In my early 20s I gravitated to spoken word and slam poetry venues in search of a space where artistic expression merged with conversations on intersecting systems of oppression. My performance pieces were deep, heavy, and dismal. Now a full-time graduate student in my mid-20s, I thought I'd dabble in a different style of personal narrative. Where spoken word is often accompanied with dim lights, souls etched on folded papers or smart-phones, and ubiquitous snaps, storytelling is traditionally more light. However, my particular affiliation with SpeakeasyDC was one laced with stories that consciously pushed the boundaries of cultural expression. "Named the “gold standard” in storytelling by the Washington Post, voted one of the top 3 open mics in DC by the Washington City Paper, and nominated for the 2012 DC Mayor's Arts Awards for Innovation in the Arts, SpeakeasyDC has been selling out concert halls and theaters and blazing a trail for contemporary autobiographical storytelling in the DC area since 1997". The SpeakeasyDC aesthetic presents a standard open-mic act where a performer stands rigidly upright in front of a mic. Is storytelling, then, doomed to be disembodied? How much leverage do words have over bodily performance? How might performers incorporate aspects of embodied performance without distracting away from the SpeakeasyDC genre? Throughout the semester, our class contested bodily inflexibility and experimented with interactive storytelling styles.
On the night of May 11th, 14 students gathered to debut their first SpeakeasyDC storytelling performance. After a busy spring semester learning the tactics, rules, and styles of the SpeakeasyDC genre, our class confidently took the stage and entertained the audience with stories about citizenship, childhood, love, sports, travel and cultural identity. I was nuzzled in the middle of the show, right before intermission. My story threaded the concept of defense to overarching themes of mixedness, harassment, and ambiguity. It was a blast!