First he had the Blues. Then he had a Boom. Now Thomas W. Jones II gets a Slam!.
No, we're not talking about a psychological profile. Writer and director Jones has long been attempting to musicalize and bring rhythm to the spoken word in his solos The Wizard of Hip and Hip 2: Birth of the Boom. Also the author of Bessie's Blues, Jones has now come up with a blend of music, dance and poetry and created Slam!, which purports to be a cross between a downtown poetry slam and the Savion Glover smash, Bring in `da Noise, Bring in `da Funk.
In Slam!, running June 9-July 11, a group of poets, backed by a live band, will offer their recitations, including being asked to improvise and change the styles of their readings. If that isn't challenging enough, the evening is formatted like a boxing match, with several audience members scoring the poets from one-to-ten.
Featured in Slam! at the Studio's intimate Milton space are Chris Bauer, Chandra Currelley, J. Samuel Davis, Jahi Kearse, Shannon Parks, Yvette Spears, Monroe Thomas and Rahmana Finney. The poetry is all by Jones, written in different voices for characters played by these performers. Padtro [sic] Harris serves as choreographer.
Designing the show are James Kronzer (set), Reggie Ray (costumes), Michael Giannitti (lighting) and Anthony Angelini (sound). As the Studio Theater's press release puts it: "The design team hopes to evoke the method and madness inherent in the act of poetic creation." A co-founder of Atlanta, GA's Jomandi Theater, Jones received a Helen Hayes nomination for staging DC Studios' Seven Guitars.
Asked about the show's New York plans, Jones said the target was April 2000, but he's taking it step by step, starting with DC. "We did the show at Jomandi for $96,000," he told Playbill On-Line (May 10). "The budget is about $125,000 in the Studio Theater, and we're planning for San Diego early in the new year at about $140,000. But the plans after that -- Broadway or whatever -- really won't become clear till after DC."
Asked about the origins of Slam!, Jones said he was thinking in terms of "a jam session with words. Let's put this clash of poetic voices together in one place -- black, white, Latino -- and see how their lives collide. Back drop of jazz and funk music, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian. It has that Noise/Funk feel, but it's for poets rather than tappers. We think we have something new here, in that we're redefining poetic work, less from literary point of view and more from an oral tradition that connects to the community. It's were performance art meets poetry."
For tickets and information on Slam! in DC call (202) 332-3300.
-- By David Lefkowitz