namii, Om Jahari, and Anastacia Renee. Each of the sets was exceptional, making the festival among my most enjoyable shows of the year; all the better in that some of its artists were new to me. Expect great things from this year’s lineup, too.
The best way to watch the shows is in conjunction and conversation with each other — and for that approach, the full festival pass is the best deal. You can see them all in one manageable evening if you choose the Saturday night option; or weekday bite-sized pieces on Wednesday through Friday. Or if you’d rather, individual program tickets (1-2 performers, depending on night) are also available. All three slates are highly recommended.
Sovereign Festival opens 1/9 and runs through 1/12 at 18th & Union, at the border of Capitol Hill and the Central District. Shows are 7:30 pm Wednesday-Friday with a different show every night; or all shows play Saturday beginning at 5:30 pm. Tickets are sliding scale, at $30-$60 for full festival pass or $15-$25 per show, available here. (Financial accessibility note: 18th & Union offers sliding-scale tickets for all performances; bus service and free parking is available in the area. Gender-neutral bathroom policy: restroom is gender-neutral, single-stall. Physical accessibility: 18th & Union’s performance area is wheelchair accessible with ramp; bathroom is not.)