Celebrating the art of language

By - Nov 10th, 2010 04:00 am
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Poet Dasha Kelly. Photo by Peter Woloszyn.

Milwaukee’s spoken word poetry scene has been building momentum over the last decade, its addictive lyricism spreading like wildfire across the city and the nation.

Verbatim — a one-night performance and fundraiser for local arts education, aims to bring the art of language to a new audience.

Described as a “showcase of verbal acrobatics,”  the variety show brings together Still Waters Collective and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater to light up the stage of the Stackner Cabaret with performances of all shades, including music, poetry, storytelling and comedy.

Dasha Kelly, Milwaukee’s own patron saint of spoken word, will host the show on Thursday.

Kelly is no stranger to the stage; she is a seasoned poet, a national speaker and also the founder and director of Still Waters Collective. Since its inception, the Collective has been working with wordsmiths of all ages to incite expression, using the power of word to change lives. The organization provides middle and high school aged kids with a venue for exploring and expressing themselves via slam poetry and performance opportunities, sends writers and poets into schools and administers the National Scholastic Writing Program for youth.

In spite of having a profound impact on many creative people in the city, Kelly is modest about her level of responsibility in fueling the artistic fire.

“I just try to provide the platform. It’s definitely overstated to say I coached or molded,” she says. “It’s providing the opportunity, and that’s what I do.”

Verbatim’s ninth incarnation is a testament to the staying power and growth of this local organization, and the Collective’s newly-formed alignment with the Rep will bring spoken word and other performance art to a broader audience.

This artistic alliance was built when both Kelly and the Rep’s Artistic Director, Mark Clements, were featured in an issue of Midwest Airlines magazine. Soon after, the two got together to see if there would be any way to form a collaboration.

“Both of our organizations celebrate the art of language, and we’re both equally committed to community education,” said Clements. Both agencies do outreach in schools, as also work to provide the community with learning opportunities through a variety of workshops.

The poetess Queen Sheba

And, as you might expect, this isn’t just another fundraiser. Part of the Rep Platform Late Nite Series, Verbatim will bring a variety of local and national talent.

Performers include nationally-renowned poetess Queen Sheba, local flamenco-fusion guitarist Evan Christian, New Jersey comedian Rodney Laney, and emcee and performer Karl ¡OYE! Iglesias— one of Kelly’s first students.

Ex Fabula will introduce the narration styles used in competitive storytelling, while writer/Pagan punk belle du jour Molly Snyder and poet Derrick Harriell will captivate the audience with lyrical musings.

“First and foremost, I want people to be entertained … [to] introduce them to new things, ” says Kelly. “People coming to hear comedy are going to be surprised when they like something else.”

The idea behind bringing together such a diverse group of performers was to expose the audience to the beauty of performance art in all its manifestations. Says Kelly, “It’s a different kind of show, it features everyone—folks who use language to carve their way.”

Verbatim: Season 9 will be held in the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret inside the Milwaukee Center (108 E. Wells St., 2nd floor) at 10:30 p.m. Donations will be collected at the door; the suggested amount is $10 or more. For more information, visit Still Waters Collective online.

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