close up image of a microphone on a stand with blurred people standing in the background

The Commons Festival

Virtual Event
January 29 – February 20, 2021

The Commons Festival at Carolina Performing Arts is back in digital form. The Commons is an initiative devoted to supporting artists by fostering local creative community and discourse in and around the Triangle.

Join us for streaming performances by the four Commons artists-in-residence, as well as our “Shop Talk” series—small-format roundtable events bringing together current, emerging, and aspiring arts professionals to talk about areas of the performing arts field. The festival will be presented over four weekends, from January 29 through February 20, 2021. Also back this year is CPA’s partnership with INDY Week for the “Commons Crit,” an online space where selected writers Howard Craft and Kyesha Jennings publish pieces on the artists and their work.


Please note: All events must be registered for separately. If you have questions or concerns related to accessibility, please contact us.


Pain, Trauma, Triumph by Anthony “AyJaye” Nelson

Friday, January 29, 2021, 7 PM

When we can truly understand how life experiences have shaped us, we become better, more empathetic people. The creation of this solo dance work is intended to help us understand, acknowledge, and become intensely aware of emotional growth from our personal experiences—triumphant milestones and traumas alike. In Pain, Trauma, Triumph, the audience is encouraged to explore various complex textures of emotions, thoughts, and beliefs that reside within us all, but are rarely accessed, culminating in an experience that allows artist and audience like to heal together. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, January 29.

Shop Talk: Non-Performing Artists 

Saturday, January 30, 1 PM 

Join us for a conversation with the artists who fill in the space—from costumers to lighting designers or audio engineers, who take a creative expression and develop it into a room that enraptures an audience. Every work of performing art is a collaborative creation by professionals with an eye or ear for human connection using different tools of the trade. Come chat with seasoned designers and technicians on how they have used and bent those tools in their work, and how everything has changed with the way work is happening post-COVID. This event will be facilitated by Kathy Kaufmann, lighting designer; Carlos Soto, director and designer; and Gabriel Clausen, sound designer. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, January 29.


Lineage by Ayanna Albertson

Friday, February 5, 7 PM

This performance by writer and spoken word poet Ayanna Albertson will be an extension of her poem “Lineage,” which unpacks and uncovers some of the many secrets, traumas, taboos and overall experiences passed down in Black families/communities, with the goals of creating awareness and promoting reflection and healing. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, February 5. Trigger warning: trauma and abuse.

Shop Talk: Cultivating Patron Connection

Saturday, February 6, 1 PM

Join us for a discussion with arts professionals experienced in being the “face” of a presenting organization or events venue—from ticketing to customer service and beyond. A chance to share insights, resources, and lessons learned, we’ll talk about expectations and responsibilities, best practices, challenges, and considerations in creating the best audience experience possible. Issues of accessibility and equity will be discussed, as well as what it takes to expedite correction and adjustment when concerns arise. This conversation will also consider the permanent/semi-permanent shifts in our operations post-COVID and the impact it will have on the future of audience services. Facilitated by Michaela Ashworth, Event Manager, Durham Performing Arts Center; Sean Wright, Executive Director of The Grand Theater (Wasau, WI); and Kate Lorenz, Events and Audience Services Director, Lied Center of Kansas. Registration for this Shop Talk is limited and is intended for those working in ticketing, customer service, or audience interactions for any venue, organization, or event series, large or small. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, February 5.


How Can We Explain This? by Eternal the M.C.

Friday, February 12, 7 PM 

Through a visual hip-hop experience, How Can We Explain This? gives the people a powerful and candid view of the emotions and conversations directly correlated with the plight of BIPOC in America, bridging a gap between minds that may not understand this predicament and those that process this reality on a daily basis. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, February 12. Content warning: explicit language.

Shop Talk: Supporting Artists from Process to Performance

Saturday, February 13, 1 PM

What does it mean to support an artist? Join us in conversation with arts professionals who work behind the scenes every day to make sure those performing onstage have what they need to do what they do. From managing contracts and calendars to coordinating luggage and logistics (and everything in between!), these are often the people you never hear anything about. Come chat with us about the myriad of settings in which this work can be done and how it looks across the field. This event is facilitated by Simona Ferrara, General Manager, Martha Graham Dance Company; Carissa Stolting, Founder and Artist & Event Manager, Left Bank Artists; Sarah Lerner, General Manager, Meredith Monk / The House Foundation for the Arts. Registration for this Shop Talk is limited and is intended as a professional development opportunity for those who aspire to work in the artistic administration field, those are already immersed in the field interested in skills-building, and even working artists. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, February 12.


Southern (Dis)Comfort by Johnny Lee Chapman, III 

Friday, February 19, 7 PM

Southern (Dis)Comfort is a detailed roadmap through the geography and lesser-known histories of the state of North Carolina, known for its easy access to both the mountains and the coast. Although the canonical recorded history may date back only to the late 18th century, when the state became one of the original thirteen colonies, the hills and waterways of North Carolina remember the oral traditions of the people that called this place home. The land is teeming with tradition and legend, some remarkable and others less appealing, but together they define our state. Southern (Dis)Comfort utilizes the medium of storytelling to re-imagine the folklore that laid the foundation for the North Carolina that we represent and know today. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, February 19.

Shop Talk: Here Now! Creating Capacity for Artists at Home 

Saturday, February 20, 1 PM

The Digital Commons provides Carolina Performing Arts an important opportunity to support area artists and foster discourse among arts professionals. It also allows for the exploration of new modes of arts criticism through collaborations with INDY Week. Join us for the final event in the Commons Festival Shop Talk series as we consider questions of what it means to dedicate resources to the commissioning, presentation, and promotion of local artists; challenges and what are some of the possibilities; how to build relationships that represent the breadth of amazing artistry in one’s area; and more. This Shop Talk will be facilitated by Christopher “Dasan Ahanu” Massenburg, Rothwell Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures at Carolina Performing Arts, and Brian Howe, former Arts and Culture Editor at INDY Week. Registration for this Shop Talk is limited and is intended for artists and creatives, as well as individuals working in the arts presenting field. Registration for this event closes at 12 PM EST on Friday, February 19.

Performances are filmed and will stream on Friday evenings at 7 PM EST during the festival. All performances will be followed by a live Q&A with that evening’s artist. Shop Talks are facilitated by established arts professionals, and offer an opportunity to share resources, insights, best practices, and provide encouragement in the changing landscape of the performing arts field. Shop Talks have very limited capacity and will be conducted via Zoom. Shop Talks will be recorded. By participating in a Shop Talk, attendees consent to be recorded.

All events must be registered for separately.

About the Commons Artists

Young Black man wearing a dark blue henley long-sleeved shirt and beige pants smiling into camera

Anthony “Ay-Jaye” Nelson found dance as a young teenager, falling in love with the freedom of expression that movement allowed. Dancing in earnest from fifteen years on, Nelson’s career has led him to seek training in a variety of styles, building his repertoire in Contemporary, Modern, Hip-Hop and Jazz, and refining his focus in a personal style that blends these traditions. Over the past decade, Nelson has performed with renowned choreographers in the Triangle and beyond, gravitating toward emotionally charged work and contemporary pieces with a social conscience and goal of bringing movement to a broad and diverse audience. Nelson’s belief in the power of dance to change lives and the world has led him to the classroom to share the gift of movement with students of all ages and backgrounds. To support and stay updated, visit

black and white image of a young Black woman with braids and a dark dress singing into a microphone

Ayanna Albertson is a writer and spoken word poet from Durham, NC by way of Goldsboro, NC. From early childhood, Ayanna has enjoyed the art of storytelling through poetry, singing, and performance. Ayanna received her BA in broadcast journalism from Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL, further investing into her passion for creative writing. She is a part of the Bull City Slam team, and has participated in various national poetry competitions using her gift of words to impact, empower and inspire others. She’s been crowned the Bull City Grand Slam Champion for three consecutive years, and after competing against 93 poets at the 2020 Women of the World Poetry slam, Ayanna was ranked 2nd best woman poet in the world. Ayanna is very passionate about advocacy and desires to be a voice for her community. Ayanna’s motto for her work is “I don’t wish to be famous, I just want to be heard.” 

Young Black man wearing black hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and a thick gold chain

Eternal the M.C./Eshod Howard was born and raised in Clinton Hills, Brooklyn, NY with the knowledge that he had a message to deliver to the world. He began to really work on his craft while studying psychology at Shaw University in NC. His industry influences include both local and national hip-hop artists like Rakim, Jay-Z, Biggie, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Jeezy, Skyzoo, and Kendrick Lamar. When he realized his passion, he became serious about picking a stage name. He noticed people gravitated towards his music and his words. “I thought long and hard of a name to exemplify how far I’ve come and where I plan to go. I proclaimed myself Eternal because I want to live forever through my body of work.” He aspires to make music to cause conversation and touch people’s souls. “I want my music to be able to invoke change for the better. I want my music to connect to the greatness in every person.” 

Young Black man with shoulder-length braids, seated and wearing a cream colored short under a beige plaid sports jacket and light beige khakis and brown shoes

Johnny Lee Chapman, III is an interdisciplinary artist from Fuquay-Varina, NC. Chapman started writing as a “Tumblr poet” in 2010 during his first year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as a student in the dental hygiene program. In 2014, he leaped from the page to the stage, beginning his career as a spoken word artist. By tapping into the power of oration, Chapman tackles current issues within the community while expressing his sensibilities. Since then, he has performed both regionally and nationally, and is an active voice within his Triangle community. His professional range has expanded to include facilitation of poetry showcases, workshops, and keynote speaking. Chapman also operates as a visual artist under the name The Golden Moment, utilizing the mediums of film and photography to convey emotion without explanation. 

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