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Show & Tell, a local arts and entertainment column published in the Washington City Paper, has passed away after a long battle with the local arts and entertainment community. It was five years old.
Show & Tell is survived by its five columnists, Robert Lalasz (December 2003-April 2004), Chris Shott (May 2004-January 2006), Nell Boeschenstein (June 2006-August 2006), Jessica Gould (October 2006-December 2007), and Amanda Hess (December 2007-September 2008), and an editor, Erik Wemple. Services will not be held.
Show & Tell spent its life in search of an identity. “You’re still defining the scope of the column?” Lalasz asked S&T after it struggled to describe its history of lighthearted club-stabbing fare, Alcoholic Beverage Control board reports, and profiles of Prince-obsessed martial arts professionals. “Five years after it started?”
Lalasz, who originated the column in 2003, noticed signs of S&T’s identity crisis early on. “The perennial problem for Show & Tell is trying to build the arts beat,” he says. “D.C. has these massive institutional arts forces that I found very difficult to penetrate—very few of them took the City Paper seriously—and then these smaller galleries and collectives who did take the paper seriously—often too seriously.”
Though Show & Tell lavished the arts scene with attention, its relationship was tumultuous. “One aspect of the arts community that made us think the column could be successful was that arts people are just as petty as anyone else,” says Lalasz. “The City Paper trades in absurdities, and the D.C. art world is full of those little absurdities.” That petty absurdity often turned its attention to the S&T column itself. “Getting the confidence of people to open up and talk to me wasn’t impossible, but it was difficult,” says Lalasz. “Local artists tended to take the snarky coverage as injurious to their careers.”
When Lalasz left Show & Tell, four months later, the column turned to booze. “The decision was made to cover clubs a lot more closely, and for better or for worse, that became the meat and potatoes of Show & Tell,” says Lalasz. Shott, a former bartender, assumed S&T duties. Shott, who recalls the column as “fun,” “interesting,” and “grueling,” found similar difficulties covering D.C.’s arts beat. “I think that a lot of the arts community lacks a sense of humor about themselves, which makes S&T’s life a little difficult,” says Shott. “Sometimes it’s not what you write but the fact that you write anything at all. People get pissed.”
Though S&T’s identity was undefined, its tone was consistent. “It was the snark,” says Shott. “They didn’t necessarily like the snark.”
When Show & Tell turned its sarcastic eye to the exploits of thicker-skinned bar and club owners—and the ABC board meetings that documented them—columnists reported substantial personal losses. “It could be hard just doing your job without becoming a raging alcoholic,” says Shott. “My wife had big concerns about me when I was on that beat. I was out late at clubs every night. I would take her along with me sometimes, but she would have a horrible time.”
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But the bar beat also had its share of snark-weary sources. “People wanted to talk to you as long as they weren’t the focus,” says Shott. “One of the ANC commissioners in Adams Morgan told me, ‘I love your column, but I hate to be in it.’ He never wanted his name in there.” Shott found himself turning to bribery to fill column inches. “Always carry cigarettes,” Shott writes in an e-mail, “even if you don’t smoke them. On the bar beat, people are always asking for them, and it’s a great way to get folks talking. A quote for a smoke. That’s a fair trade, no?”
When Shott’s wife took a new job in New York City, he kept on the beat for several months, taking the Amtrak between cities, often sleeping on an old couch in the City Paper’s editorial lounge after he vacated his D.C. apartment. Of S&T’s five writers, Shott logged the most time on the poorly defined beat, spending 20 months on the column.
Shott’s eventual replacement, Boeschenstein, wrote the column for six weeks before vacating the post, citing irreconcilable differences. “It made me feel bad, in some ways, looking for what was wrong with the arts scene. I felt uncomfortable putting that out there. I didn’t have the tools in my arsenal to go out and find those things, and then to get over myself and just do my job,” says Boeschenstein, adding: “No hard feelings.”
Gould, S&T’s fourth columnist, found the booze beat to be a jarring switch from her daily grind at the Northwest neighborhood-based Current newspapers. “When I was the S&T columnist, I focused on nightlife, which was particularly challenging for me because I was a total newcomer to the club scene,” Gould writes via e-mail. “I think I’d been to one, maybe two nightclubs before I started writing the column. I’d never been to a strip club. But after I got the job, I went to seven strip clubs—in one weekend.”
Within months, Gould was deep in the detox room at Love, the Northeast club formerly known as Dream. “I watched people sit in a semicircle, puking into the buckets arranged neatly in front of them,” writes Gould. “A woman who had been impaled by a stiletto heel received first aid.” Gould is now back with the Current.
Gould’s replacement, Hess, wrote the column for nine months before driving it into the ground forever. Wemple reflected on the column’s checkered past. “I think [S&T] had highs and mediums. The lows I don’t quite remember as well,” says Wemple. “We thought we had a beat.…But it was always a struggle. We tried to cover the small institutions, to get a little lower to the ground. And that ended up torturing [the columnists].” Wemple describes the paper’s continuing arts coverage as “evolving.” In place of S&T, Hess will be covering the sex and gender beat, which she feels more comfortable exploiting, under the name “The Sexist.”
Madam’s Organ proprietor Bill Duggan, a longtime source for the column, expressed regret at the news of S&T’s demise. “This is really bad,” Duggan said, citing the column as one of the District’s only sources for behind-the-scene news on Madam’s Organ and other area watering holes. Duggan then launched into a long description of his club’s latest squabble with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.
Duggan, who describes himself as a “sick puppy,” was one of the few sources who sought out mention in S&T. “I’m such an egomaniac that if I’m not in it, I don’t read it,” says Duggan (Show & Tell, “Pack Your Bars,” 6/27; Show & Tell, “Trash Talk,” 7/27/07; Show & Tell, “Fine Food & Drink,” 9/10/04). “Other places are afraid because if you get mentioned in the City Paper you get the wrath of God, God being DCRA [Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs] and ABRA,” says Duggan. “The City Paper in general has a reputation of liking bad news, so if City Paper wants to talk to you, it’s usually never a good thing.” Once, an employee of the newspaper suggested that Duggan pitch a story to S&T about Madam’s Organ’s yearly kid-friendly beach trip. “I told her the only way the City Paper would cover that story would be if we took one of the kids to the beach and fucked them,” says Duggan.
Show & Tell hopes to be remembered as: “A great idea in the long City Paper tradition of grandiose and doomed ideas,” says Lalasz. “I’m sad to hear that it’s ending, and I’m surprised to see that it’s lasted as long as it has.”
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Duggan, the column’s sole beneficiary.
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