On the evening of Monday, Oct. 6, Continental Bakery Downtown will play host to a cabaret seemingly on loan from late-‘20s Berlin, with an olio including a world-class pianist, dancers, spoken-word poetry and a fashion show, as well as lovely art nouveau posters. Despite its Old World flair, the event, Belladonna Live!, is a benefit in service of a vibrant new multimedia collaborative called Project Veracity.
Starting at 8 p.m., the Belladonna Live! cabaret will feature inventive dancing from Melissa Word and William-Michael Cooper & Co.; music from R&B singer-songwriter Gabriel Tajeu; spoken word performances from Sharrif Simmons and John Paul Taylor; magic from Kevin Sanderson; juggling from local vaudevillian Scott Autrey; live improv comedy from UglyBaby; and that’s only part of the bill. Attendees should note that dressing up in fancy Jazz Age-style clothing is encouraged.
Project Veracity incorporates the many arts on display at Belladonna Live! into an ambitious set of goals. The first – and currently, the most visible – is belladonna, a biannual magazine focusing on fashion, the arts and profiles of creative-minded people. Other goals include founding an independent publishing house, a video platform called Veraci-TV, and a “community-interactive resource and mental wellness initiative” called ArtHeart Connect, according to the collaborative’s website.
Those grandiose designs popped up organically, if not accidentally, according to founder Maacah Davis.
“It started off with me asking friends if they’d like to have a fairy photo shoot, and people agreed, as people tend to,” Davis said with a laugh. “I am very lucky to be surrounded by that kind of person. And then I realized that I had nowhere to put this fashion shoot. And Birmingham has this budding fashion scene, you know? It’s a little small, but it’s growing. We have designers and photographers and models and they’re all building their portfolios, but what are they building them for? I wanted somewhere to put all of my stuff.”
For Davis, that somewhere became belladonna, whose handsomely appointed summer issue debuted with elegant photography of people dressed as fairies, building around a “Midsummer Night’s Debut” theme in-between profiles of artists, designers and social justice activists.
belladonna is one facet of Project Veracity, which is defined above all by youthful exuberance. To UAB student (and freshly minted 20-year-old) Davis, the collaborative’s amateurism is an opportunity, not a drawback.
“Except for [photographer] Lynsey Weatherspoon, who is a goddess in her own right, we were all amateurs,” Davis said of belladonna’s first issue. “We’re everywhere. People are like, ‘Where do you find these people?’ Literally, everywhere. They’re students, they’re down the street, they’re at coffee shops, and they want a chance to create.
“It’s okay that we don’t know what we’re doing, because we get to try everything, and we can do it well,” she added. “I’m finding that if I just take baby steps, everything becomes a lot easier.”
Davis’ own background as an African immigrant – one who grew up doubly an outsider, being both black and Jewish – lends her a sense of excitement when figuring out her identity, and that magic of personal epiphany shines through Project Veracity’s many ambitions. “That’s what my life is about – that’s what everyone’s life is about, I guess: figuring out who you are,” Davis said. “This city’s a pretty great place to do it. That’s why I’m so excited to work with people from here.”
Project Veracity is rooted in the Magic City, with only members of belladonna’s writing staff hailing from outside of Alabama. Fortunately for everyone involved with the collaborative, they’re arriving on the scene just as the city is beginning to brim again with youthful optimism, gradually providing a rooftop for all that Millennial energy to sound its barbaric yawp.
Davis has lived in Birmingham for eight years, and is thrilled to watch the city undergo a self-discovery that mirrors her own. Whether it’s rooted in institutions as venerable and baroque as the Alabama and Lyric Theatres or in brand-new art collectives drawn from former ASFA students, Birmingham’s much-touted cultural renaissance reaches its fullest bloom drawing on a colorful tapestry of identities. Although still developing its platform, Project Veracity has the right combination of skill and idealism to weave itself into a dream of a more diverse, creative Birmingham.
“Birmingham is – I feel like I’m lucky to have arrived when I did,” Davis said. “It’s not too far back where it would be really awkward for an immigrant black girl to be doing this, and it’s not too far forward, where everything’s already established. This is where we grow. … This is where artists are developing. This is the period of time to take advantage of what’s happened. This particular period of time is golden. It’s ideal.”