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Magic Words


Some of us grew up being told that the magic word is “please.” For others, maybe it’s “abracadabra.” For Shreeyash Palshikar, the magic word is “jadoo,” which literally means “magic” in Persian and Indian languages.

Jadoo is the oldest, most mysterious performing art of India. Shreeyash has spent decades studying the dying art, and will be performing some of his “fusion magic” tricks for us along with his story in Now You See Me as part of Commonspace LIVE, a collaboration with WHYY.

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FPA: You come from a family of magical influences. What is it that inspires generations of magical practitioners to follow suit in families like yours?

SP: My family is rather unusual, and the magic and mystical influences were different for each generation. My ancestor, W. W. Davies, was a Welsh Methodist who converted to Mormonism, and then joined, and later led, a breakaway Mormon group, the Morrisites. He was charismatic and creative. He formed his own religious commune, and invented a religious doctrine. He was known for a time as “the Walla Walla Jesus.”

My Indian grandfather was born into the priestly Brahman caste, and worked as a priest performing Hindu rituals in peoples’ homes to supplement a meager pension he received after retiring from a career as a schoolteacher. His son, my uncle, was “my magician uncle,” and he was interested in Western magic. Since I grew up in the US, I only saw him a few times in my life, but he influenced my interest in magic because he motivated my father to take me to the magic shop to buy him magic.

FPA: Jadoo, or Indian magic, which you practice, is pretty different from Western magic in a number of ways. For those of us who might think of magic in terms of bunnies, hats, and wands, how is jadoo different than the kind of magic we see here in the United States?

SP: Three main ways. First, Indian magic was not persecuted historically the way Western magic was, so there is a lot more comfortable borrowing of religious imagery in traditional Indian magic shows. Second, traditional Indian magic tells powerful stories of growth, sacrifice and redemption, and is less reliant on a few technical tricks. Third, for the last two centuries, Indian magicians have been poor and itinerant, and have developed a style that travels easily and can be performed on streets.

Shreeyash Palshikar_Sword_Credit Jennifer BoshnackFPA: Rather than leaning on sleight of hand or illusory techniques, you’re often using your own body in some pretty extreme ways. Can you share some of the mindsets and/or meditations you draw from to achieve these states of physical and mental endurance?

SP: I have practiced yoga in some ways for years, and I also spent many years training as a rower. I have considered retiring some of the more physically demanding parts of my show, but that would miss some of the essence of traditional Indian magic. The connections with a mystical tradition make the Indian bed of nails have a very different cultural frame than a sideshow act doing the same routine. A yogi uses the bed of nails to liberate the mind from the body. Yet I was first inspired to do bed of nails by a sideshow performer in Pennsylvania. My style includes both Eastern and Western framing of these performances.

FPA: You are also an academic, a speaker, and an author. Is there a particularly profound or unexpected way in which your practice of magic has influenced or complemented one of your other fields of work?

SP: This year, I began teaching a class on magic history at Albright College and it has been an amazing experience. The students in the class wrote and performed an original magic show at the end of the year. I have conducted some research on Indian magic in a global context particularly looking at people who are not Indian who dress up as Indian to perform magic. There are some very unexpected stories there, including African Americans and British people dressing up as Indians that I intend to examine in both a scholarly and performative way.

FPA: Magic challenges us to question what we think we know, or see, or believe. Beyond the practice of magic, what illusion or limitation do you see people taking for granted every day that you wish you could challenge them to rethink?

SP: Ideas about race, and whether it’s a given or a social construct.

FPA: You’re performing in Now You See Me as part of Commonspace LIVE on May 25, where you will be weaving stories into your magical feats. Why should someone come check out the show?

SP: Because nothing like it has ever been created before, and it won’t been seen again! It’s a unique mix of an Indian-American, African-American, and Jewish-American magician telling stories and sharing magic.

Event Details
Now You See Me
DATE Thursday, May 25
TIMES 7PM Doors, 8PM Show
VENUE FringeArts
TICKETS $10 – or – $7 for members of WHYY, First Person Arts, and FringeArts | BUY

For one night only, three astonishing illusionists tantalize audiences with the mysteries of masculinity and race. Be mesmerized by their tricks, stunts, and stories, and leave questioning what is real, and what is really illusion.

Interview by Kathleen Lafferty, Intern
Photo credits: Jennifer Boshnack


Peeking Behind the Curtain With Cast Members of Now You See Me

Randy Shine _Cropped_Credit Zamani Feelings

For the first time ever, we are pleased to present an evening of theater, magic, and storytelling — all in one night, and all on one stage!

At Now You See Me, astonishing illusionists will entertain audiences with both tricks and stories as a way of illuminating the complexities of masculinity and race. The show is part of Commonspace LIVE, a collaboration with WHYY dedicated to sharing remarkable stories that speak to the pressing issues of our time.

To get a better idea of how these three art forms will collide in this genre-defying performance, we went behind the scenes with two magicians and cast members, Randy (Ran’D) Shine, and Fred Siegel.

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FPA: Full disclosure: magic layperson here! Say “magic” and I immediately think of Houdini and Copperfield, so please don’t saw me in half or make me disappear! You both know a lot about the history of magic, and are working to shape the future of the craft. Can you please help bring us into the 21st century of magic?

Fred: It’s like everything else. We’re dealing with the changes that social media and other digital communication produces. Today we learn differently and socialize differently. If technology is having an effect on young magicians, it’s making them technically more proficient, but perhaps a little less able to deal with live audiences. Also, the other issue in our art form is the same as the issues in our world — we are working towards greater diversity in race, nationality, and gender.

FPA: It’s challenging to draft an interview for a magician, because there are a number of questions that are inherently off-limits by nature of the art of illusion. Is there something you’d be inclined to share about what happens “behind the curtain” that doesn’t compromise the integrity of your craft? A mindset, perhaps?

Ran’D: I often tell people 10% of what I do is on stage, and 90% of what I do is off stage. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into performing. I am probably more of an entrepreneur than a magician. When it comes to the performance, my friend and fellow magician, Spidey, said it best: “Magic is the art of practicing something for years in order for no one to know you ever practiced.”

FPA: As a magician, you’re all about tricking and misleading the audience. But here at First Person Arts and Commonspace, we are all about truth-telling. How will you use illusion to help us expose the truth in your story?

The tricks that I will perform in the show are just visual illustrations of true stories about my life as a magician. The tricks complement the story.

Fred: My truth is that I am fascinated by trickery. I find it beautiful. A good magic trick can make me laugh, and shout, and cry. The context in which I most enjoy performing my magic is in my memoir show, Man of Mystery. I do tricks, but they are embedded in true stories about my life.

FPA: What’s it been like to prepare for this magic/storytelling show? How has it been different and similar to preparing for your past magic appearances?

Ran’D: This is my first storytelling show, and anytime an artist steps out of his/her comfort zone to explore different forms of expression, I considered it growth. I am definitely out of my “zone,” but I am growing. I’m learning a new skill set, and that’s rewarding. Good storytelling is more than just getting up on stage and recounting something from your past. There are techniques and theatrical tools used to make a story great and engaging. I also found this to be therapeutic. It has given me a chance to sit back and think about this journey of being a magician, the encounters I have had with people, and what that means beyond being a performer.

Though this is not my first storytelling event with First Person Arts [Video Here], this process is different for me since I am not at the center of everything. I’m usually the writer and performer and director. Now, I am on a team. It’s a good thing.

FPA: What can magic teach us about ourselves?

Ran’D: There is beauty in not knowing. Anything is possible. Perception and reality are sometimes indistinguishable.

Fred: One day, half a lifetime ago, I was working on a beautiful magic trick where a little ball seems to jump from one half walnut shell to another. A young woman I really liked was coming over, so I left the shells carelessly sitting on the table in hopes that she would ask about them. and I could show her this beautiful trick. When she got there, I tried to steer the conversation to the shells, but she gave a skeptical, even annoyed, look. Then she said, “It’s really important to you to fool people, isn’t it?” I had to admit that it was.

Event Details:
Now You See Me
DATE Thursday, May 25
TIMES 7PM Doors, 8PM Show
VENUE FringeArts
TICKETS $10 – or – $7 for members of WHYY, First Person Arts, and FringeArts | BUY

For one night only, three astonishing illusionists tantalize audiences with the mysteries of masculinity and race. Be mesmerized by their tricks, stunts, and stories, and leave questioning what is real, and what is really illusion.

Directed by Mason Rosenthal
Pictured: Ran’D Shine. Credit: Zamani Feelings
Interview by Kathleen Lafferty, FPA Intern


Your StorySlam Host Is Ready for Battle


Just like our stories, our scars make us one-of-a-kind.

This year, in honor of Memorial Day, First Person Arts is presenting a special StorySlam on the theme “Battle Scars.” This Slam is part of Commonspace LIVE, a collaboration with WHYY featuring 7 days of live recordings for our new radio show and podcast.

Lovella Calica, Founder and Director of Warrior Writers, will be our host for the evening. Warrior Writers is a national nonprofit with the mission of supporting veterans in the discovery of the arts as a transformative tool. This is the first time Lovella is performing with us, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Meet Lovella!

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FPA: What can you tell us about one of your own battle scars that you’ve earned on the way to becoming an artist, yourself?

LC: Well, since I’m trying to publish a memoir about this sometime this year, I might as well start to put it out there. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. That is my biggest battle scar, and it has led me to becoming in artist.

FPA: What was a story you experienced through Warrior Writers that changed the way you see the world, caught you off guard, or shook you to your core?

LC: One time, at a poetry reading, one of our participants was telling a story about how he was really struggling with depression and suicide. He said that he was on the ledge of his apartment building when he got a text from me about a book we were putting together. He chose not to end his life because I invited him to be involved in our community.

FPA. Many people want or need to tell their stories, but it can be an inner battle just to step up to the mic! What’s your advice for our Slam warriors looking to muster up the courage to share a personal experience at the “Battle Scars” StorySlam?

LC: As a poet who has read and listened to many other poets, I am incredibly grateful to them for sharing their writing/stories/art with me. Other people’s experiences and perspectives have affected me in positive ways. They have helped me learn and grow, and have inspired me. I believe that we can communicate for these reasons. We can’t keep everything to ourselves — we never know how it might affect others to hear from us. Besides, what can it hurt? It’s just a mic and some people!

FPA: Why did you create Warrior Writers?

LC: I hadn’t meant to found an organization, actually. I had been working with anti-war veterans for a few years, and had become quite close with a lot of young, post 9/11 veterans. We became good friends. They confided in me, cried on my shoulder, and shared their pain. As a writer and trauma survivor myself, I knew how critical writing was to my continued survival, and eventual thriving. So I decided to share my writing with my veteran friends. Afterwards, I asked if any of them wrote and asked them to share their writing/poetry. When I heard their powerful and high-quality writing, I thought of myself, ‘Other people have to hear this.’ Then I decided that I wanted to put together a book of their writing, and lead a weekend workshop, so we could write together and support each other. We knew that weekend that we had started something, and weren’t going to stop — that we were going to continue growing. We are celebrating our ten-year birthday this year, and we hope you will help us publish our fifth anthology by checking us out at www.warriorwriters.org.

FPA: What do people need to know about veterans today that they don’t already know?

LC: To be honest, there are a million things to know! The first thing is that when most people think of veterans, they think of Vietnam veterans, and while that’s true, that is not the only reality. There are hundreds of thousands of veterans that are in their 30s, like me. They are young, female, people of color, and even anti-war. There’s a real diversity of veterans out there. You need to know that they are just like you. Most of them didn’t join just to be killers. Many joined for college money, to get out of their hometown, to get away from their family, or just to serve. And more importantly, they need us — just as we need them — to move forward together, and to create the society we want and deserve.

Event Details
First Person Arts StorySlam: Battle Scars
Hosted by Lovella Calica
Live music by Eric Coyne

DATE Tuesday, May 23
TIMES 7PM Doors, 8PM Show
VENUE FringeArts
TICKETS $10 – or – $7 for members of WHYY, First Person Arts, and FringeArts | BUY

No body’s perfect. From broken limbs to heartbreak, and everywhere in between, we want to hear all about your scrapes, scruffs, dings, and dents!

Interview by Kathleen Lafferty, Intern
Photo by Sosena Solomon, courtesy of the Leeway Foundation.


Powerful Women Step Up to the Mic

Happy International Women’s Day! To help celebrate, we’re bringing you five tales from some of our fiercest female storytellers in our archive. Brava, ladies!

A 7-year-old feminist gets into a fight and learns a lesson in girl power. While her feminist values haven’t changed, her understanding of woman power has matured.

Hear what happens when a female comic invents a male alter ego, “Mr. Dribble,” and takes on the comedy scene in bold new ways.

A transgender woman embraces her body in the light of the aurora borealis.

When Reverend Kate goes out to buy clergy shirts, they don’t fit because they’re cut for the female figure! Hear how this passionate ordained minister stares down gender expectations and stereotypes in the church.

Mary knows in her heart that she’s going to be a mother. She also knows it in her uterus because she’s pregnant! Hear how this courageous teenage mom breaks free of shame, judgement, and feelings of being unqualified.


FPA Staff Picks: Best Breakup Songs

Another year has come and gone, and our hearts have the stretch marks to prove it!

With our 7th Annual Ex-Files StorySlams just around the corner, we’ve asked the FPA staff to dredge up their fresh and not-so-fresh heartbreaks, so that we can share with you our most sob-worthy, empowering, and rip-your-heart-out breakup songs!

Trust us, these go-to tunes will give you strength and comfort long after your exes’ shampoo smell on the pillow has faded. Joan, GC, Sinéad, and Jamie Lidell are sure to get you through even the worst splitsies. Enjoy!

Becca: Joan Jett, I Hate Myself For Loving You

There’s no release quite like singing, growling, and screaming all at the same time. “I Hate Myself For Loving You” by Joan Jett has it all! Stomping around the house while belting this one out at the top of your lungs does wonders for the post-breakup soul.

Jamie J: G.C. Cameron, So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday

Yes! It really is so hard to say goodbye! The ideal position for listening to this song is flat on your back in bed with a full box of tissues by your side.

Dan: Sinéad O’Conoor, Queen of Denmark

I know it’s not exactly a breakup song, but it’s got this amazing mix of that sad introspection, self-empowerment, and humor that really help when you’re going through something like that. Plus, it’s just a great cover, and one of my favorite Sinéad songs of all time.

Jen: Jamie Lidell, Big Love

It’s so hard to narrow it down to just ONE! (If you need more, just let me know!) Here’s a pick that most people won’t know. Jamie Lidell makes some of the happiest songs around!

Event Details:
7th Annual Ex-Files StorySlams
DATE Tues., February 14, 2017
TIMES Early Show: 7PM, Late Show: 9:30PM
VENUE: Punch Line Philly
TICKETS: $14, $10 for FPA members | BUY

Storytellers take to the stage with their true tales of love lost, ranging from the sweet to the sad, the hilarious to the ridiculous. Bring your ex. Bring your bestie. Bring your date. Bring your story.


Making It: Behind the Scenes of Will Work For with Dacyl Acevedo


We’re illuminating personal experiences from all walks of life at this year’s 15th Anniversary First Person Arts Festival. From sexuality to immigration to ethnicity, we’re putting a spotlight on some of the most timely topics of our day. And how could we possibly talk about real life without talking about that “W” word?! WORK!

New York-based artist Dacyl Acevedo is no longer shy about the fact that her life was turned completely upside down by the economic crash of 2008. In fact, she’s turned her woes into a wonderful one-woman show, Will Work For, which makes its Philadelphia premiere at the milestone Festival on Thursday, Nov. 10. Tickets on sale here.

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FPA: Like many people in 2008, you found yourself out of a job, in line at the unemployment office, and eventually receiving eviction notices. What would you say is unique and important for us to know about your personal experience navigating life after being laid off?

DA: First and most importantly, that my experience is not unique. It is unfortunately, still a shared experience with about 600,000 Americans TODAY, who’ve been unemployed for 99 weeks or more. I wanted to include my life as an Artist and all the complexities that come with us trying to juggle day jobs with our artistic lives. An Actor’s life is not all play and fun, and it’s rarely glamorous. It is for most, a constant hustle just to survive. My family’s immigrant experience also came up for me as I was creating the piece. The work ethic I was raised with and their ideas about what constitutes work, success and achievement of the American dream are deeply rooted in me, but also frequently in conflict with the realities of trying to “make it” in America.

FPA: What do most people not know about what it’s like to be unemployed, looking for work, and still unable to find a job? 

DA: We can all relate to the worry, stress and anxiety, but as time goes on you start to feel isolated. You start to have serious doubts about your abilities, your competency, the choices you’ve made that have led you to this point in your life. You start to compare yourself to others who may have already found a job or are doing well while you’re struggling. You feel guilty and blame yourself. You feel shame for needing to ask for help. You feel like a disappointment and a burden to your family and friends. I think, in America a lot of our identity is wrapped up in our job/career. We introduce ourselves by saying, “Hi, my name is… I’m an Artist, Doctor, Engineer, Nurse, Teacher…” When that is taken away, who are we? It feels as if, you’re nothing, worthless.

FPA: Your piece tells the true story about your very real and serious experience navigating the economic crash of 2008 through theater, storytelling, and in some places through clowning. Tell us about how you approach such a serious topic through such a lighthearted form as clowning.

DA: The whole show really took shape from a scene that I wrote based on a dream that I had of myself as a Charlie Chaplin-esque type clown begging for work and/or money in a subway station. At the time, I didn’t have much clown training, but the more I learned about clown work and experimented with the form, it became the heart of the piece. I was lucky enough to get into a couple of Christopher Bayes’ weekend workshops and it was some of the greatest training I’ve ever had as an actor. A clown is essentially a mirror into our purest and truest self. The clown is simple, innocent, hopeful, honest and curious, like a child. We are instantly attracted, fascinated and connected to this strange, ridiculous creature because we don’t know what they’ll do. They unknowingly reveal our greatest truths and teach us lessons while we’re laughing and our hearts are open.

DacylReachingFPA: From your experience, how does society view people who are out of work? Did you find that people’s perceptions of you changed when you lost your job? Did your perception of yourself change?

DA: The switch from compassion and empathy changed sharply after the first 6-9 months after the jobs crisis peaked, to judgement, ridicule and scapegoating of the unemployed. As a society, blame-the-victim seems to be our default stance when we can’t figure out what to do about anything that seems threatening to us. It was interesting to watch the 2012 election unfold during the jobs crisis and listen to people talk about this excruciating process you’re going through with such glibness and dismissiveness. I took it all personally. It hurt, infuriated and motivated me. I tried to hide my situation or downplay it as much as possible from my friends and family. Many never knew until they saw the show. The people who did know were extremely helpful and supportive. I learned a lot about myself and it shook me to my core foundation. I lost a lot of my self-respect. Building this show was my way of rebuilding myself. There’s still so much work for me to do, but I’m more hopeful, humble and grateful for any help I receive.

FPA: Sometimes as a culture, we associate joblessness with laziness. But that’s not always the case. In fact, in your experience, you applied to many jobs, took classes on professional development, and sought out support wherever possible. As you mentioned already, this much effort with little response can leave a person feeling feeling hopeless, and out of options. What would you say to someone who might be in that situation and feeling that way right now?

DA: Hold on! It will pass. Blaming and punishing yourself is a waste of time and energy. I know because I did it, a lot. Don’t bother trying to deny or avoid the pain and bad feelings just go through it. Be honest and face the realities of your situation, then focus on solutions and ASK FOR HELP! Other people can sometimes see opportunities that you can’t. You can only tackle one thing at a time and it’s ok. Finally, find something outside of looking for work that brings you joy and fight like hell to keep that joy alive!

FPA: Why should someone come to see Will Work For at the First Person Arts Festival?

DA: Come, for some good laughs! When have you ever seen a show about unemployment that’s fun, political, educational, dramatic, realistic and absurd in less than 90 minutes? It’s got storytelling, poetry, intriguing characters, and a clown!

FPA: This is our 15th anniversary Festival! In honor of this milestone, share with us your 15-word memoir!

DA: We never create anything alone, it’s always a collaboration. Without it great art cannot exist.

WWF 6 cropped 4 Will Work For is part of the 15th Anniversary First Person Arts Festival presented by PNC Arts Alive. This show is part of our RAW Series, dedicated to presenting cutting edge new work by emerging artists who are pushing the boundaries of memoir and documentary art. To view the full Festival lineup, click here.

Funnyman Chip Chantry gets serious about StorySlams


First Person Arts StorySlams are about to get even funnier. We are thrilled to announce Comedian Chip Chantry as our new official host for Slams at L’Etage!

When you think of L’Etage, you probably think of a seductive and intimate little spot known for its warm vibe, mood lighting, iconic beaded velvet stage curtains, and of course the crepes. Since First Person Arts started Philly’s first StorySlams back in 2007, story lovers have packed L’etage every month, sometimes sitting on the stage and rubbing elbows with friends, and friends they haven’t met yet.

Now, Chip Chantry, Philly’s biggest up-and-coming comic, will be a permanent fixture in the venue voted best nightclub and cabaret.

Chip kicks off his new job as host this Tuesday, July 26. The theme is “News to Me.” Come out to cheer him on, and witness his laughter inducing skills for yourself.

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FPA: You’ve opened for some big names like Louis CK, Bob Saget, and Dave Chappelle. What’s is like sharing the stage with a comedy legend?

CC: It’s great! But at the same time, you’re still just doing your job. You have to go make people laugh. Once you’re on stage, there’s really no difference. I will say that the people who come to see a big name comedian are generally really excited to be there, which make for great crowds. And that excitement is tempered by the understanding that I am literally the only thing standing in the way of them seeing their favorite comedian.

FPA: How’d you get your start in comedy?

CC: I wanted attention, and I’m not very good at playing the guitar.

FPA: What was your most memorable experience while performing?

CC: It’s pretty much all a blur, but the first time I performed, I remember feeling the laughter hitting the stage for the first time. It almost knocks you over when you get our first big laugh. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.

FPA: Where was the strangest/weirdest/most unexpected place you’ve ever performed?

CC: I had to do a show once at a swimming club. We got there, and it was AT the pool. It was dusk, people were sitting on blankets and lawn chairs next to the pool, and we performed from the other end of the pavilion.

And would you believe that it was one of the best shows I’ve ever done? Well you SHOULDN’T, because it WASN’T. It was terrible. Comedy is like being naked–it should only happen indoors.

FPA: How do you keep your content fresh?

CC: You have to write constantly, or you start to hate your material. The more you perform, the faster you’ll get tired of what you’re saying. So you need to keep your eyes and ears open everywhere–the grocery store, the gym, walking down the street. You start to see comedy all around you. You just have to figure out a way to convey it to the people in the crowd.

FPA: Do you rehearse your jokes in the mirror?

CC: I’m going to be honest–I can’t see my own reflection when I look in the mirror. Don’t tell anyone. I’m sensitive about it.

FPA: What would you say to someone who secretly wanted to get up on stage and tell a story, but might be a little nervous or on the fence?


FPA: What would you tell some of Helium’s emerging comics to encourage them to try performing a story at a StorySlam?

CC: It’s a lot of fun! And comics are storytellers, so we can always work on what we do. Plus, guys, it’s STAGE TIME.

FPA: What would your dream StorySlam theme be, and what story would you tell?

CC: Being a comedian, I love hearing (and telling) stories about hilariously awful shows people have done. Sitting in the green room with other comics talking about horror stories is the best. And I have too many fun/awful stories to pick from right now.

FPA: Do you get butterflies before you go up on stage?

CC: Not really anymore. Just more of an impatience to just get onstage already. But when I started, I could barely eat the day leading up to the show.

FPA: Give our performers a storytelling tip!

CC: Connect with the crowd. Look at people. Make it intimate. Pretend you’re telling your story to one person.

FPA: What do you love most about hosting FPA StorySlams?

CC: I get to be an audience member for most of the show, and hear great stories.

FPA: What should audiences know about you that they might not already know?

CC: My real name is Viktor Sokolov. I was born in the Soviet Union in 1938. I am holding a package that contains very important information. We must talk immediately.

First Person Arts presents Philadelphia’s premiere StorySlams 2nd Mondays at World Cafe Live and 4th Tuesdays at L’Etage. For more info about you can tell your story, click here.

Photo Credit: Jen Cleary


Child, why don’t you talk?

“Every time you feel something flickering in your heart when you’re scared, think of that girl.”

At four-years-old, Amrita loses her voice. At age eleven, she finds her song. Congratulations to our “Sweet Dreams” StorySlam winner and Audience Favorite, Amrita. See her compete in the Grand Slam at the 15th Anniversary First Person Arts Festival!

First Person Arts presents Philadelphia’s premiere StorySlams 2nd Mondays at World Cafe Live and 4th Tuesdays at L’Etage. A full schedule of StorySlam dates and themes here. For more information about how to tell your story, click here.


Audience Favorite Storyteller Steps Up


Chris Lundy has been voted Audience Favorite at every StorySlam he ever attended as a contestant, including the 15th Season Grand Slam. For those of you who have taken to the stage with stories of your own, you know that’s no small feat!

Seeing Chris’ talent, we invited him to pitch us a story for a chance to perform alongside Grammy Award-winning recording artist Bilal, and hip-hop artist Freeway in BEyond Expectations: Engaging Males of Color as part of the 14th Annual First Person Arts Festival presented by PNC Arts Alive. Chris’s story pitch, a heartfelt tale about growing up with a father in prison, and rebuilding his life after losing his mother, was just the inspiring story the show needed.

At BEyond Expectations, Chris captivated over 600 attendees, and shined right alongside the celebrity storytellers. Click to watch.

From monthly StorySlams to the main stage, it’s been clear that Chris is a hit with audiences, and a natural performer. We’ve enjoyed his stories so much, and have decided to make Chris Lundy our dedicated host for all of our StorySlams at World Cafe Live!

Click here to check out the full calendar of upcoming Slams, and plan your visit to go see Chris in action. The theme for our next Slam on Monday, July 11 is “Sweet Dreams”.

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FPA: Chris, you are a man who loves his hats. What is the best kind of hat to wear to a StorySlam? Is this a different style hat than, say, a hat you’d wear to take a stroll in a park?

CL: My hat is definitely my sidekick; a mainstay. I think a sombrero would be ideal for a StorySlam. You run the risk of obstructing other people’s view, but hey…YOLO (You Only Live Once). For a stroll in the park, a car ride, or a shower, you’ll probably find me in my signature newsboy cap.

FPA: What’s your favorite story to tell at a party and why?

CL: Any story about me striking out with a girl. There’s so many to pick from and each is embarrassingly hilarious. Fun for all…except me, I guess. Ouch. Can I change my answer?

FPA: What would you say to someone who secretly wanted to get up on stage and tell a story, but might be a little nervous or on the fence?

CL: DO IT! Everybody’s nervous. You’re not alone. You won’t regret telling your story; but you’ll probably regret NOT telling your story. Also, the FPA crowd is so warm, accepting, and non-judgmental. Take the leap and they’ll catch you. I’ve seen it.

FPA: What was your favorite prize (other than the $100 prize) that you’ve ever given away to a performer on stage?

CL: A storyteller once told a hysterical story involving a swim meet, her mom, and pubic hair. As a prize, I grabbed a mustache refrigerator magnet and didn’t even get a word out before the audience burst into laughter! They knew exactly what I was getting at; I didn’t have to say a word. It took a while for us to gather ourselves and move on with the show.

FPA: Give our performers a storytelling tip!

CL: Tell your story just like you would at a party among friends. Forget the stage. Forget the microphone. Forget the lights. Follow that rule and the rest will follow.

FPA: What’s your dream theme?

CL: “WTF?!” One of the most recognizable acronyms of the social media age. There’s a ton of creative freedom within that theme. But whichever way the storyteller chooses to go, it’s guaranteed to be captivating!

FPA: Do you have any message/advice you’d like to say to the audience judges?

CL: First of all, thank you. A judge’s job is tough! Everyone else gets to keep their scores private while yours are on front street. Not easy. Be mindful of the contest rules (time limit, theme, beginning, middle, end structure, etc.) and judge accordingly. Remember, it’s a competition.

FPA: What do you love most about hosting FPA StorySlams?

CL: The culture. FPA feels like family. There are no strangers at FPA StorySlams, just friends and family. If you happen to spot a stranger, report them immediately…or buy them a drink. Either is fine.

FPA: Do you ever get butterflies before going up on stage?

CL: Every. Single. Time. And I love it! If I’m nervous, it means I’m pushing my limits. It means I left my comfort zone about a mile back. And that’s a good thing.

FPA: People might not know this, but the only Slams you go to or perform in are First Person Arts Slams. Why are you so loyal to First Person Arts Slams?

CL: The family culture breeds loyalty. If this were Game of Thrones, I’d be Lord Lundy of House FPA. Winter is coming. Oh, and I love watching our storytellers progress as they go from nervous newcomers to polished storytellers. Makes me proud.

FPA: What should audiences know about you that they might not already know?

CL: I’ve never lost to an American in ping-pong.

First Person Arts presents Philadelphia’s premiere StorySlams 2nd Mondays at World Cafe Live and 4th Tuesdays at L’Etage. For more info about you can tell your story, click here.

Photo credit: Jen Cleary


Bonus Content!: Patches, The Immigrant Cat


When one hears the word “immigration,” one might think about the Syrian refugee crisis, or some politician’s idea to build a wall across the US/Mexico border. You might not stop to consider the topic of feline dual citizenship.

At last night’s “En Route” StorySlam, Sara took the win and Audience Favorite vote with an unexpected tale about her best friend, Patches, the Macedonian immigrant cat.

Naturally, we had a lot of follow up questions. Sara was kind enough to answer some of them for us. And in case you’re curious, she’s shared pictures of what a cat green card looks like.

FPA: Feline green cards? We didn’t know this was a thing! How difficult is it to get one?

SR: It was surprisingly easy to get documentation for Patches. A few other volunteers in Macedonia brought back dogs and that, apparently, is a lot tougher. But the “green card” consists of a pet passport that shows all of her vaccinations, and a document from the Town Hall certifying that the pet is safe to travel. (What this means is anyone’s guess. Also the form is completely in Macedonian, so I have no idea how it is supposed to be useful for American customs people!)

IMG_1739One of my students and friends, Marija, served as my cultural attaché for this process. Otherwise I would have never figured out how to bring Patches to the United States! Marija accompanied me to the Town Hall to help me explain what I needed. Of course, they had never seen this form before, and were mystified about why some American was needing their signature to travel with a cat.

This is a bit of a side story, but I had come to Macedonia with an awesome travel guitar as one of my carry-ons. But because I was bringing Patches home, I was suddenly over my carry-on limit, and had to make some adjustments.

Marija was a great guitar player, but had this dinky guitar from who knows where. So right before I left with Patches, I gave Marija my guitar to thank her for helping me with the cat, and for being a good friend. She still has it, and still plays quite well! I think we both got a good bargain.

FPA: Where where you and what were you doing when you found Patches in Macedonia?

SR: I had a friend named Lidija who was one of the only Macedonians I knew who kept cats and dogs as pets. She would let them inside her house, but they were definitely mostly outdoor pets. I was having dinner at Lidija’s house when this poofy calico kitten came in and started meowing loudly (she still has a weird meow, which to me sounds like a toy goat). It turns out that one of the cats Lidija often fed had had a litter of kittens, and Lidija was letting the mother keep them in the basement until they got big enough to defend themselves on the tough Macedonian streets.

I said to Lidija, “She is so cute!!” and Lidija responded with, “zemaj,” a word I didn’t know (that summarizes 95% of my conversations). I picked up the kitten and kept talking about how cute she was, and I just had fallen completely in love, and Lidija kept saying this word that I didn’t know.

Eventually Lidija said “ZEMAJ,” put the cat in my hands and motioned to leave. I guess it was just a regional word for “take” that I didn’t know, so she’d been telling me all night to take the kitten with me.

FPA: You say that Macedonians don’t typically have pets, and especially not inside. Can you tell us more about that?

SR: I was in a rural, agricultural city, so pets were really uncommon. Mostly, people just considered pets dirty to have in the home. There is also a much different culture around spaying/neutering, which meas that there are strays everywhere in Macedonia. The result is that cats and dogs are associated with the public nuisance of strays rather than indoor, domestic companions like they are here.

Having pets wasn’t unheard of, it was just uncommon. Being the lone American somewhere, though, your behavior is often notable because of the ways it’s uncommon. People were always very confused and curious as to why I would want a cat living in my house.

FPA: What is Patches’ favorite pastime?

SR: Patches has many hobbies, but cuddling is definitely her favorite. She’s basically just an alive stuffed animal. Like I said in the story, I brought her back to where I was staying in Macedonia by zipping her up inside my winter jacket. I actually used to hold her like that a lot when she was a kitten. Zipped inside my jacket, she would nap while I read, or whatever. As a result, she is very needy and basically wants to constantly be in contact with a person, which I love! She has always slept with me, and she will paw at my nose until I wake up a little and lift up the covers so she can nestle underneath and be little spoon.

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Upcoming Events
  • StorySlam: The Morning After
  • Date: July 30, 2019
  • Time: 7:30 PM
  • Venue: CSZ Philadelphia
  • Location: 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
  • StorySlam: Windfall
  • Date: August 27, 2019
  • Time: 7:30 PM
  • Venue: CSZ Philadelphia
  • Location: 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107