This month, Ariana Johns, Producing Artistic Director of Vampingo Productions, will introduce and host a free midtown Salon series featuring original new writing and music, with the possibility of later expanding into the fine arts, as well. Supported by generous funding from NYFA: City Artist Corps, the initial live and in-person event, Portable Strangers: a salon of words & music from NYC, will be held on Sunday, September 19, beginning at 6:00 pm, at Studios 353. The public is welcome to attend, with advance reservation and proof of vaccination required.
In keeping with tradition, the Salon – the origins of which date back to 16th-century Italy (from the Italian word salone, or reception hall), continued to flourish in France in the 18th-19th centuries, and were often led by an inspired patroness – will be in the format of an intimate social gathering for the exchange of ideas and conversation, focused on the presentation of theatrical, musical, and literary works in development (and the performance of one classic number) by NYC-based artists.
During the period of rehearsals for the one-night-only premiere, Ariana made time to speak with me about the genesis and content of the project, and what audiences can expect.
How did this new Salon series come about, in terms of the concept and getting it off the ground?
Ariana: I enjoy doing these kinds of variety shows with different types of acts and entertainment, and I wanted to do something centered on New York. So I applied for, and received, a Creative Artist Corps grant from NYFA, in a push to get artists back to performing. That funding not only made it possible for me to move ahead with the idea, but also to be able to pay the participating artists. A big thank you is due to NYFA for creating these grants to support artists in NYC – I personally know three other recipients!
What inspired the name and theme of the first Salon?
During the pandemic, I took writing workshops with Chris Wells – “The Secret City” and “The Woodstock Fringe Playwright’s Unit” – to develop my memoir, Where Are You, Portable Strangers?, about growing up in Greenwich Village and the theater. I’ve completed eight short stories to date, and one day, when I was looking for some papers that I had put down, the words just came to me. I said them out loud to myself, and then it occurred to me that it’s a perfect description of the subway, that’s what I was talking about, and that related to my wish to have NYC as the focal point of the Salon and its stories.
What can the audience expect in terms of presentation, length of the works, and variety within the central theme?
There will be ten-minute segments of original writing from Fred Howard (Swedish Nights), Mindy Pfeffer (Fast Forward), Juliana Sales (Be Local), and myself (Portable Strangers), and a 20-minute short play by Michael C. O’Day (For the Benefit of Jimmy Mangiaroli) for a total of one hour. Then there will be another half hour of original music by Steve Schalchlin, and my creative partner Darryl Curry and me, interspersed throughout the show, for a total of running time of 90 minutes. The new pieces will feature the acting and singing talents of Scott Brieden, Erik Ransom, Sierra Rein, and Blake Zolfo, and my mother Evangeline Johns, who was a great inspiration in my career, will perform a classic Billie Holiday blues number.
The performances will be live, but we are also planning to videotape the entire event for others who are unable to attend in person to watch, with the information posted on the Vampingo website. And there will be a reception following the presentations, so everyone can enjoy a bite, a drink, and a conversation, and the evening will maintain the Salon spirit. My idea is that we’re a group of creatives, and people can get up and share in a less formal atmosphere.
What are your plans for the future, beyond this month’s debut?
We’re hoping to do pop-up Salons, or to partner with a venue to do regular monthly events with new writing, music, and art, food and beverages, to give NYC artists a stage for presenting their new works and to enjoy both the entertainment and social gathering.
Many thanks, Ariana, for an inside look at the project and for giving creative and performing artists a platform. I look forward to being there!
Portable Strangers: a salon of words & music from NYC plays on Sunday, September 19, 6:00 pm, at Studios 353, 353 W. 48th Street (b/w 8th and 9th Avenue). Admission is free; due to COVID-19 safety protocol, you must reserve your seat and show proof of vaccination. For reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org.