“Variety’s the very spice of life/
That gives it all its flavor.”
—from “The Task” (1785) by William Cowper
When Anna Rae conceived the idea for All Together Now in 2016, she knew it would be a variety show—in the performances, yes, but in every other aspect, as well.
“I looked for venues and audiences willing to try this experimental, sometimes weird experience,” she recalls of that first three-show season.
The venue she found was Cambridge’s The Lilypad, where Rae brought together artists from marginalized or underrepresented backgrounds and put them on stage where people who might otherwise have been exposed to their works could see what variety could truly, deeply mean in local arts.
Now, after taking a hiatus last year to assess the series and what changes she should make, Rae is bringing All Together Now back for another three shows. The first of those is this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in its original home, The Lilypad; that show will be followed up with one on October 5 at The Burren in Somerville, then a November show in Jamaica Plain.
Part of the impetus behind All Together Now is Rae’s own experience as a local musician. After moving here from Wyoming, Rae began to realize that the rock scene was fairly homogeneous: white, male, cis, straight.
“There was a lot of great local rock music, but the shows had all the same rituals,” she said. “Boston as a whole is very racially segregated, and that translates into the art, the subcultures focused on different art forms. There were not a lot of opportunities to collaborate.”
Thus it was she started searching for the variety she was sure existed within the local arts scene … and she’s gratified that now, just a few years later, it is becoming easier to find.
“When I started this in 2016, I wasn’t aware of any series like this… [with] coexistence for all identities and the multi-genre thin,” she says. “I’ve seen a steady difference in media coverage of the arts, an increasing appetite for covering artists and genres that were underidentified.”
For example, you can hear local hip-hop being covered on public radio, and artists who are popular in their communities can sell out large rooms. Attention is being drawn by artists and performers who were previously marginalized, whether because they were from a community that hadn’t been accepted by the broader society, or they had chosen an art form alien to and unappreciated by their own culture. What we are seeing today, says Rae, is “the results of the labor of certain subcultures hammering away at this for years.”
“Queer folks, people of color, art advocates working to create intersectional spaces that are safe and also artistically vibrant,” she says. “I hope to come in the same spirit, to learn from and support that work.”
The goal of the new series of All Together Now shows is the same as always: Putting the work of such underexposed artists in front of audiences that likely wouldn’t see them if they just stuck to the familiar and local.
“I think there is absolutely a very strong appetite for this type of thing,” says Rae. “Everyone who comes to an All Together Now show says they’ve been wanting something like this, they feel welcome here, they want to go to more. But I think a lot of people aren’t aware.”
This Saturday she’s bringing together five artists at The Lilypad: Korean-American songwriter Jane Hyoun-Ju Park, who performs as Poor Eliza; multimedia artist Catherine Siller; hip-hop performer and songwriter Kay Wattz; and Rex Mac, an Asian American hip-hop musician. The playbills for the upcoming shows will likewise have a mix of widely contrasting styles, she promises.
“I definitely think there’s a groundswell that’s really building,” Rae says of audience interest in performance diversity. “I think things are improving. But I tell you, every artist I recruit for this series, it’s like they’ve been held underwater for 10 minutes. They’re starving for something where they’re welcomed to do what they do and be themselves and be compensated.”