Me, myself and I


Everybody has a story to tell.

Vicki Solot would gladly relate one of hers, but right now, she’s too busy telling other people’s tales.

The Queen Village resident is the brains behind the second annual First Person Festival of Memoir in the Arts, going on now through May 18.

Solot created the event by inviting artists to draw on their life experiences.

"It’s all about the first person," she says. "People talking about or depicting themselves and things that have happened to them. It’s all direct communication about oneself."

Festival memoirs will be exhibited or performed in various locations, ranging from a restroom at the Reading Terminal Market to the stage of the Academy of Music. Ticket prices vary depending on the show, but some are free.

The festival is sponsored in part by Solot’s own nonprofit arts organization, Blue Sky.

For those who want to see if they have what it takes to be a memoir writer or performer, there will be discussions, workshops and open-mic events.

Some of Solot’s festival favorites include "Lives in Letters," "A Memoir with Bite" and "Ladies Only."

"Lives in Letters" will take place Saturday at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. Chilean authors Marjorie Agosin and Emma Sepulveda will read their correspondence over a 30-year period. The letters chronicle the overthrow of the Allende government and the terror reign of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, as well as the women’s own transitions as exiles in America.

"A Memoir with Bite" will take place May 15 at Shivnanda restaurant, 114 Chestnut St. Author Shoba Narayan shares her spicy tales of life in South India and America. Narayan’s memories are based on recipes from her book Monsoon Diary — A Memoir with Recipes. A vegetarian dinner will accompany the reading.

"Ladies Only" runs through May 18 inside the women’s restroom at Reading Terminal Market. Photographer Maxi Cohen has photographed restrooms all over the world for a peek inside the secret chambers where women retreat to powder their noses and gossip.

Solot, 57, believes the festival, which she says ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, will appeal to anyone who is interested in hearing about someone else.

"In other people’s stories, you find something of yourself and you learn from their experiences," she says.

Originally from Chicago, Solot majored in English and psychology at the University of Michigan. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, she studied directing. Upon moving to Philadelphia, Solot helped launch the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

She says one of her favorite genres of theatre is solo performance — particularly when someone tells a story with a meaning. Solot mentions Spalding Gray as an artist whose work she admires.

Memoir and documentary art always appealed to Solot, as did biography and memoir books.

"I’m drawn to people’s stories and interesting things that happen to them. I like getting inside somebody else’s skin," she says.

Solot decided to create a festival based on the trend she noticed in memoir literature and theater.

On memoir art, she notes, "The approach is always based on the real transformed into something artistic."

Solot feels memoirs are an important tool in fostering understanding of people from different races, creeds and colors. For example, she offers, a person can help others get beyond labeling him only as a Jew or a Muslim by sharing an experience from his life.

More than two decades ago, Solot settled in Queen Village with husband Evan, a professional musician and composer and head of the music composition department at the University of the Arts. The couple has a 16-year-old daughter, Aly, who is a vocal major at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

For the last 20 years, the Solots have lived in the same house on the 200 block of Fitzwater Street. Prior to that, Vicki and her husband lived for a few years around the block at Front and Fitzwater streets. When it came time to move, there was no question about staying in Queen Village.

"A five-block walk in any direction, you can get whatever you want. Any kind of cuisine, shopping, the best movies in Philadelphia," she says.

Solot also loves the area because of its mix of singles and families. Plus, it’s quieter than other parts of town, she adds.

Before founding Blue Sky, Solot ran a public-relations firm for 20 years in Society Hill. Eager to return to a more artistic outlet, she started Blue Sky out of her home two years ago. At the time, she didn’t know exactly what the organization would be, just that it would involve the arts. She chose the name Blue Sky to remind her that the sky is the limit and anything is possible.

"If you have an idea that seems like an impossible dream, it may not be as impossible as you think," she says.

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