Watch Free Plays from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth & More

As depressing articles about the upcoming Summer of COVID-19 begin to proliferate, our hopes for beach days, concert series, and summer camp begin to dim.

Here in New York City, the Public Theater’s announcement that it is cancelling the upcoming season of its famed Shakespeare in the Park was met with understandable sadness.

You don’t have to like Shakespeare to enjoy the ritual of entering Central Park shortly after dawn, prepared to sit online for several hours awaiting noon’s free ticket distribution, then returning to the Delacorte later that night with snacks and sweater and wine.

Performing a quick Internet search to brush up on the plot can enhance the experience, but—and I saw this as someone whose degree included a metric heinieload of The Bard—it can be equally satisfying to spend the final acts enjoying an impromptu, al fresco nap.

Bonus points if a raccoon runs across the stage at some point.

Alas all this must be denied us in the summer of 2020, but it’s still within our power to replicate that summer feeling in advance of the equinox, using the past productions that London’s Globe Theatre is screening on its YouTube channel as our starting place.

First up is Romeo & Juliet from 2009, starring Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun, though according to the Independent’s Michael Coveney, the show belongs to Penny Layden as the Nurse:

Far removed from the fussing tradition of comic garrulity and the Patricia Routledge factor, Layden plays her as a scrubbed, middle-aged, sensible woman carrying a history of sadness. The bawdy assault on her by Philip Cumbus‘s melancholy Mercutio is both shocking and plausible, and she retains her quiet dignity while at the same time mourning its sacrifice.

Back to New York City…

Prior to starting your screening, you’ll want to approximate a seat at the Delacorte (which, like the Globe, is authentically circular in shape). I recommend a metal folding chair.

Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of water onto the seat if you want to pretend it rained all afternoon leading up to the performance.

Definitely have some wine to pour into a plastic cup.

Slather yourself in insect repellent.

Silence your cell phone.

If your housemate’s cell phone goes off mid-performance, feel free to tsk and sssh and roll your eyes. Honestly, how hard is it to comply with the familiar instructions of the house manager’s speech?

At intermission, stand outside your own bathroom door for at least 15 minutes before letting yourself into a “stall” to use the facilities.

Doze all you want to…. arrange for your housemate to tsk and sssh at you from an appropriate distance, should your snoring become audible.

You have until Sunday, May 3 to stumble sleepily away from the screen, and pretend you’re wandering to the subway with 1799 other New Yorkers.

Then make plans to wake up at 5:30 and sit on the floor with a thermos of coffee for several hours, hoping that they won’t run out of tickets for The Two Noble Kinsmen before you make it to the top of the line.

(Spoiler alert: they won’t.)

Others in the Globe’s free series:

MacBeth, May 11 until UK schools reopen

The Winter’s Tale (2018), May 18 – May 31

The Merry Wives of Windsor (2019), June 1 – June 14

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013), June 15 – 28

Clicking the red “discover more” lozenge beneath each show’s photo on the Globe Watch’s landing page will lead you to a wealth of supporting materials, from pre-show chats with the Globe’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Will Tosh to photos, articles, and a student challenge specifically tailored to the times we find ourselves living through now.

Subscribe to the Globe’s YouTube channel to receive reminders.

Donate to the Globe here.

Americans can make a tax-deductible donation to The Public Theater here.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Depending on how long this thing goes on, she may look into giving Penny Layden a run for the money by live-streaming her solo show, NURSE. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Full Productions of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Musicals, Streaming Free for 48 Hours Every Weekend

Writer and theatermaker Nicholas Berger’s recent polemic, “The Forgotten Art of Assembly: Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making,” touched a whole plexus of nerves, by positing that the frantic rush to approximate live performance in isolation, using non-broadcast quality home equipment and a live-streaming platform, is an imitation so poor it should cease and desist.

Acknowledging the scary economic reality that drives many of these hastily assembled online readings, solo shows, brand new 24-hour plays, monologues, and inexpertly shot Off-Off-Broadway footage did not get Berger a pass from the theater community.

Nor did attempting to head ‘em off at the pass by fretting that his “cynicism for this emergency style of digital performance will be labeled as pessimism or defeatism” and insisting that it’s his “love for theatre that cringes when (he sees) it inch closer and closer to becoming a TikTok.”

We acknowledge the likelihood that the general public has as much appetite for this sort of theater community infighting as it does for the burgeoning Covid-19 era virtual theater scene, especially if the players are unfamiliar from film or TV.

Not so the free Andrew Lloyd Webber buffet being served up every weekend in the recently hatched The Shows Must Go On YouTube channel.

Here, the excellent production values, famous names, and brand name tunes add up to a genuine television event, especially since each offering sticks around just 48 hours before turning back into a pumpkin.

You’ve already missed comedian Tim Minchin‘s unforgettable street punk turn as Judas in 2012’s Jesus Christ Superstar, expertly filmed at London’s cavernous concert venue The O2. (Have a look at the above clip for a taste of what you missed—in addition to the Victoria’s Secret-style angels and mega church-style lighting displays, this production featured pole dancing, Anonymous masks, a former Spice Girl, and a close enough Shepard Fairey tribute poster for a Jesus who won the coveted role in a TV talent show.

Regret to inform, you’ve also missed former teen idol Donny Osmond as the titular character in the 1999 remount of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. (Or not, if Lloyd-Weber takes mercy on hoards of devastated viewers flocking to the YouTube comments section to beg him to air it again, having just discovered that they missed it the first time.)

What’s next? You’ll have to ask the Magic 8 ball, or wait for an announcement, though in the video below, Lloyd Webber pledges that his failed adaptation of author P.G. Wodehouse’s beloved series, By Jeeves, will for sure be a feature of the line up. Other titles in his oeuvre include CatsStarlight ExpressSunset BoulevardThe Phantom of the Opera, and Evita (the latter with lyrics by Tim Rice, Lloyd Webber’s collaborator on Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and several other shows).

Each week’s feature-length show streams free on YouTube for 48 hours, beginning at 2 PM EST.

As with much of the thrown-together programming Berger decries in “The Forgotten Art of Assembly,” viewers of these not-quite-live performances are encouraged to cap things off with a donation to a theater charity, with suggested links for giving in the USthe UK, and Australia.

For those who’ve never caught an episode of Great Performances and thus find the concept of watching taped theater “a bit of a headfuck,” to quote Minchin, the advice he gave to Time Out (temporarily rebranded as Time In) is:

You’ve just got to get through the first ten minutes, and then it’s an extraordinary experience – because you’re actually watching people in real time.

Subscribe to The Shows Must Go On here.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her unprompted contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway in Isolation scene is a hastily assembled tribute to the classic 60s social line dance, The Madison. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Live Performers Now Streaming Shows, from their Homes to Yours: Neil Young, Coldplay, Broadway Stars, Metropolitan Operas & More

You’ve always read books in the comfort of your own home. Though it may not be the full cinematic experience, you can also watch films there, in a pinch. Now that such a pinch has come, in the form of coronavirus pandemic-related quarantines and other forms of isolation, few art forms must be feeling it more than live music and theatre. Though we’ve all watched recorded performances now and again, we know full well that nothing can quite replicate the felt energy of the live experience. Until we can get out and enjoy it once and again, a variety of performers and venues — from rock stars and Broadway luminaries to independent theatre companies and the Metropolitan Opera — have stepped up to provide as much as they can of it online.

“The live music industry has seen an unprecedented fallout in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak,” writes Consequence of Sound’s Lake Schatz. “Highly anticipated tours from Foo Fighters, Billie Eilish, Thom Yorke, and Elton John have all been postponed, and major festivals such as Coachella and South By Southwest have had to drastically change their plans last minute.”

In response, “artists are turning to livestreaming to stay in touch with their fans. Neil Young, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, and John Legend are streaming intimate concerts live from their very own homes.” Young’s “Fireside Sessions” launched on the Neil Young Archives site last Monday.

That same day Martin, leader of Coldplay, “streamed a mini concert on Monday as part of Instagram’s ‘Together, at Home’ virtual series” (which will continue next week with John Legend). Even more ambitiously, Gibbard has a daily streaming series set to launch next Tuesday on YouTube and Facebook. “Aptly titled ‘Live From Home,’ the daily live sessions will see the indie rocker take requests and even possibly duet with special guests,” writes Schatz. (You can view Gibbard’s first Live from Home session at the top of the post.)

“Additionally, punk rockers Jeff Rosenstock and AJJ are both scheduled to perform a special concert that will be livestreamed on Specialist Subject’s Instagram Stories. That event goes down Tuesday afternoon beginning 7:45 p.m. ET.” Putting the show on by any technological means available is, we can surely agree, very much the punk-rock way. And even apart from broadcasting concerts online, from home or elsewhere, “acts like Deafheaven are releasing live albums (sans any audience).” Deafhaven, if you don’t know them, are a post-metal band out of San Francisco; on the other end of the musical spectrum, country star Keith Urban streamed a live concert on Instagram from his basement this past Tuesday.

Over at the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), Raven Snook rounds up a variety of New York theatre institutions now streaming online. These include 92nd Street Y (whose performance archive we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture); BroadwayWorld, which has come up with “daily Living Room Concerts, a series of one-song performances recorded by Broadway stars in their respective homes”; The Metropolitan Opera, whose nightly streaming of “previously recorded presentations” we mentioned earlier this week.

Other participants in this push include The Actors Fund, with its new “daily performance/talk show Stars in the House” in which “Broadway luminaries will sing and chat from their homes,” and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which “kicks off its Folksbiene LIVE!: An Online Celebration of Yiddish Culture” this week, all streamed free on its Facebook page. And be sure to visit the site of New York non-profit arts presenter and producer The Tank, whose new CyberTank series live streams a “weekly, remote, multidisciplinary arts gathering” every Tuesday. Whatever your preferred variety of live performance, you’re sure to be covered until you can get back out to the theatre, the club, the opera houses, or wherever you enjoy your live culture of choice.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Actor Margaret Colin (VEEP, Independence Day) Joins Pretty Much Pop #28 to Take On the Trope of the Alpha Female

What’s the deal with images of powerful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it’s difficult to portray such a character unobjectionably, probably due to those all-too-familiar double standards about wanting women in authority (or, say, running for office) to be assertive but not astringent.

Margaret was the female lead in major films including Independence Day and The Devil’s Own, is a mainstay on Broadway, and has appeared on TV in many roles including the mother of the Gossip Girl and as an unscrupulous newscaster on the final seasons of VEEP. Her height and voice have made her a good fit for dominant-lady roles, and she leads Mark, Erica, and Brian through a quick, instructive tour through her work with male directors (e.g. in a pre-Murphy-Brown Dianne English sit-com), playing the lead in three Lifetime Network movies, on Broadway as Jackie, and opposite Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Michael Shannon, Wallace Shawn, and others.

Given the limitations of short-form storytelling in film, maybe some use of stereotypes is just necessary to get the gist of a character out quickly, but actors can load their performances with unseen backstory. We hear about the actor’s role in establishing a character vs. the vision of the filmmakers or show-runners. Also, the relative conservatism of film vs. stage vs. TV in granting women creative control, the “feminine voice,” why women always apparently have to trip in movies when chased, and more.

A few resources to get you thinking about this topic:

Someone’s posted a tape of Carousel featuring Erica and Margaret.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

When Robin Williams & Steve Martin Starred in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (1988)

Despite the dourest demeanor in literary history and a series of plays and novels set in the bleakest of conditions, there’s no doubt that Samuel Beckett was foremost a comic writer. Indeed, it is because of these things that he remains a singularly great comic writer. The deepest laughs are found, as in that old Mel Brooks quote, in the most absurdly tragic places. In Beckett, however, characters don’t just tell jokes about the wretched exigencies of human life, they fully embody all those qualities; just as the best comic actors do.

It’s true that some of Beckett’s characters spend all of their time onstage immobilized, but the playwright was also a great admirer of physical comedy onscreen and drew liberally from the work of his favorite film comedians. Veteran vaudeville comic Bert Lahr, best known as The Wizard of Oz‘s cowardly lion, starred in the original Broadway production of Waiting for Godot in 1956. “Beckett once wrote a film script for Buster Keaton,” notes theater critic Michael KuchwaraGodot’s central characters, Vladimir and Estragon, evoke one of the most renowned of comedy duos, many of their gestures “obvious derivations from Laurel and Hardy,” as film historian Gerald Mast notes.

It is fitting then—and might meet with the approval of Beckett himself—that Robin Williams and Steve Martin, two of the most riveting physical comedians of the seventies and eighties, should step into the roles of the bumbling, bowler-hatted frenemies of Godot. The production, which took place in October and November 1988 at the 299-seat Mitzi E. Newhous Theater on Broadway, sold out almost immediately. Williams and Martin weren’t its only big draw. Mike Nichols directed, and the rest of the cast included F. Murray Abraham as Pozzo, Bill Irwin as Lucky, and Lucas Haas as the absent Godot’s messenger boy.

Sadly, we only have a few clips of the performance, which you can see in the grainy video above, interspersed with interviews with Martin and Irwin. These too will leave you wanting more. “I saw it as a comedy,” says Martin of his reading of the play. What this meant, he says, is that the laughs “must be served, almost first…. The comedy of the play won’t take care of itself unless it’s delivered.” Robin Williams, writes Kuchwara, delivered laughs. “His Estragon is a maniacal creature, verging out of control at times.”

Williams also veered “into some stage antics and line twistings that Beckett never would have dreamed of—giving hilarious imitations of R2D2 and John Wayne, complete with an improvised machine gun.” For his part, Martin had “a tougher assignment playing the subdued, almost straight man Vladimir to Williams’ more flamboyant Estragon.” Martin has always tended to submerge his maniacal comic energy in straighter roles. Here he seems perhaps too restrained.

For reasons that have nothing to do with the play, the tragic heart of these clips is seeing Williams as Estragon. Yet in the final few minutes, trained mime Irwin shows why his Lucky may have been the most inspired piece of casting in the show. We get a taste of his performance as he recites part of Lucky’s monologue.  “Every gesture has been carefully thought out, not only for the comedy, but for the pain that lies underneath the laughs,” Kuchwara says.

Lucky is essentially a slave to Abraham’s domineering Pozzo, who keeps him on a leash. He gives one speech, when his master orders him to “think.” But in his verbiage and bearing, he conveys the play’s deepest pathos, in the form of the archetypal tortured clown, who reappears in Alan Moore’s joke about Pagliacci. When Beckett was asked why he named the character Lucky, he replied, with mordant wit, “I suppose he is lucky to have no more expectations….” It is as though, Mel Brooks would say, he had fallen into an open sewer and died

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Should We Read William Shakespeare? Four Animated Videos Make the Case

Sooner or later, we all encounter the plays of William Shakespeare: whether on the page, the stage, or—maybe most frequently these days—the screen. Over four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare is still very much relevant, not only as the most recognizable name in English literature, but also perhaps as its most famous storyteller, even if we don’t recognize his hand in modern adaptations that barely resemble their originals.

But if we can turn Shakespeare’s plays into other kinds of entertainment that don’t require us to read footnotes or sit flummoxed in the audience while actors make archaic jokes, why should we read Shakespeare at all? He can be profoundly difficult to understand, an issue even his first audiences encountered, since he stuffed his speeches not only with hundreds of loan words, but hundreds of his own coinages as well.

The criticism of Shakespeare’s difficulty goes back to his earliest critics. Seventeenth-century English poet John Dryden declared that the playwright “had undoubtedly a larger soul of poesy than every any of our nation.” In the plays, we find “all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy.” And yet, even Dryden could write, in 1664, that Shakespeare’s language was “a little obsolete,” and that “in every page [there is] either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense.” (These issues are sometimes, but not always, attributable to scribal error.)

“Many of his words,” wrote Dryden, “and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible. And of those which we understand, some are ungrammatical, others coarse; and his whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is as affected as it is obscure.” Seems harsh. How could such a writer not only survive but become an almost godlike figure in literary history?

Maybe it’s all that “poesy.” Shakespeare is surely one of the most musical writers in the language. Read his speeches to children—they will listen with rapt attention without understanding a single word. It is better that we encounter Shakespeare early on, and learn to hear the music before we’re buffeted by exaggerated ideas about how hard he is to understand.

Written in a time when English was undergoing one of most rapid and radical shifts of any language in history, Shakespeare’s ingenious plays preserve a riot of borrowed, invented, and stolen words, of figures of speech both old- and new-fashioned, and of scholarly and popular ideas traveling through England on their way to and from a globalizing world. The torrents of verse that pour from his characters’ mouths give us the language at its most fluid, dynamic, and demotic, full of unparalleled poetic fugues crammed next to the roughness Dryden disliked.

This is the essence of the modern—of later Shakespearen successors like Samuel Beckett and James Joyce who freely mixed high and low and invented new ways of speaking. Why should we read Shakespeare? I can think of no more persuasive argument than Shakespeare’s language itself, which dazzles even as it confounds, and whose strangeness gives it such enduring appeal. But which plays should we read and why? The TED-Ed videos above from Iseult Gillespie, and below from Brendan Pelsue, make the case for four of Shakespeare greatest works: The Tempest, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth.

Learn new facts about the plays, and why their tragedy and humor, and their copious amounts of murder, still speak to us across the gulf of hundreds of years. But most of all, so too does Shakespeare’s gloriously ornate poetry—even when we can barely understand it.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

The appeal of Star Wars transcends generation, place, and culture. Anyone can tell by the undiminishing popularity of the ever more frequent expansions of the Star Wars universe more than 40 years after the movie that started it all — and not just in the English-speaking West, but all the world over. The vast franchise has produced “cinematic sequels, TV specials, animated spin-offs, novels, comic books, video games, but it wasn’t until November 28 that there was a Star Wars kabuki play,” writes Sora News 24’s Casey Baseel. Staged one time only last Friday at Tokyo’s Meguro Persimmon Hall, Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords retells the events of recent films The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in Japan’s best-known traditional theater form.

To even the hardest-core Star Wars exegete, Kairennosuke may be an unfamiliar name — though not entirely unfamiliar. It turns out to be the Japanese name given to the character of Kylo Ren, the power-hungry nephew of Luke Skywalker portrayed by Adam Driver in The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi, and the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker.

In Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords he’s played by Ichikawa Ebizō XI, not just the most popular kabuki actor alive but an avowed Star Wars enthusiast as well. “I like the conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side of the Force,” Baseel quotes Ichikawa as saying. “In kabuki too, there are many stories of good and evil opposing each other, and it’s interesting to see how even good Jedi can be pulled towards the Dark Side by fear and worry.”

The thematic resonances between kabuki and Star Wars should come as no surprise, given all Star Wars creator George Lucas has said about the series’ grounding in elements of universal myth. Lucas also actively drew from works of Japanese art, including, as previously featured here on Open Culture, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. And so in Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords, which you can watch on Youtube and follow along in Baseel’s play-by-play description in English, we have the kind of elaborate cultural reinterpretation — bringing different eras of Western and Japanese art together in one strangely coherent mixture — in which modern Japan has long excelled. No matter what country they hail from, Star Wars fans can appreciate the highly stylized adventures of Kairennosuke, Hanzo, Reino, Sunokaku, Ruku and Reian — and of course, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

via Neatorama

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Life-Affirming Performances from David Byrne’s New Broadway Musical American Utopia

It’s time, writes Kim Stanley Robinson in his essay “Dystopia Now,” to put aside the dystopias. We know the future (and the present) can look bleak. “It’s old news now,” and “perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more.” Of course, David Byrne has never been a dystopian artist. Even his catchy deconstructions of the banality of modern life, in “This Must Be the Place,” for example—or Love Lies Here, his disco musical about Imelda Marcos—are filled with empathetic poignancy and an earnest desire to rehumanize contemporary culture.

Still his oblique take on things has always seemed too skewed to call utopian. Lately, however, Byrne has become unambiguously sunny in his outlook, and not in any kind of starry-eyed Pollyannish way. His web project Reasons to Be Cheerful backs up its optimistic title with incisive longform investigative journalism.

His latest stage project, the musical American Utopia, which he performs with a cast of dancers and musicians from around the world, announces its intentions on the sleeves of the matching monochromatic suits its cast wears.

Barefoot and holding their instruments, Byrne and his backup singers, musicians, and dancers march on the “Road to Nowhere” with smiles hinting it might actually lead to someplace good, They perform this song (see them on Jimmy Fallon at the top), and a couple dozen more from Talking Heads and Byrne solo albums, especially last year’s American Utopia. In the course of the show, Byrne “lets his moralist outrage explode” yet “balances it with levity,” writes Stacey Anderson at Pitchfork. “There is a political engine to this performance… with a clearly humming progressive core… but Byrne’s goal is to urge kinder consideration of how we process the stressors of modernity.”

The musical doesn’t simply urge, it enacts, and proclaims, in spoken interludes, the story of an individual who opens up to the wider world. “Here’s a guy who’s basically in his head at the beginning,” Byrne told Rolling Stone. “And then by the end of the show he’s a very different person in a very different place.” The road to utopia, Byrne suggests, takes us toward community and out of isolation. American Utopia’s minimalist production communicates this idea with plenty of polished musicianship—especially from its six drummers working as one—but also a rigorous lack of spectacle. “I think audiences appreciate when nobody’s trying to fool them,” says Byrne.

See several performances from American Utopia, the musical, above, from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and the Hudson Theatre, where it’s currently running. The musical debuted in England last June, causing NME to exclaim it may “just be the best live show of all time.” Its Broadway run has received similar acclaim. Below, see a trailer for the show arriving just in time, The Fader announces in a blurb, to “fight your cynicism.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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