Colorado College’s only student group dedicated to spoken word, SpeakEasy, held a packed performance in the Cornerstone Screening room on Nov. 11. Just three days after the U.S. Presidential Election, poets, dancers, and artists of the troupe took to the stage to express vulnerability, pain, and resistance to the upcoming instatement of President-Elect Donald Trump.
One dancer and a selection of poets, all but one of who were students of color, captivated the crowd which filled every seat in the Screening Room. The performers, sophomore John Henry Williams, junior Miles Lowe, senior Joel-Fisher Katz, first-year Jacqueline T. Nkhonjera, and sophomores Lindumuzi Jabu Ndlovu, Jordan Phinney, and Nomfundo Nodumiso Mcina, tackled themes of intimacy, the fluidity of gender and sex, birth, death, creation, mourning, self-love, showering, and bodies at risk in the U.S. political climate at present.
SpeakEasy performances, which happen every third weekend of a block, always carry a theme that poets and guest artists are invited to draw inspiration from for their pieces. For Block 3, the troupe focused on “The Body,” which president of SpeakEasy, senior Eliza Mott, found more than timely following the election. Working to merge themes of “flux, impermanence, fluidity” and “the erotic, carnal, sensual,” Mott and her collaborators, junior Hollis Schmidt and senior Nia Abram, settled on the theme weeks before the final performance or the election outcome, but the messages shared by the poets were needed more than ever when they were performed.
“[It] ended up being extremely relevant after the election, which really put in harsh light…the great American fact that the body one is born into can really determine so much in how you are treated, valued, and how you experience life,” Mott said. “It is the great human, if not solely American, tragedy that, without any logic, reason, or empathy, the exterior can determine so much for a person.”
SpeakEasy troupe members workshopped original pieces for the performance over the course of the block, with the first week for writing, the second for workshopping, and the third for developing pieces for performance. The poets’ workmanship revealed the emotional, uncensored performances. With words such as, “who’s the master who’s the slave,” and “fatigue is the new Black,” vibrating through the room, both the audience and the performers were forced to confront the deep pain of marginalized people in the U.S.
Speaking to “The Body,” the performance included a guest artist. Choreographer and Dance major, junior Tre Newman, opened the show with a piece choreographed to “Shadow Man” by Chicago rapper Noname. Mott shared that the guest performance, which features a new artist each month, is designed to, “…further a collective understanding of connected-ness in things that are sometimes diametrically different.” In this case, the connection with the physical body and words which represented the bodily experience.
Newman expressed similar sentiments in formulating his work. He discussed his piece, set on a stage smaller than usual for a dance performance, as an expression of a body that does not conform to usual standards of dance in the U.S. “I’m not a typical dancer…I’m in dance technique classes, but I don’t dance like anybody else there.”
Newman and Mott communicated about the piece ultimately being an expression of the black body and the realities people in marginalized bodies face in the political, social, emotional, and metaphysical worlds. For Newman, “Words never did enough for me…every time I move, I move like I’m saying something. When I’m dancing, I’m also speaking, when I’m dancing I’m saying poetry.”
“The Body” created a significant healing space and support for students in the wake of the election results. This kind of responsive action is exactly what Mott, Schmidt, and Abram set out to do when they first envisioned SpeakEasy. As Mott said, “Art makes people feeling the facts of systematic…in a way an academic paper doesn’t. It shakes you. It moves you. It makes you feel and once you feel or emotionally connect with an issue it is difficult to not do something. I hope SpeakEasy is this type of space and produces that type of art and I hope that it makes the performers feel empowered too.”
Students interested in SpeakEasy should contact Eliza Mott for information concerning performing as a guest artist or joining the troupe.