A&E
AJ and the Queen: it's a hit and a miss
Press photo courtesy of Netflix
At the beginning of this year, Netflix quietly released the dramedy, “AJ and the Queen,” starring the paragon of drag herself, RuPaul. RuPaul’s name carries a legacy people only vaguely understand. People hear the name and often think “Oh, the drag queen,” and don’t give it a second thought. You’ve probably seen her in a gif or heard her name as an answer to a jeopardy question. However, RuPaul is credited for heightening the drag scene by exposing people to what a drag queen is, with her charting dance songs from the eighties and her appearances on talk shows, and her fire has not died since then. Along with her Emmy award-winning reality television show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the self-proclaimed glamazon is now starring in a Netflix show. An accomplishment, of course, but it would probably be more commendable if the show was good. Maybe that’s while it was canceled on March 6.
The premise of “AJ and the Queen” is ridiculous to say the least. The viewer is forced to follow drag queen Ruby Red/Robert Lee (RuPaul) who goes on a cross country road trip to escape a crazy ex-boyfriend and, along the way, befriends a ten-year-old who snuck into Ruby’s RV with the motive of finding her father in Texas. An immediate question that should come to mind is: How is a sixty-year-old man able to get away with traveling one thousand miles with an unattended, homeless ten-year-old? Let’s not think about that.
Overall the show’s visuals are loud, assaulting, and colorful to remind us that this is a show about a glamorous drag queen. The dialogue is obviously trying its hardest to be “hip with the gay youth, okurrrr.” The plot is so simplistic it’s almost infantilizing and the acting borders on atrocious. So why is this show so fun to watch?
Despite everything it clearly does not have going for it, the show, surprisingly, carries some charm. When you’re not too busy laughing at RuPaul’s attempts at making a facial expression, the characters aren’t difficult to root for. Ruby’s elementary school-aged best friend has a compelling storyline about abandonment and the struggles of parenthood and drug use, which almost makes up for the bizarre main plot of Ruby escaping an evil ex-lover and his eye-patch wearing sidekick. The conversations about what family means are important and sweet, and the growing bond between two people who are traveling together under extreme circumstances is almost possible to invest in. Also, watching our protagonists jump from drag bar to drag bar and seeing what performers they meet along the way is fun, if you ignore the fact that a ten-year-old would never be allowed backstage at a drag show. “AJ and the Queen” does a great job showing the feel-good and entertaining parts of drag, with the glamor, the quips, and the best aspects of the art. Drag as an art form seems so taboo behind closed doors, but “AJ and the Queen” sheds light on how unique and compelling a form of entertainment it has always been.
So no, I am not going to pretend the show is good. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, it could be said that “AJ and the Queen’s” ridiculousness is tongue in cheek, referencing the campy nature drag has had since the beginning of the underground club scenes. In order to enter into the acid-trip wormhole that “AJ and the Queen” is, it is important to leave yourself a reminder to never, even for a second, look at it under a critical lens. “AJ and the Queen” is only tolerable if you realize how horrible it is, and go into it for a laugh.
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A&E
PAX East brings together game developers and fans across cultures
Courtesy of Indie Games Poland
Founded by Penny Arcade in 2010, PAX East has been Boston’s premier gaming convention for a decade now. Hosting games of all genres, platforms, and console generations, this year's showcase had something missing — Playstation developer Sony Entertainment. Sony canceled its appearance and pulled "The Last of Us 2," a game about a deadly virus, while the world grappled with the spreading coronavirus. Despite its absence, the convention floor hardly felt at a loss as smaller international studios more than picked up the slack.
The U.S. and Japan host the most prolific developers with names such as Nintendo, Rockstar Games, and Square-Enix routinely pumping out quality content. However,  there is much to be said about the smaller studios popping up across the flat earth, creating virtual worlds for us to lose ourselves in and get away from our lives for a while. 
While attending the showcase last month, I set out on a mission to explore past “Animal Crossing” and “Final Fantasy” to talk to the little guys, the international studios changing the game — of well — games.
First on my trek through the wild west of gaming was a sharp turn to the far east with Nodding Head Games’ “Raji,” an action platformer inspired by Hindu Mythology. You play as the title character, “Raji,” on a quest by the gods to slay demons and save your brother. The game possesses a traditional shadow puppet art style during cutscenes and a familiar top-down perspective during gameplay. When most people think India, they think more along the lines of outsourced work rather than game development. This is something that Art Director Shruti Ghosh is keen to change, addressing that while Norse and Greek pantheons are over-represented, you rarely see Hindi lore in gaming. “Raji” seeks to change this by combining the cultural styles of the Hindu world with game mechanics prominent in western games.
I then stopped by the Indie Games Poland Foundation, a super-booth of Polish dev’s dripping with Slavic swag. Big-name developers such as CD Projekt Red have blown minds recently with the announcement of “CyberPunk 2077,” but it's not all augments and androids up in Warsaw, as proven with Klabter’s “Help Will Come Tomorrow.” The game is set following a train crash during the boiling point of the October Revolution, you must keep a cast of revolutionaries, aristocrats, and non-politically minded survivors alive in the harsh Siberian wilderness. Though my survivors ended up considerably less alive than when I decided not to play the tutorial, there was fun to be had finding balance in the survivor's clashing personalities and managing resources to keep everyone alive to see if the game's title holds true. 
Lastly, I met with Astragon studios, a German developer who primarily makes simulator games. While most American gamers would rather mow through zombies, over in Germany, laid back simulation titles such as Astragon’s own “Bus Simulator” offers a unique experience perfect for rounding out your day. While I was skeptical going in, expecting something along the lines of the playable meme, “Surgeon Simulator,” a title in which you enact surgery while heavily intoxicated, what I found was a calming ride through metropolitan Europe as your friendly neighborhood Busfahrer. While American audiences see simulators primarily in their meme potential, European audiences see them as a mellow alternative to the chaos of titles like “DOOM” or “Battlefront.” While years of “GTA Online” compelled me to immediately try for vehicular homicide, I quickly found myself enjoying the simplicity of simulating a bus.

Video games, like literature or cinema, are an art form and like any other regional tastes and cultural ideals play a role in what we look for. That being said, there is a shared love for the craft of game design that keeps events like PAX happening so that we can come together to celebrate how similar we are within our vast differences.
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A&E
Boston's calling: your local music festival
There’s something entrancing about the pulsating beat and pounding bass that shakes the ground beneath your feet during a live concert. The bond between you, the artist and the crowd is a force to be reckoned with as you stomp and scream your favorite lyrics at the top of your lungs. However, music festivals, like our local one known as Boston Calling, can be a bit of a mystery to young people like myself. You don’t really know what to expect, with names of dozens of artists descending into tiny font and thousands more people bound to show up and support their favorites and newfound music. It can be intimidating, especially when your mom is grilling you about the details you don’t have. Last year, I went to Boston Calling and lived to tell the tale. I'm here to tell you (and your mom) all about it.
According to an article by WBUR, Boston Calling has changed a lot from a small event in City Hall Plaza in 2013 to a large scale festival taking place in the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston with the likes of Foo Fighters, Rage Against The Machine, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers headlining in 2020, and Travis Scott, Tame Impala, Paramore, and more in years past. As well, there are performances from Boston Ballet and comedians. You can make a pitstop at the arena and laugh with the likes of Micheal Che and Melissa Villaseñor, and this year, local comedian Lamont Price. The festival is also known for the food and drink vendors that you can preview before using the official Boston Calling app. There is much variety to be found, and something for everyone interested.
Franz Criscione, a 17-year-old at Boston Arts Academy, has been twice, and plans on going for the third year in a row. “My overall experience was very fun. I thought that the multi stage platform really created a super cool atmosphere of music all the time. That specifically made me listen to so many artists I hadn’t heard of before that I ended up liking a lot.” Like many big events, it’s always better (and more fun) to bring a few friends, as Criscione recommends. “You want to have a crew around you at all times, there is a lot going on and being alone with so many people in one place can be disorienting. Having a group of people to be able to check in with and have fun with will improve your experience overall.” Even with conflicting tastes, having another person drag you to an artist that you’d never hear can help you discover artists you never would have without them.
The Boston Calling website provides a handy list of things to bring in their FAQ, including:
  • Sunscreen (non aerosol)
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Non-professional film and digital cameras
  • (1) Factory-sealed bottle of water (non-glass container, up to 1 gallon in size)
  • A small clear plastic bag (no backpacks are allowed inside the festival)
  • Valid Driver’s License for will-call and/or to purchase alcohol
  • Comfortable footwear (shoes or sandals must be worn to enter festival grounds)

They provide lockers that can be reserved, recommend comfy and lightweight clothes and lots of water. It’s a practical list and something your mom would recommend. Is everything absolutely necessary? No, but no one wants to be walking around in grass fields in heels or without your own water or some sunscreen to protect from the May sun.
I was lucky enough to have been a volunteer last year, meaning while I spent a decent amount of time serving food to those who spent money for the experience, I was able to go and escape to jive to Logic’s swift and lyrical flow and MARINA’s joyful pop beats. So if you see the ticket price of $399.99 plus a $46.99 fee, trying to volunteer and offering your services can get you places. We all know the feeling of wanting to attend an event and stressing out about how to save up. But in trying to volunteer, you can rack up some community service hours and just be a general help during this hectic time.

Going to a festival is an ideal experience for someone who wants to be able to chill, bounce around, and hang out with friends in a musically fueled space. And at the end of the day, the festival isn’t that overwhelming. The only overwhelming part is figuring out what to explore next.
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A&E
A beginner's guide to buying your first guitar
Photo by Anton Shuvalov of Unsplash
Do you think there is such a thing as a beginner guitar? If there is, then why are there so many different ones out there? I don’t think there is one single beginner guitar because there are so many different types that are specific to the genre of music you play. As someone who plays guitar, I, of course, think there are certain guitars you should stay away from if you are a beginner — guitars with nine or 13 strings, or weirdly shaped or sized bodies. A basic guitar has six strings, a fretboard — the lines on the neck —  a head where you tune it, a neck and a body. 
So, which guitar is best for you to learn on? If you don’t know, then you’re in luck! This guide will tell you about different guitars and which one I think you should get depending on the genre of music you like to play. 
If you like playing rock with heavy beats but simple melodies such as “Purple Haze” and “Thunderstruck:”
Squier Stratocaster ($150+): This is an electric guitar with a double-cutaway, meaning it has two cuts in the body so your hands can reach the whole fretboard, six strings and a “horn” shape for balance. Electric guitars are different from acoustic as they plug into an amp and can have a very clean or very distorted sound. This is a very popular guitar with a popular shape. I think this guitar is good for rock because many rock musicians use it like Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Eric Clapton. It has a rock sound, but it’s not good for heavy metal because it can hit hard beats but not heavy beats.
If you like playing pop with good rhythm and a catchy melody:
Squier Telecaster ($180+): This was the first successful solid-bodied electric guitar with six strings. Instead of a two cutaway it has one cutaway. I think you should use this guitar for pop because a popular pop player, Prince, used this guitar. It can hit beats ranging from pop beats to hard beats. This versatility makes it a good choice for pop musicians. 
If you like playing hard rock (highly amplified harsh-sounding rock music with a strong beat), heavy metal with a heavy use of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, and drums or grunge (rock music characterized by a raucous guitar sound and lazy vocal delivery): 
Epiphone Les Paul ($200+) : This is a solid-bodied guitar with six strings. This is also a very popular guitar to play. I think this is a good guitar for these genres because many hard rock bands, heavy metal bands and grunge bands use this guitar. Some are Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana. This guitar can hit soft beats up to really heavy beats.
Epiphone SG ($175+): Another solid-bodied guitar with six strings that is very popular today. It has a two cutaway and two prongs that look like horns. I think you should use this guitar because many rock players chose this guitar. One famous guitar player that used this is Angus Young. This guitar can also hit beats ranging from soft up to heavy.
If you like playing folk which originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style:
Fender CD-60S ($200+): This guitar has six strings, a mahogany back and sides, and a rosewood fingerboard. The dreadnought-sized body provides a traditional full-bodied tone. I recommend this guitar because I have this guitar! This guitar can hit soft beats up to smaller hard beats.
Yamaha APX600 ($300+): This is a thinline acoustic-electric guitar (a thinner bodied guitar). It is comfortable and easy to play. I recommend this guitar because it is rated well on the Guitar Center website and from what I know, people really like it. This guitar can also hit soft beats up to smaller hard beats.
If you like playing Blues which traverses a wide range of emotions and musical styles:
ES 335 ($400+): This is a vintage semi-hollow guitar with great playability and warm tone. It is a bigger bodied guitar but is still a very good one. Even though this is more expensive than the other guitars on this list, I still recommend it because it is a very popular blues guitar. This guitar doesn’t just play a warm tone, it can hit hard beats too!
I hope this gives you some advice about picking a guitar. With the right guitar, you will definitely become the musician you want to be. 
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A&E
Young Critics' Pascale Florestal amplifies the importance of diversity in pop-culture criticism
Photo courtesy of Delon Photography
When considering going to a new restaurant down the block or checking out a play that just came to town, chances are the first place you’d turn to are the reviews. Critics serve the important purpose of giving people an initial impression of art and culture, becoming a bridge from creators to appreciators. Their words can determine a product’s reception.
With critics carrying so much power, how important is it for their demographics to be diverse? In the modern world of theater, the contributions from artists of color have been growing exponentially, with the likes of Jordan Peele, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kehinde Wiley to name a few. While the types of media are diversifying, critics have not been able to keep up. According to a report from Variety, 82% of critics who reviewed the top 100 grossing movies in 2017 were white.
“How are white reviewers able to understand and contextualize the experience of artists of color?” Pascale Florestal, director of Young Critics Organization, asked herself. Florestal noticed that works by people of color are often judged more harshly, or are not understood by critics. In theater especially, she describes how reviews can be “the only documentation of these experiences, so what happens when the majority of people reviewing do not represent the community or the stories being told?”
Hoping to spark a change in the world of professional criticism, Florestal founded the Youth Critics Organization with WBUR’s “The ARTery” to focus on training young adults of color in criticism. The Young Critics Program now trains 12 young adults by taking them to theater performances to critique. It strives to teach youth about criticism and reporting, and how to exercise these skills while viewing performances all around Boston.
Pascale has been surrounded by the arts since the age of three and was shaped by theater after being put in dance classes by her parents. Her love for theater intensified after she participated in backstage work for community service in high school. 
Eventually, she was inspired to get a BA in Theater at Ithaca College. After immersing herself in the industry for so long, she began to notice an imbalance in the reviews that different types of art receive.
“[In the] last like four years, a lot of new work has been happening, which has been so exciting and there's also been a big surge of theater of color,” she explained as we sat in the Boston Center for the Arts. “And one of the things I kept noticing is the people who are reviewing [these new productions] are mostly old white men.”
One she noticed, she realized the lack of diversity hurt both the audience and the artists.
“I felt it was imperative that we have younger voices to talk about the work because they're going to be the next people coming in doing this work, seeing this work, hopefully investing in it,” Pascale said.
With the help of top New England writing consultants, participants will become more familiar with criticism, while also getting to leave with a nice check after each review. Encouraging a more diverse group of people to pursue this type of reporting opens up an opportunity for a much-needed ripple in the world of criticism.
Expect a boom in the world of critics and a long overdue one at that.
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