« on: May 22, 2008, 04:54:17 PM »
Dear Slam Family,
Providence will not be sending a team to NPS 2008:
Providence got 2 wins at our North-Beast "Win & You're In Bout" and re-certified as a venue months ago, but we will not be competing at Nationals this year. Our six person staff voted unanimously in February to sit this one out. There are multiple reasons, but I'll summarize before we go any further:
1. Our venue seems to have a scrape with the rules every year. Whether it's because we haven't taken the time to learn all the rules or because we disagree with them, it's time for the directing staff of the Providence Poetry Slam and the poetry community centered around our reading at AS220, to reconsider whether it's right for us to continue entering this Tournament on an annual basis.
2. It is the perception of our staff that "poems" written for "Poetry Slam" have come into their own and are now the dominant force at the National Poetry Slam. For whatever reasons, the type of performance art that makes the hair stand up on the backs of our necks, the type that makes us feel joyfully sick to our stomachs, the type with writing that stinks of hours and hours of revision and guts, have become increasingly less and less competitive/successful over the years. It's gotten to the point where the work presented on Finals Stage in 1999 and 2000 do not even seem like they came from the same genre of performance art that produced the work presented on Finals Stage in 2006 and 2007. We have the utmost respect for how much everyone's poetry means to them personally, for the hard work and dedication PSI has invested in the integrity of this Tournament/Movement, and for the heart of the Slam Family in general, but we are choosing to withdraw our art for the time being in order to process our feelings and gather our strength.
The Mandatory Orientation Rule:
Last year, one of our Team Members didn't get into Austin till Tuesday evening, missing the latest Orientation. The Year before, late Orientation was on Wednesday, but this year the Tournament began on Monday, so naturally it was pushed back a day. Our team member had gotten an offer to perform at a non-slam event in California and was willing to save Providence Slam money by flying there early so that we could pay for a round trip from Cali. to Austin instead of Providence to Austin and back. Waiting on confirmation for his other ticket led us to booking the Austin ticket separately. In the rush, I forgot that Final Orientation would be moved up a day. This is completely my fault and not that of the Tournament Organizers, nor that of Exec Boards.
Sadly, I didn't make the connection till we were already in Austin. As soon as I realized, I went to explain the situation and was directed to an E.C. representative. I was told that missing Orientation meant MISSING ORIENTATION, and that anyone who missed would not be able to perform. Fair enough. It's a big Tournament. And a ridiculous amount of work goes into it. I was deeply disappointed but accepted that the rules couldn't bend in this situation. I then made it clear that it was Team Providence's intention to forfeit our second bout by having our team member read in the final round; also, that we'd alert the manager and host of our bout, so that every thing was known and out in the open. At this point, I was told that such a move would compromise the integrity of the Tournament and could be viewed as a very serious a offense; followed by the caveat that decertification of our venue could be a possible outcome were we to follow through on our decision to forfeit the bout in this manner.
Myself, our three other team members, and both our coaches went to Orientation - 5 out of our 6. At Orientation, I became aware of more than 5 teams who just sent their Coach or Slam Master. The Coach or Slam Master simply waited in line at the end of Orientation, falsely verified that their team was there, and then got all their passes, bags, etc. We could have easily lied about our missing team member not being present, as others had chosen to do. Easily. We chose not to. Out of respect for both the Exec Board and PSI's regard for the rules and integrity of the Tournament.
Being afraid of decertification was not a factor in our decision to not throw our Team Member who missed Orientation. We had a Team meeting, and two things were established: (1) Exec Board had so many things on its plate and had done so much work, that out of respect for them, we would act against as it was in our hearts to act, and not disqualify ourselves. Which meant refraining from sending up the Team member we believed would best represent the integrity and craft of our venue, to read in the spot that he had earned through an entire season of slamming and months of Team practice. (2) The Team member being referred to refused to read even if we decided otherwise; explaining that reading one poem wasn't worth the risk of getting our venue decertified; and if it was, he wouldn't be the one to do it.
So we went against our gut and put it to rest for the moment.
Later, Oneonta would win the Spirit of Slam Award for breaking the rules in a similar way; albeit we like the way they did it better; getting an entire Team on stage in their slot!! From what I understand, making Semi's was a long shot for them, and they didn't realize that they could be seriously penalized for such a move, but it was a beautiful gesture... and we think it's a testament to what the Slam Family thinks is deserving of its award for Spirit. Do we think Oneonta should be penalized? NO. Are we disappointed in ourselves for not doing what was in our hearts to do? YES. Plain and simple: We know better, and in a sense, Team Providence taking its pieces off the NPS board for a year is part of our own self-imposed punishment for compromising our beliefs and not doing what we knew to be the right thing.
Team Member made to read Grandmother's obituary in order to compete:
In 2006, our Grand Slam Champ's Grandmother passed away during the weekend before the Tournament. With the wake and the funeral, he could not fly in before Orientation closed. We made our case, and E.C. made a special exception: that if he brought in the Funeral Bill, he would be allowed to skip Orientation and compete. It was our inclination to say, "No thanks – if the Family had this to vote on, we're sure they'd vote in our favor, and if you don't agree, that's fine with us, but no funeral bill will be presented." But he decided personally, that it'd be wrong to miss the event over such a disagreement, so he decided to go through with it. He was not only made to present the Funeral Bill upon arrival to NPS but also to actually read parts of his grandmother’s obituary to the E.C. over the phone en route to the airport from her funeral. Not the end of the world. Not trying to demonize administrative choices; just clarifying – HE HAD TO READ HIS GRANDMOTHER'S OBITUARY TO THE E.C. IN THE CAR ON HIS WAY BACK FROM THE FUNERAL IN ORDER TO COMPETE. He went straight from the airport to the venue, where our bout manager explained the rules of the slam and actually made a joke about poets "trying to get around the rules by complaining that their grandmothers had died." Obviously, and hopefully, this was an unintended coincidence and not a personal attack. But it did happen, and nonetheless, was an extremely unfortunate and insulting thing to have heard. In our opinion, it speaks volumes about the wisdom of some of these rules.
The fact is, there’s a big difference between the code of conduct and being at a mandatory orientation: the first is important; the second is subjective. If a team or team member decides to break the code of conduct, it will be something they decide to do willingly. There is nothing in a short Orientation that 4 team mates and a coach cannot accurately convey to a missing performer; if the performer then breaks the code, they should be penalized, personally, as E.C. deems fit, whether they missed Orientation or not. Do we think Orientation, as it's currently run cuts down on breeches of conduct? No. Its inception may have reduced the number of protests lodged, and we applaud that if it has, but none of our scrapes have anything to do with a bout protest. Never the less, it's E.C.'s rule. And E.C.'s job. And E.C.'s decision to uphold it. We can either respect those choices or take ourselves out of the equation until we are prepared to do so.
Opening Ceremonies 2004:
In 2004, Team Providence performed an anti-torture street theater during opening ceremonies. We crafted it around the stipulated presentation of a poem in "Limerick" form. One teammate read a limerick and the others presented a piece of performance art. It was graphic and serious, as it was supposed to be. There were moments of unintended partial nudity, as we were trying to make it as real as possible. We had thought that the event would be indoors and just for the Family as it had been in years past, but decided not to call it off when we found that it was in a public space. It wasn't for shock value or to be risqué; it was done in the spirit of the American Antiwar Movement and in solidarity with all prisoners of war. This type of street theater, in light of making it as real as possible, is best when the audience does not get to see the performers out of character; so as planned, we left quickly afterward to change and regroup.
Shortly after, we were called in by the E.C. for questioning. We were made to feel as though we had done something nearly UNFORGIVABLE. This private session had the feel of a legal tribunal, and it seemed to many of the Providence entourage present that the E.C. may have been collecting information to present to the St. Louis authorities, should they decide to press charges. This air of judgment and disdain was clearly noticeable in every member of those questioning us, except for Danny Solis, who not only seemed to act as an unofficial mediator, but in all likelihood prevented the immediate banning of Team Providence from NPS 2004 that E.C. seemed set on enacting. Instead, we were put on probation with the stipulation that any further breech of conduct (intended or unintended) would result in venue decertification and unspecified years of being banned from any PSI event or Tournament. And we guess that with the whole community to think about, they were right to cover their bases. But it’s the way things were framed and the manner in which our consequences were conveyed that has left a bad taste that remains even now, four years later. We believed in the piece of art that we created as an expression, and in our right to present it in our Intro Slot, as a representation of Team Providence. There was not even the slightest acknowledgement of that. It was 100% reprimand and delegation of punishment.
The Family was never briefed on what happened; and to this day, people come up to members of that Team and other members of the Providence community at Nationals or at venues throughout the country, thinking that our performance that day was a nonsensical stunt where Team Providence got naked onstage and had a peanut butter-slinging fight. And for anyone who has ever come up to one of us recounting the story as though it was a good ole' "ha ha, remember the time when...?" type of thing, and then been surprised by the serious face and an absence of any reciprocal smile, this is why. It wasn't a joke, and there is nothing funny about torture or the idea that the long history of street theater in the American antiwar movement is a valid and effective method of direct action.
There are more instances than these.
The bottom line is that if we don't believe in the Rules of the Tournament, or how they are enforced, then maybe we shouldn't be at Nationals every year. We have an extremely reactionary nucleus of senior community members at Providence Slam and that's not changing anytime soon; the next generation in the process of taking over our community is every bit as defiant as we are, and in all probability, MORE likely to run into these types of differences. Maybe for us, it should be a special thing that we do once every other year... or only during years when we've got all our members committed to every part of the event. We haven't decided yet, but we are going to take at least a year off to talk, relax, and process.
Providence is committed to keeping our venue certified and remaining a contributing member of this Family. We normally use most or all of our budget paying for NPS and Youth Nationals, and do not have much left over to send a rep to Slam Masters'. This year, we will use some of those funds to take an even larger group of youth out to the Brave New Voices Festival and maybe pay for some special, established literary poets to feature at Providence Slam this Fall. We are also committed to maintaining the proper funds to send at least one, if not two reps to Slam Masters' Meeting in 2009. More than likely, it will be me taking and introducing Omar Reyes, who is now the official Slam Master in training for Providence Slam. I have not been on the PSI Message Forum General Discussion or Slam Masters' Forum anywhere near as much as I'd like to; it's always been our plan to have 2 or 3 of us scanning those boards to keep abreast of what's going on. We hope to do our duty and be more involved in these areas in the future.
It's unclear who or how many of the Providence community will be at NPS this year as spectators or volunteers, but we would like to wish everyone the best of luck. We have the highest regard for the love and sweat PSI has invested in the maintenance of our national movement, for the time and effort the Madison/Milwaukee communities have devoted to make this happen, and for the work and heart all the writers and respective venue staffs have put in to get their teams ready for NPS 2008.
With respect and love,
The Providence Poetry Slam:
Jared Paul, Slam Master
Omar Reyes, Slam Master in Training
Laura Murphy, Coach 2006 & 2007/Voting Staff Member
Alan Hague, Co-host & Voting Staff Member
Tom Inhaler, Voting Staff Member 2004-2006
Bernard Dolan, Grand-Slam Champ 2002 & 2003
Kevin Barry, Grand-Slam Champ 2006
Carlos Andres-Gomez, Team 2004
Paul Graham, Team 2006
Shamusideen Onikoyi, Jr.- Prov Staffer