Posted at 9:18 AM on August 4, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Poetry
St. Paul's "Soap Boxing," defending champions of the National Poetry Slam.
St. Paul is the host this week to the National Poetry Slam. Known as the "Superbowl of Slam" among competitors, it is the world's largest annual Poetry Slam event. For those not familiar with poetry slams, they are a combination of written poetry, dramatic monologue, stand-up comedy, experimental theater and hip hop,with room for just about anything else you can imagine.
Today on Midmorning, Kerri Miller is interviewing members of the St. Paul team - who are the defending national champions - and a champion New York slammer. I thought I'd sit along for the ride, and add some of my own thoughts to the mix.
So I'll be refreshing this post regularly between 10am and 11am.
Here are the guests:
Matthew Rucker: Matthew is a Twin Cities artist and the host city coordinator for the 2010 National Poetry Slam. He is also the Slam Master (coach) of the defending NPS 2009 championship team.
Khary "6 is 9" Jackson: Khary is a playwright, teaching artist and poet who is proud to represent St Paul for the fourth time. He is currently ranked 4th in the world individually.
Sierra DeMulder: In addition to winning the 2009 National Poetry Slam with Saint Paul, Sierra DeMulder ranked 9th at the Individual World Poetry Slam, 11th at the Women of the World Poetry Slam and coached Macalester College to Final Stage at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in 2010. She was awarded Best Female Poet at CUPSI 2009 and in January 2010, her first full-length manuscript was published by Write Bloody Publishing.
Geoff Kagan Trenchard: He has performed poetry on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, at universities throughout the United States and in numerous detention facilities. As a mentor for Urban Word NYC, he taught weekly poetry workshops in the foster care center at Bellevue. He has also taught creative writing workshops in Rikers Island with Columbia University's "Youth Voices on Lockdown" Program. As a member of the performance poetry troupe The Suicide Kings, he has toured internationally with their hip-hop theater piece "In Spite of Everything". He lives in Brooklyn.
10:00AM - By the way, if you're interested in checking out some of the competition, there are plenty of venues to choose from all over downtown St. Paul.
Just had a thought - I bet Kerri Miller would make an awesome slammer - don't you?
You should also check out the names of some of the competing teams... personally I think "Soap Boxing" is pretty clever... here are few more:
And then there's the mystifying names:
You can find the rest of the teams here.
10:10 Intimacy of venue - can you imagine a slam competition at Target Center? Probably wouldn't be nearly as powerful.
10:13 Sierra: "The beauty of slam is that it forces you to write for 100 strangers." In other words you really need to share something that they'll connect with.
Hearing Kerri ask about taking the personal public - sharing something on stage you wouldn't say to your family - makes me think Garrison Keillor.
10:15 Matthew Rucker: PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE...
I love how this is like poetry in the sense that every bit of punctuation is important, but because they work as a team, there's more of a dialogue - it's not just a poet and his or her editor.
Geoff makes a great analogy - reading these poems vs hearing them performed is like reading a play rather than seeing it on stage, or reading sheet music rather than listening to the music.
Hmmm... I'm thinking we should have invited an audience into the studio for this hour...
Sierra: "Slam is a game" - I have never thought of it that way! I guess that helps to keep your heart from being too broken.
Now Matthew says he stopped because he took it too seriously...
Sierra: It's liking reading your diary and then getting scored on it... ouch.
10:26 Spoken word feels to me like acting, but in this case, you wrote your own script.
"Leave Your Soul on the Stage" - can you imagine giving so much of yourself on stage that after three minutes you have to leave the room and collapse sobbing? And then for Sierra to say it's actually addictive!
I'm curious to hear Sierra perform...
10:30 Geoff's piece reminds me a bit of a sonnet - the power in the repetition.
Matthew: (in response to question as to whether social networking makes us more willing to share the personal in public) You can be whoever you want online, but you have to be honest on stage in order for people to believe your performance.
Here's Sierra's poem "Werewolf":
Phew! Sorry, took a second to correct the video post...
10:43 Khary is obviously a master storyteller... great use of his voice.
"She was an earth-bound mermaid, singing sea shells..."
Here's Patricia Smith's "Skinhead"
Matthew: The strength of slam poetry is to connect and engage with an audience immediately.
Sierra: Rhyme isn't "illegal" (!)
So none of those people I see with their laptops at coffee houses are spoken word artists, unless I see them muttering under their breath.
It's nice to hear the bleed-through between traditional poetry and spoken word. That slam artists may find inspiration in the rhythm of Mary Karr.
Matthew - the immediate feedback from performing slam poetry made me a better poet.
But aren't there some poems meant to be quiet, subtle, and understated?
And we end the hour learning that the entire slam competition is just a trick! A trick to get us to get involved in the local poetry scene. Nice...
Minnesota Artist Miles Mendenhall is a strong candidate to be "the next great artist" in Bravo's reality show "Work of Art."
I have to admit - I am not a fan of reality television. To me such shows just radiate "we're not willing to pay for writers." But when I heard about this new show on Bravo called "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" in which a University of Minnesota student was a contestent, well, I was obligated to check it out.
Next confession: I actually kind of like it.
Evidently I'm not alone. As the weeks have progressed, more and more people have gathered to cheer Mendenhall on as he competes against other artists in weird, contrived competitions (for your next act, you'll create a canvas from this trash heap!). He's creative, has lots of energy, can work with practically any material, and is a little obsessive-compulsive, which makes him fuss more than most over the details.
Chair of the U of M Art Department Alexis Kuhr is one of Mendenhall's professors, and considers him a friend. Because Mendenhall has worked campus jobs, many U of M staff think of him as not just a student, but a colleague. Kuhr notes that while Mendenhall is a visual artist, he's also studied performance, and this show is allowing him to do both at the same time.
We knew he was approaching this show as a fun opportunity. For Miles, who's really interested in how much of being an artist is a performance, it's been a playground. He's been able to explore character at the same time as he's been making really interesting artwork. It fit his art-making practice, and what it means to be an artist in this culture. If he was taking this seriously I think it would be a problem - if he actually thought that he won this that he would actually be "the next great artist," but he went into this thinking this is a game, and within this game I can explore this character.
Of course, at the same time we'd really like him to win - because we've gotten really into the game!
The U of M organized viewing parties of the show, which has ten episodes (the 9th airs tonight). It started as an event for U of M staff, but quickly grew and moved to Bedlam Theatre's rooftop. Local artist Karen Haselmann has been providing post-show commentary using shadow puppets. For the final two shows, the parties are taking place at the outdoor sculpture courtyard at the Regis Center for Art, where guest artists will install light pieces that will play on the walls of the art building. Kuhr says it's a way to take this odd televised event and bring it back into the local community.
Karen Haselmann's jetpack shadow puppetry
At this point I should mention that this show was of course filmed months ago, and Miles Mendenhall is back at school. By contract he can't reveal if he won the competition, or any other crucial details. For that reason I'm not going to bother interviewing him until the show is over.
But I was curious to hear what the Chair of the U of M's Art Department thinks about a reality TV show in which artists compete in timed trials for a wad of cash and a high profile solo exhibition.
Quoting shadow puppet commentator Karen Haselmann, Kuhr admits "we're horrified, but we can't look away."
It's really great entertainment. As a premise, every artist I've talked to has said either "this is problematic because now people are going to think this is how art is really made - quickly, with little time for thought" or "putting art in a competitive art is a problem." But this is a reality tv show - a game - and if you approach it with that in mind, then you can have some fun with it.
Kuhr says she hopes the show does give people a backstage view of how artists create, and she says one moment in the show inspired a bunch of people to stand up and cheer for abstract art, something she's never seen before.
In one episode of "Work of Art," Mendenhall created a "death mask" portrait of fellow contestant Nao.
So does Kuhr think Mendenhall will win? She says he hasn't given her any indication of whether or not he won the competition, but those attending the viewing parties have noticed some trends.
There's a device that goes on in the show. If anyone calls Miles a name in the show they are eliminated, and anyone Miles critiques in the show is eliminated. It's gotten to be pretty funny.
Since Mendenhall returned to town from the shooting, Kuhr says he's been looking for ways to turn his very surreal experience on the show into something more meaningful. To that end, the U of M has commissioned him to make a series of prints which will be sold to raise money for scholarships. And the day after the final episode (which airs August 11), the U of M's Nash Gallery will hold an opening reception for an exhibition of student work curated by Mendenhall.(4 Comments)
Posted at 5:59 PM on August 4, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Theater
This year's Fringe Festival runs August 5 - 15.
Each year the Fringe Festival rolls in to the Twin Cities, and each year thousands of theater-goers are bowled over by all the choices they face. To help you figure out what's new and different this year, the MPR Arts Unit put together a look at emerging trends in this year's offerings. You can find it here.
Of course, the Fringe Festival's website is an excellent resource for all your planning needs, giving you the ability to browse shows by venue, time and title (according to the new feature "Fringe tracks" Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak plans to attend "EWOCS do it in 10 minutes" because "this collection of 10-minute plays fits my attention span").
In addition, you may want to strategize your plan of attack... City Pages' Quinton Skinner has some useful tips for you.
In addition, if you want to get the word on the street about what's hot and what's not, pay a visit to Bedlam Theatre in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, which for the next eleven days plays the role of "Fringe Central." There Fringers hang out, trade reviews, and get the scoop on how to spend their precious time for the remaining week.
FYI - I'll be at Bedlam Theatre Friday night to take down some of those reviews, and you'll be able to read them here first thing Saturday morning.