The performance by the Get-Lit Players, teen poets, is another unique and stellar offering from The Actors” Gang and co-sponsored by LA Weekly in the WTF?! Series.
The troupe studies and recites classic poems and then writes responses, which are showcased in explosive, live shows. It is a writing program for at-risk teens from 13 to 19 years-old in Los Angeles with 75% of these teens being Title 1, who face school dropout rates of up to 70%.
In 2008 in Washington, D. C. they scored in the Top Ten kids in the world at the Brave New Voices International Teen Poetry Slam. The group’s Thursday night show in Culver City was kicked off by Azure Antoinette, the Artistic Director, who has been with the program from the beginning. She read a very powerful poem that set the bar at a high level, which the young poets deftly achieved.
As a Santa Monica College professor who teaches the lyrics of Tupac Shakur, Immortal Technique and Eminem in my literature class, I offered the performance as extra credit.
Of my 22 students, 14 attended. Each thanked me for the opportunity to hear the poets. One of them, Kathy Han , wrote in her review, “ My mere intention of attending The Actors’ Gang was to get extra credit. I honestly did not expect much from it, but I was so inspired by just looking at the teenagers who are so passionate about poetry. Not only are they talented, but they also were sincere and genuine about what they write and perform as well as engaging the audience into their performance. I could not believe that they were just teenagers. Besides the fun parts there were also poems that made me completely emotional and got me thinking.”
The poets are: Jazmine Williams, Jordan Jace, Dario Serrano, Ryan Jafar, Briauna Taylor, Niraali Pandiri and Yasi Ellie.
My student, Alexandria Arnold, wrote, “The young teen, Jazmine, spoke about a girl on a bus who is an outcast and the joke of her school because she was not attractive. The other kids would make fun of her because of her appearance. I liked how Jasmine could speak so well that I was able to picture the entire scene she was talking about.”
According to my student, Kim Wai Ip, “In particular one of the performers, a cute 13-year-old boy, Jordan Jace, who wrote a poem about his dad, was a definite wonder kid. The way he performed poetry and put unpredictable humor into his words really made the night memorable. These teens can use these skills to successfully navigate the challenges they face and better prepare for college. This is a good contribution to our society. “
Dario Serrano wrote the poem that could be the mantra for these economic times with the clever line, “Money and I ain’t as close as we used to be.” Daniel also presented a poem about video game playing with ”World of Warcraft”, and Daniel, Jazmine and Jason rapped a poem about “My Space”, “Facebook”, “Twitter” and texting punctuated by the word “Send”. In the poem they uncovered the alienation and isolation that underlies teens writing and posting photos on social networks about the most minute parts of their lives, and yet the deep, hurtful, vulnerable parts are kept hidden under a veneer of social activity.
Samson Lui wrote, “They used facial expressions and body movements to make it feel interesting. This performance was excellent.”
Rounding out the group of poets and contributing to the multi-cultural diversity were Ryan Jafar, an excellent rapper whose family is originally from Bangladesh, Briauna Taylor, who moved to Los Angeles from Utah a few months ago and Niraali Pandiri whose family is originally from India.
As the shortest person on stage there was a running joke about Yasi Ellie moving the mic up and down. Her recitations included a Sci fi poem and a monologue of a Broadway actress with the line “I demand a role.’ She has been with the program the longest, beginning at Fairfax High when she was a junior and is now a student at Santa Monica College.
More comments from my students included Vicky Alvarez’s words, “The experience was something new and wonderful to me. I never expected that there would be such young poets with wonderful writing and imagination.”
Every teacher wants to hear the words of Samson Lui, “ I used to think literature was boring, but these students changed my mind, and I was wrong.”
Eugene Lam said, “I think the organization develops the movement with so much passion and hope. They made me think of their performance again and again. They made the poems funny and personal, so the audience could easily relate to their thoughts.”
The young poets were so inspiring that several members of the audience went to the stage to perform their own words. Diane Lane, the Founder and Executive Director, says, “Our kids are great writers but also are special and different because they are the only classical teen poetry troupe in the country—the only ones bringing the classics to life and inspiring their peers to read. We have merged with CA Poet Laureate, Carol Muske-Dukes and her Magic Poetry Bus(an online source of “pro-active poetry” which provides techniques for learning and loving poems).”
As evidenced by my students’ reactions the Get-Lit Players can change minds through the power of poetry.