By Katiuscia O’Brian
I am back. Not just at The Tavern for Fine Arts, an amazing new space that has been a hotbed of literary, musical, and painted art as of late, but back to attending venues and artistic moments of literary exposure in the St. Louis scene. This time, to break myself in gently after a few months sojourn, I found myself at a very-hard-to-describe, one-of-a-kind event that is the brainchild of the always fabulous Teya King.
Tall, blonde, high energy and with a commanding and sexy stature, Teya wears many hats: a local Producer, Hostess-with-the-mostest, Talent-wrangler, and Lion Tamer. Not to mention as a result of being a Personal Trainer by day, Teya looks like she could probably do 50 Burpees without breaking out in a sweat. Of course, this makes me feel like I am very much out of shape and I should go run around the block a couple times before indulging in my requisite two glasses of the house Cabernet (they were out of Rosato this time!). With someone like that at the helm, how can you go wrong?!
“So…” is self-described as “Stories of Life Show” that celebrates the art of storytelling. An art form that has been lost upon so many in this day and age of Reality TV shows and iPhones. It must be said it is such a breath of fresh air to see a movement like “So…” that encourages hours of interactive art and camaraderie that requires all of us to turn off our phones, even if just for a couple of hours, and connect with our fellow St. Louisians.
This is done in a myriad of forms – so many it is almost sensory overload, but in a delicious way! Poetry, prose, dance, music, comedy, art, performance. One minute you are watching an amazing poet energetically conveying their kernel of truth and two minutes later, you are moving your chair into a large circle to make way for a burlesque dancer, who, if you are lucky, might practically fall into your lap.
May’s theme was “The Straw and the Camel’s back” – completely up for interpretation by each and every artist that performed. First in line was a long distance featured poet was Jean DeLarm-Neri, a gifted poet and graduate of the Fairfield, Connecticut MFA program.
This is just another eclectic and neat aspect of this monthly event: folks from around the country can submit their work to be read by Teya herself. Shortly after that great start, we were amazed with the literary works of STL’s own Aja La’Starr, Michael D. Sullivan and Susan Trowbridge Adams – who all took turns reading their poetry.
I was personally touched by Aja La’Starr poems from her collection “Refuge.” “Alone in a crowded room,” which was about depression and really captured what it feels like to be surrounded by those you love and yet be completely alone and misunderstood. “I love you like music” was a collection of well-known hip hop songs woven together into a stream of consciousness work. Loved it! And finally “Revelation” – another work about moving through depression with such amazing lines like “I wanted to live but life seems distant to me” and “I am the creator of my own barriers, my mind is my own battlefield”. In her words, I could relate to the same issues, the same troubles, the same yearning for love not just from within, but from others. Many artists, especially writers, suffer from depression in their lives and it was refreshing to hear her openly speak about wrangling with her own demons, which also makes her a better writer.
I also really enjoyed Susan Trowbridge Adam’s work. She was the most animated reader of the night: Raw. Her view of the world is amazing and very unique; drawing from her very essence the energy, the emotion, the intensity of her truth. I highly recommend grabbing one of her many books available online. My favorite poem of hers was “Stuffed camel” which was an emotional inspiration from a recipe book – she basically describes what a Turducken is, in a rather over-the–top, comical way. “Say my name,” “I have not yet evolved,” and “Date Stamp” were some of the many amazing poems with which we were graced.
The last featured local poet, Michael D. Sullivan, was a delight to observe. Tall, gangly, with long blonde hair with a striking brown hat with a tall feather stuck on the side. He spoke of his “last straw” with his father. He wrote the poem as a “goodbye” to his father, to detach with love from an unhealthy, abusive relationship, entitled “Words never actually say anything”. My favorite poem of his was “Drink water, Pee water.” Unusual, fun, and just made me giggle the whole way through.
The featured performers were dancer Zizi Valenti and locally well-known burlesque performer Ginger Bangalore. Zizi performed two dance pieces: one was sensual belly dance better known as the “Camel” dance. She chose this to represent how after many years of performing ballet at high levels, she suffered through a “final straw” with dancing, and found belly dancing as her expression. Her second piece was more of a performance art with dissonant music playing as she made very slow and deliberate moves, in honor of those who suffer at the hands of Big Oil companies. After each of their performances and/or storytelling, they then stood on a small box near the sketcher tables and posed for the audience for all the sketch artists in attendance (who’ll be telling their own stories through their sketches). After Zizi’s second performance, the audience was encouraged to pour ink on her to express how we felt about the injustice. I decided to give her a “teardrop”, which was how I interpreted how she was really feeling.
In a raw moment of storytelling that really stuck out for me, juxtaposed right smack in the middle of the show’s timeline, one of the burlesque performers Ginger Bangalore chose to not dance, but to tell her story. And what a story it was. Childhood lost, regained, and spiritual growth in such a young promising woman that, sadly, can often only come from the most troubled of pasts. To hear the rawness, the straw on her camel’s back, you can see how sharing her story empowered not only her, but those in the audience as well. She finished her performances with a new, never performed Burlesque piece that was sensual, fun, and intimate.
During that performance piece, there was a shared connection that weaved through all of us that night, where we all shared that moment in our own way. That is when I really understood what Teya King is creating in this space – a real performance art that is a culmination of the cacophony of smaller, but decidedly not insignificant parts, of everyone there. Not just the performers. Not just the poets. Not just the sketchers. Not just the audience. All of us as a whole.
Are you looking to hear, see, sense, be part of the art in an intimate, safe space? If “So…”, what are you waiting for?! Those interested in submitting stories to be read on their webcast are encouraged to do so by sending a brief synopsis of their story, along with contact info to Teya King at So.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “So…” Stories of Life Show takes place the second Wed of each month at the Tavern of Fine Arts in Saint Louis.
June’s feature poet of this month is Ken Kase as well as an amazing support cast of literary performers! And this month there will be audience participation! Come join in the fun and you can vote on the best story of the night – the winner takes home $50 and goes on to compete in our year-end Story Slam Championship for a chance to win $500!
Don’t forget, this show is intended for MATURE, open-mined audiences. It’s raw, unscripted, uncensored and REAL. Doors open at 6 PM. Seating is cabaret style with sketching tables available upon request!
Oh did I mention “So…” is also a monthly webcast? So if you can’t make it in person, be sure to check it out online.