“F*** the scores!” came as a collective war-cry from the teen competitors just before the results were announced at the Slam U Finals on Friday evening.
Not usually a sentiment heard at a competition of any kind, especially not from the competitors.
Part sporting event, part theatrical production, part concert, the Slam U competition felt like anything but your average poetry reading as audience arriving at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre were greeted by DJ Urban Decks on stage, spinning hip-hop tracks before the competition.
Emcee Rafael Santiago Casal, an internationally-recognized performer, warmed up the crowd, getting the audience to “practice” their snap-and-scream and tossing freebie ball-caps—sporting-event style—into the crowd.
But the main event, of course, was the teen poets.
Over the course of three weeks, the Slam U competition whittled down a field of 54 teens to the six who will represent Cleveland at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival this summer in Los Angeles. The final 16 teens competed in three rounds on Friday.
Early in the evening, the audience heard pieces about love and relationships, dreams, and even one, by Adrian Watson, for his mother on Mother’s Day. As the evening grew later, heavier topics emerged: racial injustice, sexual equality, rape, drugs, abortion, suicide, and one teen, Alana Belle, performed a surprising piece about the Imperial Avenue murders. Though many poems were more world-weary than the teens’ ages betrayed, humor was present as well. Jacob Oet drew chuckles from the audience in the first two rounds, as did Lee McKinstry in a piece about a trip to the Grand Canyon with her father.
After each performance, a poet’s fellow competitors jumped up to offer hugs. When a performer stumbled or lost the line, the other competitors would snap and shout an encouraging, “You’ve got it, you’ve got it…” And the five judges scored the competition in silence, never announcing the scores, but only the names of those moving to the next round. Truly, the friendliest fellowship of “competitors” in any “sport”.
F*** the scores, indeed.
Congratulations to Cleveland’s 2010 team: Alana Belle, Derick Holifield, Maya Jones, Arianna McCall, Lee McKinstry, and Eric Odum.
If you missed the competition, you can still catch the 2010 Slam U Team Showcase Performance on July 15, 2010, at 7pm at Playhouse Square’s Westfield Insturance Studio Theatre, Idea Center.