Morgan Purvis-Bellamano

Inside Story of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival

Youth poet laureate on young talent in spoken word, festival offerings and the mayhem of Saturday's one-time collaboration

In the time since the Victoria youth poet laureate took on the role this winter, there have been ups, downs and other times the 20-year-old files under “hilarious and weird.”

Such was the case when Morgan Purvis-Bellamano, a former member of Esquimalt High’s Slam Club and one of the organizers of this week’s Victoria Spoken Word Festival, performed for Victoria city council.

I’m used to really interactive audiences where there’s snapping and cheering – heckling even,” she said.  “At city hall they don’t clap. They just stare blankly in their suits. It’s funny. I said vagina in city hall, which was awesome.”

Purvis-Bellamano is expecting a far higher degree of audience engagement at the fourth annual Victoria Spoken Word Festival, for which she has been heavily involved as the volunteer co-ordinator. The official mandate of the youth poet laureate is to support other youth artists, showcase youth art and advocate for youth issues through art. One step towards achieving those goals could begin with Purvis-Bellamano’s hope to see young people take advantage of student pricing and participate in the festival, which this year includes an afternoon workshop with poet of honour, the folk-punk-accordion poet, Barbara Adler.

The poet is an alumnus of Victorious Voices, a youth spoken word program, facilitated by the Victoria Poetry Project that culminates in an annual slam competition.

“Hands down, every year there are people on that stage who are significantly better than the people end up on the Victoria slam team that competes nationally. The calibre of youth poets in this city is outstanding and often times better than the adults.”

That level of talent springs from high school slam clubs where students have created safe environments to take some serious creative risks. Purvis-Bellamano recalls an early experience she had at Esquimalt high with a young club member, whose father had just died. In preparation for delivering his eulogy, she turned to the club and read it for a group of about 25 students.

“That was a place she felt safe enough. Even to this day, I’m still shocked because high school can be such a horrible, vitriolic place, but in slam club, she felt safe.”

While the poet may have finessed her craft over the last few years, her subject matter has remained as bold as her first slam piece, a commentary on sexual objectification.

“I was kind of a rootin’ tootin’ feminist even back then,” she said. “I think I’ve gotten gentler over time. I used to yell on stage a lot more than I do now, which I think is good. I think I’ve matured as an artist and I hope I’ll continue to do so.”

Part of Purvis-Bellamano’s evolution dovetails nicely with the overarching theme of this year’s festival, Inside Story – which festival director Missie Peters describes as an opportunity for spoken word artists to explore their role as storyteller in our modern culture.

“They are the ones telling stories around the campfire. What does that mean and what does that do?” Peters said. “Often slam poetry comes from a very ‘I’ place. ‘I did this and I did that,’ so I’m trying to get inside – what happens when you talk from a character’s perspective? What happens when you tell a story that’s outside of yourself? There’s so much metaphor inside of story.”

Emerging spoken word artists from across the country perform Wednesday through Saturday at the Metro Studio Theatre (1411 Quadra), where the festival has moved after selling out last year at the smaller Intrepid Theatre Club location. They’ll also be working together at improv, theatre, storytelling, puppetry and physical theatre workshops throughout the week, all with the aim of delving deeper inside story. By Saturday, they’ll be ready to channel their new perspectives into a grand finale showcase, a collaborative one-time spoken word event to follow Adler’s latest offering. Purvis-Bellamano is enthused.

“It shocks me when there’s a single person in the world who doesn’t show up to that show,” she says. “It’s amazing. Last year there were Scrabble bits and playing cards and dominos being thrown into the audience and weird people with toilet brushes on our heads. It’s amazing, brilliant art.”

Victoria Spoken Word Festival

Storytime for Adults – March 5

RC Weslowski’s Victoria debut of his Fringe hit “The Cruelest Phone Book in the World.”

Poeteers! – March 6

Muppeteer Tim Gosley leads the festival ensemble and local puppeteers in a magical collaboration.

Festival Ensemble Showcase – March 7

Hosted by Mike McGee and Dave Morris, the festival ensemble poets perform their best poems.

Inside Story, featuring Barbara Adler – March 8

The finale of the festival features a brand new piece from the ensemble, crafted in only one day. Adler opens the show with new work.

Public Workshop with Barbara Adler –March 9

A one-on-one chance to learn the basics and try spoken word for the first time.

Tickets to the festival start at $10, with full passes at $40, available now through ticketrocket.org. The workshop with Adler comes at a cost of $25 and requires registration. All the details and full lineup available victoriaspokenwordfestival.com.

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