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Whether your taste in poetry leans towards imports or domestics, Savannah’s spoken word scene is offering an array of top shelf performers during two very different events this weekend.

 

SPEAKING BEAN SLAM FAREWELL EVENT

The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, presenting its final monthly Speaking Bean Slam on Thursday night, offers two featured out of town performers.

In December, the Speaking Bean’s emcee, Decatur, Ga., singer/songwriter and spoken word artist Kodac Harrison will hand over the mic to new host Rushelle Frazier. Thursday’s Speaking Bean will be the final event with that name.

“To end our run with a real bang,” Harrison says he will perform a longer-than-usual warm-up prior to the open mic portion of the evening, and has invited critically acclaimed Jonida Beqo, aka “Gypsee Yo,” as the featured artist for this farewell celebration.

Gypsee Yo is a 25-year-old writer and actor being imported to Savannah from Albania -- by way of her current home in Atlanta. She came to the United States seven years ago as an international college student majoring in theater.

Her one-woman show “Sinners and Saints: The Women I Know”, won a Dell’Arte Diversity Award in 2004 from the American College Theatre Festival and the Kennedy Center for the Arts.

Although Speaking Bean host Harrison is a resident of Decatur, it’s hard to apply the “out-of-towner” label to the Georgia native who has performed off and on in Savannah over the last two decades.

A longtime singer songwriter who has toured nationally and internationally, Harrison in recent years has turned many an original song lyric into a moving spoken word piece, and vice versa.

In June of 2004, Harrison launched the Speaking Bean Slam at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, serving as emcee, performer, coordinator of featured performers and poets, and on-stage creativity mentor for the slam participants and aspiring writers in the crowd.

Harrison’s gravelly Southern voice seasoned each open mic showcase with a rich Southern flavor, before turning the stage over to artists reflecting a smorgasbord of styles, influences, and origins.

“I’m especially impressed by the diversity of the people [Harrison] brought in to feature,” says Kelli Pearson, owner of the Sentient Bean. “His mission is to bring in people from diverse backgrounds, a whole range of voices from the poetry scene.”

Harrison has showcased performers as varied as Rosemary Daniell, Mary Chi, and Corey Hopps of local spoken word/hip hop group A.W.O.L. during the Speaking Bean’s one-and-a-half year run.

Harrison first met Gypsee Yo when she signed up to fill a last-minute open mic slot at the Java Monkey Speaks event earlier this year.

“I heard her do one piece,” says Harrison. “Based on that piece I asked her to come back the next week as the featured performer. She blew the place away. She got a standing ovation in the middle of her performance. We’ve had standing ovations before but never in the middle of the performance.”

Gypsee Yo began performing spoken word when she moved to Atlanta from Alabama this past April. “I’ve always been a poet,” she says, “but there is a difference between being a poet and a spoken word artist.”

She sees spoken word as an opportunity to integrate poetry and theater. “With spoken word, the emotional reward is much more intense because of the amount of connection you have with the audience which you don’t have in theater. With poetry you don’t really know what they think of your work on the printed page. This is really the best of both worlds.”

For her Savannah performance, Gypsee Yo will perform “some eclectic works, not with one theme in mind as much as a representation of what I care about. I definitely worry a lot about women’s issues, both for women living in the United States and outside. It’s a luxury that I have that I can look at problems universally. I can see that some problems persist regardless of culture or socio-economic status.”

The new host of the Speaking Bean event, Rushelle Frazier, will likely make an appearance onstage on Thursday. The Worcester, Mass., native who has made Savannah her home for the past year has been writing poetry and performing spoken word for nearly 10 years, has published two chapbooks, and was a member of the 2002 Worcester Slam Team that competed in the national slam competition.

Frazier hopes to spread the word nationally about the burgeoning spoken word audience in Savannah. “There is a community here. I think we need to get that out to the touring poets who don’t have a stop between Washington, D.C. and Orlando.”

Outgoing host Harrison notes that the slam, or competitive portion of the event may be eliminated on Thursday due to time constraints, but performance artists of every stripe are encouraged to sign up for the non-competitive open mic portion off the evening.

A.W.O.L. PRESENTS 'URBAN JOURNALISM'

For spoken word buffs with a taste for domestic fare, this Saturday’s presentation from All Walks of Life, Inc. (AWOL) is sure to be a palate pleaser. “Urban Journalism” is written by locals, performed by locals, and squarely confronts conditions affecting Savannah teens.

Conceived and directed by local spoken word artist Corey Hopps, “Urban Journalism” is “a play with poetic twists” according to Tony Jordan, one of AWOL’s founders who will perform a portion of the show, and who also serves as the president of the organization. In all, eight performers, including two youth members, have roles in the show.

The piece “talks about urban issues here in Savannah — poverty, education, racism, and socioeconomic issues in this city,’ said Jordan.

The play is a series of spoken word performances presented in the format of a news broadcast, with each performer serving as a news reporter. “Everybody is responsible for writing his own piece,” says Jordan.

“Corey writes all of the individual sections together. I will be a street reporter, interviewing a woman from the audience.” The show will also feature a weatherman, assessing the climate of the Savannah community.

Saturday’s performance of “Urban Journalism” is a fundraiser to support AWOL’s upcoming hip hop history exhibition and performance at the SPACE Gallery in February. The City of Savannah has provided AWOL with a grant for the February exhibit, but the award requires a 50 percent funding match.

AWOL has been a part of Savannah’s cultural scene since 1997 when they became the first registered hip hop and spoken word group on the campus of Savannah State University. Like Tony Jordan, some of those initial student members are still AWOL members who have remained in Savannah, establishing professional careers and family lives. AWOL served as the launching pad for many local spoken word artists including Renazance and Clinton Powell of the Spitfire Poetry Group, who regularly host spoken word events for youth and adults around Savannah.

Future plans for AWOL include establishment of a cultural center for youth that will utilize spoken word, hip hop, and theater as vehicles for “empowering people through art,” said DaVena Jordan, chairman of the AWOL board of directors.

Adults are encouraged to bring young people age nine and older to Saturday’s performance. For the price of admission, ticket holders will be able to see the play and also attend a wine and hors d’ouvres reception, including a juice bar for kids.

 

The Speaking Bean Slam is Thurs., Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at The Sentient Bean Coffehouse, 13 East Park Avenue. Admission is free, but a hat will be passed during Gypsee Yo performance.

Urban Journalism, presented by AWOL, Inc., happens Sat., Nov. 12

8–10 p.m. Doors open at 7:45 p.m.

Allure Hair Salon, 7010 Skidaway Road

Admission is $10 adults, $5 youth (recommended for age 9 and over)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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