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August 14, 2011 4:56 PM   Subscribe

(East Coast US filter): Please help me find professional quality spoken word!

This mesmerizing performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda at the White House is basically what I'm searching for (in vain, it seems). I realize that this guy is the crème de la crème of this type of performance art. But surely there is some echelon of performers not too far beneath him that actively practice in certain venues. Where are they on the east coast? As in, what venues?

Let me try to explain where I'm coming from:

I live on the edge of DC, so I'm already well aware of the venues (such as Busboys and Poets, The Fridge, SpeakeasyDC, etc.) that host open mics. Here's the rub: while I'm very appreciative of venues that accommodate this sort of spoken word/oral poetry, I find myself consistently disappointed by the quality of the performances. We're talking cringeworthy amateur stuff that has me squirming in my seat. Not as in "this could use some work", but "these people don't understand the basic principles of oral performance." There's a complete lack of meter, style, rhyme, pacing, etc. Basically everything Miranda's performance isn't. The words of these mostly well-intentioned people often belong to a category that I call "diary rants" or "hallmark creativity". I realize that this all sounds harsh, but my experience tells me that this is what you get from your average open mic performer out there, and clearly I'm looking for something different.

I don't claim to be a master of spoken word or anything. In high school I was a member of the Speech and Debate Club (Forensics), and I would perform something called Dramatic Interpretation at local tournaments. It takes a lot of practice of oral style, compelling material, and a certain charisma. I was moderately successful, and I guess that's why I've cultivated an appreciation for the art and why I possess higher standards.

I'm not even sure that "spoken word" is the right term to use to describe the type of performance art I seek. You could claim it's a somewhat ill-defined art form somewhere in the grey area between stand-up comedy, poetry readings, highbrow hip-hop, storytelling, and oratory. I just want to witness something compelling from someone who isn't relying too heavily on jokes, props, or musical backing. I want to be blown away by unadulterated speech!

Finally, of course I've well aware of Slam Poetry and I do follow it to some extent. I try to make it to the competitions when I'm not beaten to the ticket booth. But again, in my experience, a lot of these performances strike me as impassioned diatribes with clever wordplay at best, and half-baked rants at worst. Occasionally it's really awesome, but performers of that caliber are few and far between. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough. Please help me find them. Thank you!
posted by stroke_count to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you looking for venues or performers? I'm a fan of Canadian Shane Koyczan
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:44 PM on August 14, 2011

I saw Garrison Keillor on stage about 20 years ago, and he was riveting. He still tours; maybe it would be worth a drive to go see him.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2011

have you considered Lin-Manuel Miranda to do an event for you? I would not say it's out of the question. The White House is a "Command Performance", very few people say no (unfortunately Helmut Lotti said yes, and put words to Verdi's Aidi's Victory March for W). Frankly, if you want him, the best thing to do is ask. I would guess that you could get him to do a concert for less than you'd think, especially if, in DC, you held it for charity.
posted by parmanparman at 6:21 PM on August 14, 2011

Check out Baltimore's 5th L, a duo whose members each also have solo careers under the respective names Native Son and Femi the Dri Fish.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:09 PM on August 14, 2011

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