No Man’s Land
Written and Performed by Beau Sia, James Kass, Paul Flores and Marc Bamuthi Joseph
Directed by Kamilah Forbes
Technical & Lighting Director Christopher Studley
Spoken word poet Beau Sia—with collaborators James Kass, Paul Flores, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, all long-time instructors and mentors for Youth Speaks—explored archetypal, cross-cultural and contemporary concepts of manhood through a spoken word theater piece. The finished work was presented at ODC Theater in San Francisco on September 20 and 21, 2002. The first night featured the full production, and the second presented excerpts followed by poetic responses from teenaged poets who participate in Youth Speaks programs. The collaborators intend to continue developing this work, entitled No Man’s Land, for future presentation.
While No Man’s Land marked a new direction for the poets and for Youth Speaks, the collaborators wrote at the outset, “We present this proposal as artists unable to separate ourselves from our roles as activists, organizers, and educators…we hope to engage in a collaborative learning experience.”
Youth Speaks has become a leading Bay Area platform for developing and presenting spoken word poetry. Its founder and Executive Director James Kass, instructor/mentor Paul S. Flores and Program Director Marc Bamuthi Joseph have dedicated significant effort to developing it as a cultural, educational, and leadership development program for San Francisco Bay Area youth. In creating No Mans Land, these three poets collaborated with another dynamic spoken word artist, Beau Sia, and “turned the tables” on their usual process. Rather than teaching and mentoring teenaged artists, over an 18-month period they developed their own spoken word material and in the final six months sought criticism, production ideas, and support from the teenagers. In the project’s final stages, Kamilah Forbes, director of the New York Hip Hop Festival, helped them to shape No Man’s Land into an integrated theatrical presentation.
All four collaborating artists are young (aged 25-32), and each comes from a different cultural background. Lead artist Beau Sia is a Chinese-Filipino literary performance artist, poet, and author, originally from Oklahoma who arrived in San Francisco after achieving critical success in New York City, at the Sundance Film Festival, and on the National Poetry Slam Stage. Shortly before the premiere of No Man’s Land, Sia appeared in Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam at Theater on the Square in San Francisco. Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a first generation Haitian-American who moved from a childhood on television screens and Broadway stages to stints with the Senegalese National Ballet and to becoming a National Poetry Slam Champion. Paul S. Flores is a Mexican-Cuban-Serbian novelist, performance poet who grew up on the border towns of Tijuana/San Diego and formed Los Delicados, a traveling Latino Poetry Troupe. Flores produces events at La Peña Cultural Center and—as part of a different Creative Work Fund grant—published his first novel, Along the Border Lies with Zyzzyva. James Kass grew up in New York, a descendant of the Jewish intellectual scene. He is a fiction writer and poet who founded and directs Youth Speaks. He also chaired the (Inter)National Youth Poetry Slam & Festival Executive Committee, and co-authored the teacher’s Resource Book and CD-ROM Brave New Voices – Spoken Word in the Classroom.
Their hope was, as four men from these differing backgrounds, to dissect maleness in a fresh, intimate, and honest manner. Working from the premise that each of them had been nominated for the “New Millennium Man Arts Residency,” the writers worked with concepts of competition and definition of what “makes a man” in today’s multicultural America. The collaborators played with the idea of this “Millennium Man” award as a way to ask, “What in our personal and cultural histories has brought us together in the early 21st Century” How do we model a new paradigm of maleness for the youth that we mentor?” A further project goal was to produce a different kind of spoken word performance. Rather than a series of poets each presenting 10-20 minutes of his work, they wanted to weave their narratives together so that their voices were distinct yet layered--directly challenging, supporting, and conversing with one another.
Founded in 1996, Youth Speaks fosters development of the spoken-word poetry genre and support systems for young poets who previously have not been invited to develop and present their voices to the public. The organization’s philosophy is that creative writing should be presented to young people as a socially functional skill, one that creates avenues toward building relationships and cohesiveness among social groups. Youth Speaks has created significant opportunities for spoken word artists—from participating in the Bay Area Book Festival, Second Sundays, and the Bringing the Noise Reading Series, to Brave New Voices: The (Inter)National Youth Poetry Slam Festival. Acknowledged leaders in the field, Youth Speaks and The Living Word Project have been major players behind the rise of poetry/spoken-word literary arts.