SLAM! Seeing Skidmore Community in a New Light
This blog post is a little late, but I really wanted to describe my whole experience with attention and in detail. It is lengthy, so skip to the last paragraph for a summary of the show itself.
On March 1st, the Tang Thursday Night Events Coordinators, hosted a very successful spoken word & music night under the title Slam! When we started brainstorming ideas for this semester we knew that a spoken word night, similar to the one that occurred last year, was at the forefront of what we wanted to accomplish. Furthermore spoken word could be associated with the main exhibition of Corita Kent’s work, which is strongly focused on text and political action. I am a long-standing fan of spoken word and have always felt that it has been underrepresented at Skidmore. While I had some ideas for guest poets, I contacted Skidmore students Kali Block-Steele, Seth Johnstone and Luke Conely who are known for their spoken word talents to hear what poets they liked. There was a general consensus that nationally acclaimed poet Buddy Wakefield was a favorite. Simultaneously I was in contact with a friend and spoken word artist Michael Rosen to get his expertise. Coincidently he was organizing Buddy’s tour, so it just seemed like fate and we negotiated a suitable time for the tour to include Skidmore. From there, with the help of Luke, I approached many clubs and departments to accumulate enough money. With Buddy’s renowned status, recent appearance on Tedtalks and broad topic range, we were able to receive the money and support from Speaker’s Bureau, SEC, Hip-Hop Alliance, English, Sociology and American Studies Departments. I decided on my friends and Brooklyn based band, The Universe Project for the opening act, because of their laid back style and similarities between lead singer Kahiem’s poetic rapping to the syncopation of spoken word. I also asked Mike to act as the emcee for the night. He opened up a Buddy Wakefield show a couple years ago and his high-energy dynamism instilled an electrifying energy in the audience. More importantly I wanted him to explain to the audience how to react to and support the poets on stage. Spoken word or performance poetry is not a widely recognized art form. I know that when I was introduced to it I was surprised, excited and totally overtaken by its power. It is not a literary reading, it is equally dependent on the performance as it is on the content and to produce this unique relationship the audience must respond to the performer with attention and vigor.
With all the pieces in place we began to prepare for the show. Between Ginger Ertz (taking over Susi Kerr’s position in her absence) and Susi over the phone, we discussed staging, lighting, equipment and promotion. I created a poster utilizing overlapping speech bubbles to express the importance of speech and communication of the event. We decided on the name SLAM, referring to slam poetry, another name for spoken word usually in a competition context. While it was not intended to be competitive, we thought it was a catchy title that encompassed the goal of the night, to impact students in a new way. The week leading up to the night was a whirlwind of emails to teachers, the tang-list, art-list, creating student announcements, covering the campus with posters and a gigantic poster, requesting promotion on Skidmore Unofficial and organizing contracts for the performers. Last minute I asked Rivkah Gevinson if we could project one of her videos behind the band and pulled together the materials to do so.
I was totally confident in the success of the different components, but still nervous about the attendance level. Do people know what spoken word is? Will people give up a good portion of their night to come to the Tang and engage in something they may not be familiar with? My fears quickly receded as I saw the atrium of the Tang fill up with people way earlier than expected. In no time at all, the seats, floor space and staircase were filled with a couple hundred people. Despite an awkward pause and some technical difficulties, The Universe Project played a great set that filled the room and provoked some of the audience members to get up and dance. Emcee Mike Rosen riled up the audience creating an incredible energy followed by our amazing spoken word poets Kali, Luke and Seth who delivered outstanding performances each with their own style and authority. Finally came Buddy Wakefield. His performance was surprising, jarring, funny, awkward, truthful and powerful, providing a totally new experience for the audience. Even though I’ve seen Buddy once before and viewed many recordings of his performances online, he is able to create a totally new and quirky set each time. He is so dynamic and bizarre and the messages and stories he describes resonate deeply with our communal experience as human beings. It seemed like a really unique and momentous event and I hope that those in attendance felt the same. I can only begin to explain the profound impact that organizing this event and seeing the tremendous outcome had and will continue to have on me. Seeing 200 + people enraptured for two hours by the event that I constructed from scratch was so thrilling and truly made me feel proud to be a part of and a contributor to the Skidmore community. So many thanks to Susi Kerr for letting me run wild, to Ginger for making all the pieces fit together, to the Thursday Night team for their constant support and to the Tang for allowing students creative freedom.