Tales from Baltimore’s Not My President’s Day

I love Baltimore’s art community and I love covering the things they do, especially when they’re political, socially relevant and really, really interesting. I was fortunate enough to speak with several of the co-organizers of Baltimore’s Not My President’s Day, a day-long celebration-protest on Feb. 20 that culminated in some super cool and thought-provoking performances at the Crown on North Charles that night. I also spoke to a few of the performers, many of whom were Towson students and alums who made me proud to go to a school where creativity and activism are so nurtured.

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(After writing, photographing stories like these is my second love) 

I wrote two stories–one for the Towerlight and one for the Baltimore Watchdog–and enjoyed every second of the reporting process, before, during and after the event. Below are those stories, along with a few pictures by me and my partner-in-crime, photographer William Strang-Moya. These are the stories that I love to tell.

Not my President’s Day: The un-coronation of Donald Trump

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A papier-mache Trump. Photo by Kristin Helf

Originally published in the Towerlight, 2/27/17

Not My President’s Day wasn’t a typical anti-administration protest. Coined as a day of art and activism, the day-long event on Monday, Feb. 20, was created to bring like-minded people together, from Towson theatre students to artists from communities all over Baltimore.

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Outside of the Crown. Photo by William Strang-Moya

Theatre graduate student Laura Pazuchowski first heard about the artistic demonstration when the idea for the event was still in its infancy. Holly Hughes, her former professor at the University of Michigan, initially broached the subject on Facebook, not knowing it would turn into a national event and spread to cities across the U.S.

According to the Not My President’s Day Facebook page, the event’s purpose was to disrupt the perceived norm of “bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, environmental devastation and a long list of injustices.” To the five women who headed the Baltimore demonstration, including junior theatre major Molly Cohen, women’s rights were an especially important issue to address.

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Festive decor at the Crown on Monday night. Photo by Kristin Helf 

“The image that we have for the event is a crab in a pussy hat,” Cohen said. “So that speaks for itself.”

The day began at the Stillpointe Theatre and featured kid-friendly activities, like a workshop for families called “Our Democratic Heritage.” Later in the afternoon were several performances at The Mercury Theatre, followed by a procession to The Crown led by Theatre Women Against Trump (TWAT).

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Performance artists walked and crawled around with cinder blocks tied to their ankles. Photo by Kristin Helf 

Acts in the Crown’s Red Room included several performance art displays by an ad-hoc group of Towson undergrads, made up of not only theatre majors, but anyone who felt inclined to speak out against the injustices of the Trump administration.

“We [wanted] to see what happens when everyone’s in a room together and what we can all create within a couple hours with who’s there,” Cohen said.

The group, which included Cohen, students Laura Gede and Griffin DeLisle and their director, theatre MFA candidate Jesse Baxter, wanted to deliver a performance that asked the audience, “how do we make change?”

The piece began with three characters, physically apart and mentally disconnected, who “viewed the world from their micro perspectives,” as Baxter put it. They eventually discovered one another but weren’t able to communicate effectively, and the performance soared as two characters, frustrated and impassioned, tore up pieces of paper and threw the pieces around the room.

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Towson undergrads perform at the Crown. Photo by William Strang-Moya

“By the time we hit the climax of the piece, the room was full and leaning forward to see where this would go next,” Baxter said. “This may not have been the right venue for such a performance, but the audience found a way to listen.”

Such venue inconveniences served as a metaphor for the theme of the piece, Baxter explained. While we may never find the right “venue” to have such necessary and challenging conversations, the conversations must still take place.

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Rappers at the Crown. Photo by William Strang-Moya

After a few more performances, including one by Towson alum theatre group “The Oven,” began the night’s main affair: a cabaret featuring a litany of musical, comedic, poetic and burlesque performances hosted by Chris Jay, emcee and The Washington Blade’s Best of Gay D.C.’s Best Drag King of 2016.  

It was no coincidence that the cabaret, and all other performances throughout the day, featured such a diverse group of Baltimore artists. It was a necessity for Pazuchowski, Cohen and the other organizers of the demonstration.

“That was important to us, to try to be inclusive in that way,” Pazuchowski said. “And I think another part for me personally, because I’m gay, and when I found out all this political stuff, it made me feel worried about the status of my relationship in terms of the law, because I had just gotten married.”

To the people in Baltimore and across the nation whose very identities are threatened in the current political regime, Washington’s Birthday 2017 was less of a holiday and more of a reminder that one’s existence, to many Americans, is not valued, but feared. Baltimore’s art community faced this reality peacefully, but not sitting down.

“Art’s relationship to creating change is one of the things that it’s great at doing,” Pazuchowski said. “It just seemed to make a lot of sense to do performance. I think art attempts to challenge the status quo a lot and one of its functions is to get people to think outside of what they normally do and disrupt the regular patterns.”

All of the proceeds from Not My President’s Day were donated to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

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