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Dramatic Readings 

The Poets Theater Jubilee brings verse to the stage

Wednesday, Jan 23 2002
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Legend has it that Allen Ginsberg's career officially began in October 1955 with his groundbreaking reading of "Howl" at the former Six Gallery. The unprecedented performance not only established the Bay Area as a prime destination for "wanna-beats," but also launched the spoken word tradition that continues today. That tradition comes alive this month with the Poets Theater Jubilee, which began last weekend at the Jon Sims Center and continues at two other San Francisco locations.

Few people remember that back in the day, a thriving poets' theater was an essential part of the literary scene. Local poet Kevin Killian became fascinated with the stage 20 years ago, when he saw an experimental work by Carla Harryman. He explains, "It was so much fun that I said, "We should be doing this all the time.'" Since then he has been involved with the ongoing Poets Theater in the Bay Area, an informal group of bards who stage plays a few times a year. This year, the Poets Theater program expanded to become the Jubilee, featuring 10-minute one-acts and longer works along with a panel discussion.

Not only a forum for staging the written word, the event is also an opportunity for hermetic writers to practice a little team spirit. As Killian says, "Being a poet's a lonely job, because you're working by yourself. Collaborating [on a play] is a good way to push the envelope and get outside yourself." In addition, working on the stage allows poets to bring their words to life in ways that reading them out loud doesn't.

So why see a poem onstage, when you can see a play designed specifically for theater? "I don't suppose there's any difference," Killian admits, "except that you don't have to use real actors. For me, it's the language that comes first. The amateurishness brings the language to the forefront."

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David Cook

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