Hot sauce and contemporary dance, spy music and solar bikes: these topics may not seem to have much in common, but at Mixed Doubles, a tandem lecture series based in Winston-Salem, they’ll share the spotlight side-by-side.
Each Thursday from Jan. 25 -Feb. 15, experts in two unrelated subjects will give consecutive lectures at the Forsyth County Public Library. The experts — who come from a variety of backgrounds, traditional and otherwise — have a strict 20-minute time limit to present. Then the real fun begins: The floor will open to questions from the audience, many of which “challenge the presenters to make connections that aren’t obvious,” says Mixed Doubles founder David Brown.
Brown is director of the DENT Creative Reuse Center and Art Laboratory, a volunteer-run organization that first partnered with the public library to launch Mixed Doubles in 2020. Although the series was put on hold due to the pandemic, DENT is eager to reacquaint the community with these evenings of delightfully chaotic community-building.
“The Q&A can get pretty rowdy,” Brown says, recalling the first season. “It’s interesting because, as you can imagine, some of the audience is only there for one topic while some come in for the second topic. Others will just be there for the collision, so you get all mixes.”
Despite the audience’s wide range of interests, Brown describes the atmosphere of Mixed Doubles as “a celebration.” During presentations, attendees can expect to see everything from films to live demonstrations. During season one, there was even a spontaneous, whole-audience sing-along to “Farmer in the Dell.”
Attendees are also encouraged to pitch ideas for future lecture topics. This season’s dual evening of hot sauce and contemporary dance was suggested by an audience member during season one. Brown discovers other topics by word of mouth and through his research into the work of local college professors. Even so, he wants to make it clear that his presenters need not have PhDs.
“We really try to find lecturers that are reflective of our community,” he says. “We believe every person has some sort of specialty, some area of knowledge, expertise or skill set. We’ve found that, when asked, most folks are happy to share that with the community.”
For example, Niki Farrington, Mixed Doubles’ hot-sauce expert, never attended culinary school. Instead, she studied social work, a field she remained in for nearly 20 years before switching to the food industry. Now the owner of Niki’s Pickles and chef at Winston-Salem’s Graylyn Estate, Farrington is a staple of the Triad culinary scene.
Other lecturers this season include Monstercade founder and owner Carlos Bocanegra, urban farmer Samantha ‘Foxx’ Winship; Christine Toole, a regular Burning Man participant; entrepreneurs; academics and, Brown teases, “several special surprise guests.”
Mixed Double’s second season will kick off with a presentation from Maestra D’Walla Simmons Burke, director of Vocal and Choral Studies at Winston-Salem State University. She will present on the topic of social justice along with her students in the Burke Singers, an all-female a cappella group that performs songs honoring Black vocal traditions and raising political awareness.
Joining Simmons Burke is Dr. Eranda Jayawickreme, a professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. His lecture will focus on intellectual humility, which involves, as the name suggests, recognizing and accepting gaps in one’s knowledge.
Regardless of the evenings’ themes, attendees are encouraged to arrive with open minds. “There’s so much in the world right now that’s working really hard to separate us as individuals, and as groups,” Brown says. “Mixed Doubles tackles that by bringing various groups together in a playful, joyful way.”
Mixed Doubles is free to attend, but organizers would recommend arriving early. Doors to each lecture open at 5:30. The presentations begin at 6:00 and will run for one hour. The season two topics will be The Burke Singers and Intellectual Humility (Jan. 25), Honey Bees and Burning Man (Feb. 1), Hot Sauce and Contemporary Dance (Feb. 8) and Spy Music and Solar Bikes (Feb. 15).
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