W&M Theatre and Dance Opens Digital Fall Season with “Citizen: An American Lyric”

Words and Image courtesy of W&M Theatre.

William & Mary’s Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance opens “Citizen: An American Lyric”, their first virtual performance of the Fall 2020 season September 17-20. 

Written by Claudia Rankin, the piece is based on a series of essays exploring the daily slights of racism on both a personal and national level. Hailed as an always relevant and engaging piece, the department has chosen it as an answer to the student body’s call for a diverse season. 

The piece will be presented entirely online, as an edited feature film that ticket holders can access On-Demand for the performance weekend. 

Despite distancing restrictions and the inability to perform for a live audience, Director Alise Larder feels that this new format is an opportunity to find new audiences and redefine what theatre can be. 

“Going digital allows me to shoot ‘Citizen’ as a short film. It will be shot on location on and around campus,” said Alise Larder, guest director for “Citizen”, “The digital platform completely opened a new creative box for me. My hope is that it will feel more intimate and tangible.”

Larder added that she feels the digital platform will allow the performances to be more accessible to viewers in and out of the Williamsburg area. All performances will be available for viewing at home, at the viewer’s leisure. 

Adaptability is the key for Larder, who begins filming this week.

“Acting as a film director will be a first for me. I am thrilled and excited to see what happens. I have a vision for Citizen, however, as we all know things happen…some good and some bad,” she said, “I am a roll with the punches kind of woman so adjusting my scope could turn this project into something even better than I had planned.”

Citizen begins streaming September 17-20. Digital Tickets are $7, and can be purchased online at wm.edu/boxoffice, by phone at 757-221-2674, or in person at the Kimball Theatre, 428 Duke of Gloucester Street, Tuesday-Friday from 2-6pm. 


Virginia Opera Welcomes New General Director & CEO Peggy Kriha Dye

Words by Nathan Jacques.
Images courtesy of Virginia Opera.

The Hampton Roads region is a place of staggering cultural diversity, a “melting pot,” if you will, that  provides an array of arts-centric experiences and haven for both locals and visitors from all over the world to create, and to enjoy what others have created. Virginia Opera, while fully in the thick of what is nothing short of a revolution in arts presentation through their current Stayin’ Alive Alternate Fall series initiative, is also preparing to welcome yet another brilliant creative mind to the Hampton Roads arts community—as their new General Director and CEO. Peggy Kriha Dye, a Minnesota native, will take the helm of the beloved statewide opera company beginning on October 19, 2020.

Kriha Dye, no stranger to the timeless art of opera, is a graduate of Saint Cloud State University, Manhattan School of Music, and the Julliard Opera Center. Having graced over one-hundred stages across the globe during her incredible career as a soprano, she brings to the table not only a full understanding of performance, but a remarkable knowledge and prowess in the way of arts administration as well. A recipient of numerous accolades, including Musical America’s 2018 Professionals of the Year “Movers and Shakers Edition” award, Kriha Dye has, until her appointment with the VO, faithfully served Ohio’s renowned Opera Columbus organization through many key roles: Director of Education and Community Programming (2011-2014), Artistic Director (2014-2017), and, finally, General Director and CEO (2017-2020). Under her leadership, Opera Columbus flourished and became widely known for operatic excellence; acclaimed for its skillful presentation of both new artistic works and commissioned pieces, in addition to beloved classics in collaboration with a host of national and international partners. In addition to these wondrous achievements, Kriha Dye continues to serve on both the Board of Trustees of Opera America and the Women’s Opera Network. 

Of her appointment, Kriha Dye offers: “My thanks to the Virginia Opera and its Board and my good colleague and predecessor Russell Allen. It is an honor to be chosen to now lead the Virginia Opera in the next exciting chapter of its storied statewide history. I am humbled and excited to join the valuable leadership, staff, essential and ever-vital artists and creative partners— and Artistic Director, Maestro Adam Turner—in looking toward the Virginia Opera’s 50th Anniversary year in 2025. To be certain, as we will continue to face the many challenges that the current climate presents in tirelessly championing the performing arts that we love and hold so close, it is with equal certainty that we will find our best in meeting and joyfully prevailing in those challenges. I look forward to seeing you in Norfolk, Richmond, and Fairfax in October.”

VOA Staying Alive logo, the v in Alive is red, and overlaps the rest of the letters in a fancy way. The rest of the letters are black.

With only a month until another chapter in its storied history begins, Virginia Opera continues to deliver the utmost in opera entertainment to communities across Virginia through Stayin’ Alive – Virginia Opera’s Alternate Fall. More information about the organization’s mission to inspire hearts and minds throughout the Commonwealth through the magic of music can be found on their official website: https://vaopera.org/stayin-alive/

Flock to The Grey Goose to Feed Your Whole Family

Words by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of The Grey Goose.

Dana Epstein is unstoppable.  As joint owners of The Grey Goose restaurant in Hampton, Dana and her husband Philip have been keeping the families of Hampton Roads fed throughout the pandemic. “Immediately, I think like there was this shock,” said Dana, “almost like it’s a snow day when they call for snow and we say, ‘Oh it will pass.’ And then after a week we realized this isn’t going away. So, I immediately got to thinking, ‘Families are at home, and what does a family need?’  People don’t like to cook, or they can’t cook, or they don’t want to cook, and it occurred to me immediately that we needed to offer family style meals.” 

Some kind of rare beef with mashed potatoes

Thus was born the Grey Goose’s Family Style meals.  These dinners boast generous portions of family favorites like Pot Roast, Meatloaf and Salisbury Steak. “I did fried chicken one night and people lost their minds!” laughed Dana. Each meal is designed to serve 4 adults generously so that it can accommodate a family with multiple children easily, or offer leftovers for an additional meal. The offering has proved to be very popular. “It’s a two sided street for both of us,” notes Dana, “and with the pandemic I just felt like that was the only way I was going to save my business.”  

A thick burger and fries

Dana and Philip, both graduates of Johnson & Wales University, have been cooking for the families of Hampton Roads for over 30 years. Dana specialized in Culinary Arts and Philip in Baking and Pastry, which led him to the position as head baker for Colonial Williamsburg for 15 years. The couple purchased The Grey Goose in 2007 from sisters Donna Catlett and Barbara Jones. “Donna was my neighbor when I was a kid growing up, so I’ve known the restaurant since the beginning. [The building] used to be a shoe store when I was a little kid – I used to buy my ballet shoes here,” Dana reminisced.

The original incarnation of The Grey Goose was a tea room for 25 years, designed to serve shoppers in downtown Hampton. “The name was based on some of the Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes,” recounted Dana. Over the years, as retail shops have moved up the Peninsula and the area has become a business district, the Epsteins realized there was a demand for a more full service restaurant. To respond to this need, they added Saturday and Sunday Brunches, alcohol, dinner service, full service catering, and entertainment such as Acoustic and Trivia Nights.  

Those same home-made chips with onions and beand and maybe chili, with a beer and a menu

“My husband and I love going to the Pub Trivia night, improv comedy night, and also their ‘dinnertainment’ events,” writes peninsula resident Melissa James. “Our favorites were Lucy’s Christmas Carol and both original Golden Girls shows. The owners really listen to what their customers want and go out of their way to shape the business to demand. That has always impressed me,” she added.

Listening is one of Dana’s best skills, which led her to The Grey Goose’s latest endeavor, a Kid’s Katering service. “I was taking a class with the State of Virginia and there were 16 business people in this class,” shared Dana, “and at one point a half-dressed little boy walks through the screen of one of the girl’s pictures on the Zoom feed and she’s like, ‘Oh my God! I’m so sorry!’ and the little kid was like, ‘What’s for lunch Mommy?’, and I thought, “Oh my God!  Every kid in America is saying that right now – like what a nightmare in that you’re trying to be professional and run your business and yet your kids have to eat.  So how can we help?” 

A sandwich that looks like it's got some cheese and egg and maybe avocado with home-made chips

To determine the best menu, Dana consulted several parents she knows and set up a Facebook group to find out what the children of Hampton Roads want for lunch. “Moms are funny,” observes Dana. “They say, ‘Well, I want my kids to eat this, but what they will eat is this.’ And it’s very different.”  Each week Dana will post kid friendly menus and that contain 5 days worth of breakfast and lunch menus as well as an option for snacks that will be delivered at the beginning of the week to your home.  Parents and caregivers can order online or call the restaurant to place their order. And delivery? “I’ll go anywhere,” declares Dana. “My  husband’s from Norfolk. If I had a delivery in Norfolk, we’d go and we’d visit his parents. If I have to go to Williamsburg, I’ve got family I’d visit.  You know I think we’d make it work. Oh, to have such problems!”  

The restaurant business can be a tough game even in good times, but add a pandemic and the rules completely change.  Dana admits they were treading water at first as they navigated these new waters, but that turned around in May. “We were extremely fortunate to be contacted by World Central Kitchen,” said Dana, “and asked to produce 900 meals a week for them.”  World Central Kitchen, founded by chef Jose Andrés and his wife Patricia, works to find innovative ways to end hunger and poverty. They have fed victims of recent natural disasters including those along the Gulf Coast in the path of hurricane Laura. Hampton Roads became a recipient of the foundation when, “Pharell Williams donated a lot of money for use in our region,” Dana explained.  “So Social Services contacted me and the Hampton Housing Authority contacted me and that’s who were the recipients of these meals. I mean honestly, without that we would have probably not made it. It was a game changer for us. [The recipients] were all shut-ins and they were calling us, thanking us for the nice meal.” Funding for the program stopped early in July, but Dana says Social Services still gets inquiries for The Grey Goose’s special of the day. “It definitely validated everything we knew we were doing,” added Dana.

The top of a chocolate cupcake (but it's HUGE)

“I feel like we really persevered,” shared Dana, “because I didn’t have a choice. Like in my mind – go big or go home. So I wasn’t going to give in.” Longtime customer Katy Feld says, “They are a hard working couple who do their best to offer a unique, personal dining experience. [It’s a] great establishment for the whole family.”  And if all of Dana’s new ideas  and hard work weren’t enough, they’re soon opening a new restaurant, The Baker’s Wife Bistro, which was in the works before the pandemic hit Hampton Roads. Located on the corner of Mallory and Mellon streets in Pheobus, The Baker’s Wife Bistro will feature American and French cuisine.  Dana hopes to be open by early November.

“We’re here for the long haul,” promises Dana. “We’ve been healthy, we’ve been smart, we’ve been precautious. We’re doing all the things we’re supposed to, and from that standpoint I’m not worried.” So, until we can all get back to normal, The Grey Goose is here to help families furnish their tables with tasty meals for all ages and offer a safe haven for socially distanced outings for all. 

Check out their website for Family Style Meals or Kids Katering. You can also find them on Facebook, and check out The Baker’s Wife Bistro!
The Grey Goose Restaurant and Catering
118 Old Hampton Lane
Hampton, Va. 23669

Virginia Arts Festival Announces Fall Arts Celebration Concerts

September 25-October 17 in the Festival’s Outdoor Courtyard

Words and Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Virginia Arts Festival will present a series of outdoor concerts this fall in its Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street, Clay & Jay Barr Education Center, Norfolk. The series will feature classical and jazz concerts, at both evening and morning times, and will feature some of the region’s most gifted artists.

“Since the restrictions surrounding COVID-19, we have heard from many fans how much they miss live performances of great music, and we wanted to offer this safe opportunity to folks who are craving the satisfaction that only a live performance can bring.” said the Festival’s Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross. “These concerts, with safe, socially distanced seating outdoors will offer great opportunities to hear the music you love performed by top artists.”

The Courtyard at Virginia Arts Festival, with grass and pavers. The Hurrah Players building, white with columns, is in the background, and between the two you can see a stage has been constructed.

The Fall Arts Celebration series begins September 25 and includes the following programs:

Evening Chamber Music
Friday, September 25, 2020 at 6pm (Rain date September 26)
For classical music lovers, the series starts off with a great evening of chamber music, featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players Debra Wendells Cross, flute; Elizabeth Coulter Vonderheide, violin; Luke Fleming, viola; and Jake Fowler, cello; for a program including the Haydn Flute Trio No. 1 in C major, Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Op. 9, No. 3, and Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K.285.

Courtyard Jazz – John Toomey Quartet
Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 5pm (Rain date October 4)
Jazz fans will welcome this Saturday evening concert! Famed for their performances at the Festival’s Attucks Jazz Club, John Toomey and Jimmy Masters will light up the Courtyard with an evening of jazz standards. Featuring John Toomey on piano, Jimmy Masters on bass, Brian Caputo on drums, and Eddie Williams on saxophone.  

Morning Chamber Music
Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 10:30am (Rain date October 8)
Some of the most devoted fans have enjoyed Virginia Arts Festival Coffee Concerts, morning performances by great artists. This morning outdoor concert features Debra Wendells Cross, flute, and Barbara Chapman, harp, in arrangements of Baroque and Classical sonatas, works of women composers, and traditional folk music with arrangements of “Greensleeves” and “Flow Gently Sweet Afton.”

Courtyard Jazz – Jae Sinnett Trio
Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 5pm (Rain date October 18)
One of the region’s best-known jazz artists is Jae Sinnett, beloved for his performances and recordings, and avidly listened to by thousands of fans in his acclaimed programs on WHRV-FM. For jazz fans looking for a great Saturday night show, this outdoor concert by the Jae Sinnett Trio is just the ticket.

Tickets for the Virginia Arts Festival Fall Arts Celebration concerts are just $20 and are on sale now, online at vafest.org or by phone at 757-282-2822.

About the Virginia Arts Festival 
Since 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival has transformed the cultural scene in southeastern Virginia, presenting great performers from around the world to local audiences and making this historic, recreation-rich region a cultural destination for visitors from across the United States and around the world. As an arts leader, the Festival has brought millions of dollars economic impact to the region and has driven the creation of new arts spaces and opportunities for artists, audiences, and the region’s diverse communities. The Festival has presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres, and regularly commissions new works of music, dance, and theater from some of today’s most influential composers, choreographers and playwrights. The Festival’s arts education programs reach tens of thousands of area schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in-school performances, artists’ residencies, master classes and demonstrations.


This Way Back: Local Author’s New Book Connects Communities

Words and Interview by BA Ciccolella and
Aliki Marie Pantas Semones.
Images courtesy of Joanna Eleftheriou.

One of the things that Joanna Eleftheriou stresses with her students in the writing department at CNU is “Can you say something that matters to other people?” Her first book, This Way Back, coming out this October, is a series of essays coalesce into a memoir discussing her life and experiences coming out in her conservative Greek community. For Joanna, the book is “like my whole self. For me, writing, praying, and being myself are all the same. People ask how can you be gay and religious, how can you be Greek and American, how can you be an artist and an intellectual? There’s all these opposites that I inhabit, and the book is my way of insisting and asserting my existence.” Her upcoming book speaks to anyone who has ever had to assess or reassess their own identity. 

“You still never know, there’s no way of knowing- people, even of our generation in America, and in Greek-America, in some ways can be a bit less progressive in terms of gender. In some ways there’s a backwardness in the ethnic community, and so it is incredibly hard [to come out], in ways that don’t get acknowledged.” Joanna says, regarding her personal story. As a kid in school “I had these powerful feelings- I was falling in love with women, but I interpreted those feelings as a kind of spiritual connection as opposed to a sexual one, because that’s the only framework that I had. I never heard women talk about a hot guy in a way that sounded like the way that men talk about it. I was hearing girls say ‘He would make a good boyfriend because he’s rich, or something’ It always sounded to me that girls were choosing boys that would give them status among the other girls, but I never heard a woman talk about having sexual desire for a man, there isn’t a rhetoric or a place for that, so it never occurred to me.”

Joanna and friends at the beach in Greece, the water stretches out forever and is impossibly blue, there is a mountain barely visible on the horizon

One of the major stressors when discovering one’s identity can come from the people around you. “When I was starting to admit to myself that I was gay, in my late 20s when I was doing my Masters, it felt ‘too late’ because so many people in my program had pegged me as being prudish or scared. I couldn’t talk about sex, because I wasn’t having it, so I had nothing to report. But they constructed this persona of me that was really timid, or anti-sex, and I felt like telling them that I was a lesbian would be so opposite from this identity that they had put onto me- I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want that to happen again, so when I left to do my PhD in Missouri, I just told people there that I was gay, and the more often I said it, and the world didn’t collapse, it felt better, and it felt safer. In therapy I realized that this does produce a kind of chronic stress- to have an experience that doesn’t match other people’s experience, and I’m constantly trying to make some kind of sense out of it.”

Then there are the pressures from the faith community. “I came out to the priest, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s not a sin to feel that way, it’s just like any other deformity or defect, like when you have a club foot, you can’t run, if you’re gay you just can’t have sex. You can be a full member of the church, just don’t do anything with your desire.’ And to him, he was being very supportive,” said Joanna. Others ask “When are you getting married? Because we can’t have you floating around the community just by yourself like that. They need the community stability. The community feels threatened by single women, like ‘we need to know who you belong to’. I asked my friend when I went back to Cyprus, ‘You don’t think? I’m not a…’ and she said ‘Oh, yeah, all our friends say if Joanna wasn’t religious she would be a lesbian.’ And I was like, ‘You hid this from me? You didn’t tell me?’” 

Joanna with friends in Greece at a pride fest, a rainbow flag is stretched between trees in the background.

Though everyone handles these pressures differently, Joanna has come to see the issue in a more personal way. “If I actually act on my desire and I ask for forgiveness, what are the odds that God will forgive me, vs. if I live a celebate life, what are the odds that I’ll forgive my church for depriving me of any romantic or intimate experiences? And I decided I’m going to bet on God, and I’m going to say that God is more likely to feel generous towards me than I am likely to feel generous and non-resentful, and not be able to hold a grudge against my church.”

“Nobody will believe you when you tell them how long it takes [to write a book],” said Joanna, who has been working on drafts and concepts that eventually turned into the essays which make up her latest manuscript for over 20 years now. Sometimes it can even be a challenge for the author, who is so close to the material, to realize exactly where their own book is going. This is where having readers you trust comes in very handy. “I went into my dissertation defense saying ‘I know these are two different books, and I just put them together because I needed 200 pages, but I’m going to take them apart right after I finish my PhD,’ and my committee was like ‘Are you kidding? The most interesting thing about this manuscript is the way throughout we start seeing the intersection of your identity as a Greek person, trying to understand why it is important to you to keep asking yourself, am I American, am I Greek, am I Cypriot, and then also inhabiting an identity and a sexual orientation.’ That, almost by accident, was one of the things that made the book more interesting.”

Though the book covers different decades of Joanna’s life, there are interesting mirrors to our very current experiences. Joanna, for example, due to the nature of her having friends and family on two continents, has a lot of emotional, life-defining moments which have happened on screens in her life (she watched her first Pride Parade in Cyprus from her computer in Missouri). “There’s a pattern in the book, and it becomes a kind of statement or question. I’m inviting the reader to think about how in this day and age, so many of our life defining and deeply emotional experiences are happening with us alone in a room looking at a screen.” 

Joanna with friends in front of some trees in Greece

A memoir is a very personal piece of art, and though the stories in Joanna’s book are deeply personal, the hope is that the piece will speak to others in similar situations, for whom coming out might be uncomfortable. Many times we feel alone simply because we do not know that our neighbors are suffering in the same ways we are. Without exploring who we are individually, it is difficult to create a community that can properly support diversity and change. “I take my experiences, and use those personal experiences as vehicles to investigate these questions that aren’t really answerable, such as why do we want identity, why is work and labor so important to creating our identity,” Joanna related. “It kind of gives meaning to my suffering. In my reviews they have said that I was most powerful when I’m writing about my sexuality, but it’s almost like there’s no other way. My writing that’s about sexuality is very blunt. I think my writing about Greekness is more intellectual, but the pain of not being heard, I feel it so much more intensely- and I’m glad that I got the compliment- but there’s just no other way. I want my readers to hurt with me, because I want them to feel how much pain I’ve gone through. I want my readers to cry with me.”

At the same time, it is difficult for any writer to allow their audience the space to feel with them. Part of the art of writing which Joanna teaches at CNU is making sure that you are relating properly to your audience. Writing for multiple communities is even more of a balancing act. “I actually read another essay of mine to the Modern Greek Studies Association at a panel, and I had to take out all this explaining I had done for an American audience,” Joanna said. “Readers are excited to learn something new, but if you don’t find ways to make that totally surprising new thing that they have never learned about before accessible to them, then they’re just going to not relate, and they’re just going to feel like it’s foreign.”

Joanna in a classroom wearing a purple pride shirt

She also stresses again that to be successful, a writer must be able to write something that is relevant to other people, not just themselves. “I already knew my subject, but to write about my own life- You can’t just write a rant, you can’t just write your feelings, it’s learning what the audience needs to hear. I need to build bridges between my experience and the experience of my readers, who are mostly going to be American.”

It’s also important to make sure, as an author, you are telling your story, not the story people expect to hear from you. “Even while writing, people still want confirmation of what they already know. I’d get sent an abstract asking to contribute to an anthology on Greek-America. Then when I sent the essay they said ‘We wanted you to talk about how LGBT people are marginalized in the Greek-American community’, but we left New York for Cyprus when I was 10. I wasn’t really a lesbian yet when I was a child, and I can’t speak to that. But that’s what they expected, they heard ‘a person who writes in english, of greek descent, you’re going to tell us what we expect to hear about.’” By telling her personal story Joanna works to break down certain barriers and stereotypes in her community.

Though writing a book may take longer than anyone who has not been working on a book could ever guess, Joanna makes certain to teach her students not to let perfectionism get in the way of their art, and their path to success. “There’s a temptation for all artists to keep working on something, and keep trying to perfect it. So part of teaching for me is showing students how to find a happy medium. So I try to teach students to face that deadline. Students many times ask for extensions when they don’t really need them. What they need is to get over themselves, get over their egos, put their butts down, actually do it, and accept that our fantasy of that brilliant thing that we think we can write is just that- it’s a fantasy.” One of the first things artists ever learn is that a work is never finished, in the case of a writer, it is merely published. “It’s important to be more realistic with ourselves, and give up those fantasies of the perfect work, and submit it, even though we know we could keep working on it for the rest of our life.”

Joanna in front of a door at one of her schools, there is a pride flag (amongst other notices) on the door.

Keeping true to the topic she has spent 20 years dissecting, Joanna’s advice to students and beginners still speaks to the theme of identity. “Listen to your inner voice. The book that’s in you to write- it’s in you. You need to find the people who can teach you, and can mentor you, and can help you, but when you feel like somebody doesn’t understand your work, you can trust that. I interpreted having the readers who didn’t understand what I was trying to do as the work being not good. You need the people who understand what you are trying to do in order for them to show you how to find that book and bring it to an audience.”

“I feel like some people tried to change me as a writer to match more what readers wanted. Keep being true, and trust that what you have to say will find the right reader. You have to get better at saying it, and get better at finding a way to show other people what’s inside of them. You have something real and true, and each of us has something real and true to say. Developing means figuring out what that is, and saying it better. You have to be pretty persistent- this is who I am, and this is what I am trying to say. I’m glad that I didn’t try that hard to figure out what people wanted to hear from me and I stuck with what I wanted to say, but I also do wish that I had gotten this advice: Keep at it and persist, and all the haters are going to act like they were your biggest fans.”

Pre-orders for Joanna’s book, This Way Back, are available now
the book will ship on October 1!

A compilation of Greek Fest Photos from Ali, mostly people dancing
Local Greek Festivals – Photos Courtesy of Aliki Marie Pantas Semones.

Josh Coplon Brings Kayak Rentals to the Lafayette River

Words by Katelyn Jackson.
Images courtesy of Josh Coplon.

“LAVA isn’t going anywhere, but this is definitely here to stay,” Josh tells me. Josh Coplon is best known locally as the face behind LAVA Presents, running live music events and promoting bands all over Hampton Roads. Unfortunately, a recent global pandemic we’re all too familiar with has put all of LAVA’s concerts on hold, which inspired Josh to start something friendlier to social distancing: Norfolk Kayak Rentals

Josh started kayaking as a kid, with his dad, and now he’s actively working to pass on his passion to others. “I had the idea for Norfolk Kayak Rentals after looking online to try and rent kayaks for some friends to join me kayaking on my personal kayak.  I was shocked to see that there aren’t any kayak rentals available in Norfolk and proceeded to do some research on the industry and, after a week or so, committed to the idea.  A month and a half later and plenty of hiccups, here we are!”

Josh hopes that Norfolk Kayak Rental can fill a hole in the community. 

A man and a woman having fun using a tandem kayak

While there are a few places that you may be able to snag a kayak along the bay or at the oceanfront, there’s nothing in the heart of Norfolk, along the Elizabeth or Lafayette Rivers. Nauticus partnered with a local kayak dealer to offer rentals in 2016, but that only lasted one summer, and while the Norfolk Botanical Garden has offered their usual tandem kayak tours this summer, they tend to sell out quicker than previous years due to increased demand. 

With all of the recent business closings due to Covid, I had to ask if Josh felt intimidated to open something new right now. On the contrary, the recent quarantine is what made Josh so confident. Since indoor activities are out, most live events are out, and bars are closing early, people are spending much more time in nature.

4 red kayaks in storage

“Outdoor recreational activities, across the board, are at an all-time high. Kayaks, paddleboards, etc.— demand is at an unprecedented level. Kayak manufacturers are backed up.” But a large barrier to entry, he notes, is not having a vehicle that can transport a kayak or a place to store it. For living the apartment life in or around Ghent (like yours truly), this is a great option, and close enough to ride a Lime Scooter to (or even walk to if you’re not feeling lazy) on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Norfolk Kayak Rentals had its grand opening the last weekend of August. I ask Josh how it went. “Saturday was really windy,” he says, “but Sunday was fantastic—definitely a lot more than I anticipated.” He also told me of success on Labor Day weekend—despite a small craft advisory on Saturday, “Sunday and Monday were great, and the response we’ve gotten so far has been awesome!”

A peaceful section of the Lafayette river, with larger boats parked on the left side.

Josh already has plans for the company’s future, too. He wants to introduce sunset tours, which will go later than a standard rental, returning during dusk rather than pre-sunset. He also wants to introduce a membership program—“a better deal so people don’t even have to think about it” when they want to take a kayak out on the water. “$20 per hour is money well spent but can be cost prohibitive. I want it to be accessible.” 

He adds, “Norfolk Kayak Rentals is definitely here to stay. I’m hoping to expand my rental options next year to include SUP’s (stand up paddle boards) and also canoes.  I also am hoping to be able to offer additional launch areas for rentals, like Ocean View and other parts of the Lafayette.”

He hopes to continue rentals at least through mid-October, maybe later. “As long as I safely can, and as long as people want to continue,” he says.

Renting a kayak is easy! Here’s how:
1. Head to www.norfolkkayaks.fun
2. In the top right, click “Rent a Kayak” – this will take you to FareHarbor.
3. Select a 1, 2 and 4 hour rentals of both single or tandem kayaks. (Kayaks launch from an ADA accessible EZ-Dock EZ launch.)

For any questions about the process, what your rental includes, or what waters you can explore during your rental, check out the FAQ page

STAYIN’ ALIVE – Virginia Opera’s Alternate Fall

Words by Nathan Jacques.
Image courtesy of Virginia Opera.

Live performances are a wondrous thing, filled to the brim with all sorts of irreplaceable joys; the buzz of excitement backstage, “break-a-legs” exchanged between castmates, the sound of meticulous tuning of instruments in the pit, the audience humming with sheer anticipation, and so much more… all byproducts of the unique magic of live performance.

The theater has always acted as a “home-away-from-home” for many – myself included. No matter the level at which one participates, the beauty of it all is that it has the power to speak to the soul. Someone seeking refuge from the jarring discord of their daily life can find the harmony they so desperately crave in the arts; however, this basic human desire for expression – once thought to be inalienable – has been put on indefinite hold thanks to a threat we can’t even see. Those who found their “home-away-from-home” in the arts find themselves lost until curtains can rise once more. 

Performances have been cancelled. Workplaces have been closed. Even simple pleasures like visiting loved ones have been tossed out the window for the time being. The road back isn’t an easy one- we all want to go back to “normal” – but “normal” isn’t possible unless caution is taken. Arts organizations across the globe have adopted an “Amazon” approach to the delivery of their art to audience members stuck inside their homes; a click of the mouse grants fast n’ free shipping directly to the home. Sure, it’s convenient, but much like when shopping on Amazon the personal experience of picking out your purchase at a brick-and-mortar store is lost. The same applies to consumption of the arts. Of course, in the time of Corona, this concept is less of a matter of convenience, but rather a necessity done out of a concern for staff and patron health. 

Though the desire to return to our beloved home in the arts is overwhelming, a fine balance must be found in reopening arts venues. Thankfully, many arts organizations across our Commonwealth are pioneering new ways to engage audiences in rather impressive (and safe) avenues. The Virginia Opera recently announced Stayin’ Alive, Virginia Opera’s Alternate Fall, to the world. They’ve got four incredibly talented artists – all part of the Herndon Foundation Emerging Artists program – and they’re ready to hit the ground running with eight weeks’ worth of digital AND live programming, both of which can be delivered straight to you – not just the digital stuff! 

Of course, all live events will be planned with the safety of both patrons and artists in mind. Every possible guideline for safe assembly will absolutely be observed, including mandatory mask wearing and social distancing – no worries! Local organizations or community venues are able (and encouraged) to partner with the Virginia Opera to host live events. For anyone interested in hosting an event, the Virginia Opera can be reached at this email address

A swiftly approaching Virtual Showcase, acting as an introduction to Stayin’ Alive, is scheduled for September 16 and aims to give everyone a taste of the sheer magic the Virginia Opera is planning to share with the world. More information on Stayin’ Alive can be found by visiting the official Virginia Opera website. You are also encouraged to follow the Virginia Opera on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to keep up with the latest happenings. Fresh and exciting programs like Stayin’Alive are among the first steps toward the reunification of art and audience for which humanity is waiting with bated breath.

For more information on Virginia Opera’s Alternate Fall, you can visit their website!

Spotlight: The Attucks Theater

Words by Penny Neef.
Images as credited. Feature image by Mike Penello.

In the early 20th century, segregation was a fact of life for African Americans in the South. It became a matter of law in 1926.

In 1919, a group of African Americans from Norfolk and Portsmouth met to develop a cultural/business center in Norfolk where the black community “could be treated with dignity and respect.”

The “Twin Cities Amusement Corporation” envisioned something like a modern-day town center. The businessmen obtained funding from black owned financial institutions in Hampton Roads. Twin Cities designed and built a movie theater/ retail/ office complex at the corner of Church Street and Virginia Beach Boulevard in Norfolk.

A black and white portrait of Harvey Johnson. He is older, wearing glasses, and looking at the camera with a serious but kind expression.
Photo courtesy of the family of Harvey Johnson

The businessmen chose 25-year-old architect Harvey Johnson to design a 600-seat “state of the art” theater with balconies and an orchestra pit. The Attucks Theatre is the only surviving theater in the United States that was designed, financed and built by African Americans.

The Attucks was named after Crispus Attucks, a stevedore of African and Native American descent. He was the first patriot killed in the Revolutionary War at the Boston Massacre of 1770. The theatre featured a stage curtain with a dramatic depiction of the death of Crispus Attucks.

A photo of the restored fire curtain, painted with a beautiful picture of a revolutionary war battle.
Photo by Scott Wertz.

The Attucks was an immediate success. It was known as the “Apollo Theatre of the South.” Legendary performers Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, and B.B. King performed at the Attucks. Opera star Marian Anderson and blues icon Bessie Smith graced the stage. Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke, Norfolk’s own Gary U.S. Bonds and Portsmouth’s own Ruth Brown made appearances. Great black comedians Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Slappy White brought down the house. Friday nights were reserved for local talent to be booed off the stage or to be cheered to greater glory.

The Attucks also served as a stage for local events, from church services to poetry readings to graduation ceremonies. After 34 years of being the “cultural heart and soul of Church Street’s African American community”, the Attucks lowered its curtains as an entertainment venue.

A photo of the restored fire curtain, painted with a beautiful picture of a revolutionary war battle.
Photo by Scott Wertz.

By 1952, the theater was a furniture store, Stark & Legum. Most of the surrounding retail and offices were demolished. In 1982, a group of citizens worked to add the theatre to the National Register of Historic Places. The Crispus Attucks Cultural Center was formed to raise the millions of dollars it would take to restore the Attucks Theatre.

The Attucks Theatre reopened in 2004. It is a gem of theater, carefully restored to its former glory. The original fire curtain, depicting the dramatic death of Crispus Attucks, has been meticulously restored. The stained-glass skylight, plaster ornamentation and other ornate features of the Attucks make it unique.

There is not a bad seat in the house. Legends like Wynton Marsalis and Preservation Hall Jazz Band are back on the stage. Leslie Jones from Saturday Night Live appeared last year in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Attucks Theatre. The Attucks also hosts cutting edge performances like the world premiere of the opera “Kept: A Ghost Story”.

 “Norfolk is proud to celebrate the rich history of this landmark theatre and the cultural impact it has had on the city for the last 100 years,” said Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander. 

WHRO and the City of Norfolk produced a documentary to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Attucks Theatre. You can learn more about the Attucks Theatre and its history here.

It’s pretty quiet at the Attucks today, just like every other entertainment venue. The ghosts have the place to themselves. The hundreds of performers who were on stage at the Attucks decorated the walls of the dressing rooms and hallways with their signatures, an old theater tradition. Many of those have been preserved and are on display on the second floor. I’d like to think Dizzy Gillespie or Bessie Smith stop by once in a while, especially now that the theatre is quiet. Might be some great shows going on that we can’t witness right now. Who knows?

Spotlight News: Business Update

Words and Images by BA Ciccolella.

We wanted to take a moment today to thank everyone in the community for the support that we have received since we founded Spotlight News. It’s certainly been a weird time to start a business, but our community has come together in so many unique ways since March 7, and we appreciate every single one of you.

Today, we are announcing our first baby step on the way to growing this business- we have received confirmation of our 501c3 status from the IRS. For those of you who aren’t familiar with technical IRS tax jargon, basically this means we are officially a non-profit organization! We still have a few more steps to complete, but very soon we will be able to accept tax-deductible donations as a company. 

Anyone interested in being a future donor to Spotlight News should please feel free to contact us so that we can keep you in the loop as to where we are in our process.

In somewhat related news, we are also looking for a few more board members who are interested in helping us get this company off the ground, and who believe in our mission of providing quality community journalism to the Hampton Roads area. If you are interested in joining our board, please send a letter of interest to Moriah Joy, Secretary, Spotlight News at this email address

Again, thank you all so much for your support these last 6 months (can anyone else believe it’s been 6 months?!?). We look forward to continuing to provide and expand on our quality community journalism, and serve you, our friends and neighbors in Hampton Roads.

MOCA’s Modern Art Experience

Words and Images courtesy of Moriah Joy.
Feature image: Titus Kaphar, Columbus Day Painting

There is the notion that art museums are grandiose images of women baring their bodies somewhere in the woods, or that one has to be of a certain pedigree or education level to fully enjoy them. However, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art throws all those preconceived notions out the door. Not only are pieces extremely relevant and relatable, the staff prides themselves on making art accessible to everyone. Back in May of this year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brad Tuggle, the Director of Audience Development, about the digital offerings they had to keep the community engaged with their amazing artists even though the physical galleries were not open. This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Truly Matthews, the Curator of Education for MOCA, after touring the exhibits. During my tour, I took photos of some of the most impactful and eye catching pieces. However, the pieces are far more intricate and textured in person than can be conveyed by photographs.

Carlos Vega, Just Discovered- a rainbow background is hidden by a metal top with patterns and holes in it where the rainbow shows though. A woman bends over to see a portion of the piece closer.
Carlos Vega, Just Discovered

One of the things that I learned in my conversation with Truly was MOCA is a non-collecting museum, meaning that any pieces that enter their doors are only there for a short period of time as they travel to different museums. Depending upon when you go and the exhibits they have on display, you may see anywhere from one to three exhibits in their main gallery space. Currently, the Shifting Gaze: A Reconstruction of the Black and Hispanic Body in Contemporary Art and New Waves 2020 (a statewide competition) are sharing the main gallery space, with Hampton Boyer’s first solo show on display in the gallery near the atrium. The reason why this was intriguing to me was because as you go through the natural path of the museum, each exhibit provokes a different reaction from the viewer.

“Art is a catalyst for conversation.”- Truly Matthews

The Shifting Gaze exhibit commands the attention of the viewer as each piece pulls you in to analyze the details and the story. This feeling is beautifully described by artist Ebony G. Patterson, who is a  part of the Shifting Gaze exhibit, as the Flower and the Bee Syndrome, where the viewer (bee) is drawn to the art (flower) either because of its provocative nature or aesthetic beauty. We stay with that piece until we have drawn all the emotional needs or thoughts from it and then move onto the next one. Each piece in this show pulled on a different emotion for me. The pieces by Carlos Vega and Mickalene Thomas are eye-catching because of their sheer magnitude but really connect with themes of pride in the small pieces of who they are.  

Hank Willis Thomas Turbulence (White Strokes) On the left, a photo of the work taken without a flash, it is abstract black with white strokes. On the right, a photo of the same work, this time taken with a camera flash. We can see police officers and a black man being attacked.
Hank Willis Thomas Turbulence (White Strokes). This work is activated by camera flash. On the left we have the work with no camera flash. On the right, a camera flash was used to take the photo.

Since Shifting Gaze has a cohesive theme to the show it makes it easier to understand the creative intention behind each piece. With the New Waves and Hampton Boyer exhibits, the viewer is drawn to the initial reaction of the pieces,  but  sometimes needs to rely upon the outside resources to fully grasp the intention of the piece. Truly explained that one of the areas they focus on heavily in their shows and programming is incorporating the artist’s voice so that there is no misunderstanding of their artist process. This is done in a few different ways. In the New Waves gallery, they have direct quotes on placards that are the artist statements submitted with the pieces as a part of the competition. For Hampton Boyer, there is an audio tour which he recorded for the viewer to hear him directly explain his work. During virtual programming, most of the time they try to have the artist be present during talkbacks for them to explain or discuss the social and emotional impact of the piece. 

Pat Jarrett's Robert E Lee (Shrouded)- A photograph of a monument of Robert E Lee but the monument is fully covered in black plastic.
Pat Jarrett, Robert E Lee (Shrouded)

The museum offers many educational opportunities both in exploring art and being able to create your own. They have a variety of art classes offered through their studio school available for ages 6-99. Some classes offered include the Art of Storytelling, Basic Drawing Techniques, Abstract Art, Oil/ Acrylic Painting, and Photography Made Simple. For more information on these classes please visit https://virginiamoca.org/studio-school

Ebony G Patterson's work He- a large circle with many different colored fabrics and beads hanging off of it.
Ebony G Patterson, He

The museum will also be re-opening the interactive portion of their gallery called Art Lab. In this section, viewers have a chance to interact with the pieces in a now contactless environment. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen with Art Lab because of COVID,” explained Truly, “so the installation took a little more time, and we had to adapt it to fit safety guidelines, but we’re super excited to finally have it open back up.” For those planning a trip soon, the Art Lab will reopen on September 3rd.

With all of the programming available, the level of social engagement and commitment to the community, as well as the beauty of the building and exhibition space, MOCA is becoming one of my new favorite places in the Hampton Roads area. Check it out for yourself and see what you can discover.

Currently, the museum entrance fee is waived due to very gracious donors, however, you do have to reserve tickets in advance to allow for proper social distancing. To schedule your free tour please visit their website.
For a closer look at the exhibits and discussions with the artists check out their Instagram.
Audio tours are available in both English and Spanish.