Around Town: Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective centers conversations about race

FACT MEETS FICTION: Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective will present Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House for Black History Month. Photo by Carol Spags Photography

At a time when the very of idea of teaching Black history is coming under fire in some quarters, Stephanie Hickling Beckman wants to put the issue front and center.

“I had been considering, for the last couple of years, the idea of doing a series of plays that centered around private and group conversations about race between people of the same or mixed racial dynamics,” says Beckman, the founder and managing artistic director of Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective.

The result is the theater group’s entire 2022-23 season, which launched in August with Blood at the Root and continues this month with Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House. The latest production will run Thursday, Feb. 2-Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Tina McGuire Theatre at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Written by Carlyle Brown and directed by Beckman, the show is a reimagination of the events the night before President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Lincoln is visited by Uncle Tom, the fictional character from Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the two talk through the night.

“It is essentially a play about the value and power of conversation in making a difference in the world,” Beckman explains. “In addition to serving as a history lesson of sorts, the play offers some insight into the misnomer of Uncle Tom as a negative and insulting stereotype, particularly held among many Black communities.”

The performances will feature Asheville actors Scott FisherJon Robinson, Simone Snook and Lateasa Bond as well as Chapel Hill’s Solomon Gibson III.

Each performance except the last one will feature post-show discussions with the audience.

“I just hope audiences walk away from this play inspired to do their own research about Abraham Lincoln, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment,” Beckman says.

The show will run Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 2-Feb.4, Feb. 9-Feb. 11, Feb. 16-Feb.18 , 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 19, 3 p.m.

The Wortham Center for the Performing Arts is at 18 Biltmore Ave. For more information, visit

Music pictures

Last year, music journalist Bill Kopp launched Music to Your Ears, a monthly discussion series at Asheville Guitar Bar. Talking to experts about artists like John Lennon, Steely Dan and Pink Floyd proved to be so much fun that Kopp began looking for his next project.

“I was thinking, ‘What else can I do?’” says Kopp, an Xpress contributor. “What else would be along those lines, but different enough from that?”

A habitual viewer of music documentaries, Kopp hit upon the idea of teaming up with Grail Moviehouse to present Music Movie Mondays each month. The series launched with sold-out screenings of In the Court of the Crimson King in December and Concert for George in January.

The movie house will show Wattstax, a documentary about a 1972 Stax Records-sponsored concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, on Monday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. The 1973 film features performances by Isaac Hayes, Rufus and Carla Thomas, The Staple Singers and more.

Kopp likens it to Summer of Soul, the 2021 documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that Grail Moviehouse showed last year.  “We thought Wattstax would be a really good choice because anybody who enjoyed Summer of Soul is going to get a kick out of it,” he explains.

Kopp’s co-host for the viewing will be Asheville’s Sidney Barnes, a former staff songwriter for Motown Records who fronted the psychedelic soul group Rotary Connection.

The series will continue Monday, March 27, with Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, a 1979 musical comedy featuring punk-rock pioneers The Ramones as themselves. Unlike the first three films, it is not a documentary. “We don’t want to get stuck in a rut,” Kopp says.

Movies Kopp is considering for future Music Movie Mondays are the Toms Hanks-directed 1996 comedy That Thing You Do! and Quadrophenia, a 1979 drama loosely based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera of the same name.

“People have come up to me either before the films or afterward and suggested different things, and so we’re keeping a list,” he says. “I can’t imagine that we would ever run out.”

Grail Moviehouse is at 17 Foundy St. For more information or to buy a $15 ticket to see Wattstax, visit

Cult classic

Asheville’s Be Scofield had no intention of becoming a “cult reporter,” but when an astrologer suggested she go to to Sedona, Ariz. on her birthday in October 2017, something strange happened.

“A cult mysteriously appeared in front of me,” recalls Scofield, founder of The Guru Magazine. “I spent a month infiltrating Bentinho Massaro‘s cult and then wrote an article that went viral.”

After that, people started coming to her with more cult stories. She went on to write about a mysterious death in Eastsound, Wash., and the Colorado-based group Love Has Won.

Scofield recounts her experiences reporting on what she calls “dangerous spiritual groups” in her new book Hunting Lucifer: One Reporter’s Search for Cults and Demons.

“I describe the book as Into the Wild meets Stranger Things,” she says. “It’s my journey as a nomad, often living in a camper van or homeless and mysteriously being led to cult stories around the country. It’s astrology, spirituality, cults, angels, demons and boots-on-the-ground investigative journalism.”

For more information, go to

Speaking of history

Archaeologists Bob and Mary Noel will be the featured speakers at Historic Johnson Farm’s History Bites series Friday, Feb. 10, at 11 a.m. The two will talk about Native Americans who lived in the area long before European settlers arrived, with a focus on how they lived and what they ate as well as the artifacts they left behind.

The History Bites series returned in January for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Following the Feb. 10 event, it will continue Friday, March 10, at 11 a.m., with speaker Michael Arrowood, who will talk about early roads in Henderson County.

The series is free, but donations are accepted to support the farm’s Window Restoration Project. All 23 windows of the historic farmhouse are currently being restored to protect the building and the artifacts inside.
Historic Johnson Farm is at 3346 Haywood Road in Hendersonville. For more information, go to

Connemara calling

Students are invited to submit a poem to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site’s 25th annual Student Poetry Contest. The theme of this year’s competition is “hope.”

The contest is open to North Carolina students in grades three-12. Poems must be submitted by email by Wednesday, March 1. Winners will be notified by Friday, April 7.

For more information or to submit a poem, go to

Let’s dance

The Wortham Center for the Performing Arts is offering Lifelong Dance classes for participants ages 55 and older through Monday, March 13, in Henry LaBrun Studio at the Wortham Center. The classes are Mondays, 9:45-10:45 a.m.

“The Lifelong Dance class, led by Jamie Brege-DeVito of the Asheville-based contemporary dance company Stewart/Owen Dance, encourages joyful exploration of movement and music and strengthens the brain-body connection,” a press release states.

The class is designed to be accessible to participants with movement restrictions or chronic injuries. No prior dance experience is required.

For more information or to register, go to




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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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