Moving Words

This literary series features performing artists talking about the books that have influenced their work for an audience of area high school students. 651 ARTS provides the books free-of-charge to students who read them in advance of meeting with the artist. The purpose of the program is to use literacy as an access point for contemporary performance work while encouraging reading, critical thinking and discussion.  Launched in 2003, Moving Words has featured artists such as choreographers Ronald K. Brown, Gesel Mason, and Marlies Yearby, as well as hip-hop theater artists Rha Goddess and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and dance theater artist Okwui Okpokwasili.

March 2010 — David Thomson
Thomson was joined in residence at Paul Robeson High School by artist Pamela Sneed where they examined Thulani Davis’s poignant novel, 1959. Thomson, who was born that same year, created a performance work based on writers’ explorations of the events that occurred in the year of his birth. Thomson worked with students to create their own personal narratives using events from their own birth years as a jumping off point to weave stories about their lives and identity.

December 2009 — Monica L. Williams
Theater artist and educator Monica L. Williams and 34 seniors at Paul Robeson High School used Richard Wright’s seminal novel Native Son as a jumping off point to explore the question — How do we define a Native Son or Daughter of America today?

After four days of discussion, small team work, visual and writing exercises, the program culminated in a student-created dramatic interpretation of today’s Native Son/Daughter, and incorporated a poem written and read by their teacher Stefanie Siegel.

May 2009 — Toni Blackman
Lyrical Ambassador and Spoken Word Artist Toni Blackman chose the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for the senior class of Paul Robeson High School. Toni used the central character, Santiago, to connect students to the limitless powers of fulfilling one’s dreams. The students created poetry daily and by the end of the week, they had all written a dream checklist.

May 2009 — Carlton Turner
Arts Activist and Performing Artist Carlton Turner used three short stories from the book Scripts: Sketches and Tales of Urban Mississippi. Students from Bailey’s Cafe read “Transitions”, “Poni’s Trails” and “Salvation.” Carlton’s residency was focused on discussions of past and current stereotypes and how to deconstruct them through art.

May 2008 — Michael Hill
Blues guitarist Michael Hill chose the short story Red Wind by Raymond Chandler to show how inspiration for song writing can come from anywhere. Red Wind inspired Hill’s blues tune “Evil in the Air.” Students from Bailey’s Cafe were given the opportunity to write their own blues tunes based on stories currently in the news.

May 2007 — Nora Chipaumire
Choreographer Nora Chipaumire worked with students at Paul Robeson High School using The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. This novel, an analysis of the colonial experience, tells the story of a tragic married couple in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and serves as a metaphor for the colonization of Africa. This book has informed Chipaumire’s current dance work, which deals with issues of her native Zimbabwe. Chipaumire is a solo dance artist who investigates the collaborative process within cultural, political, economic, and technological identities of African contemporary life.

March 2007 — Christalyn Wright
Choreographer Christalyn Wright worked with students at Paul Robeson High School using Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees which inspired her multi-media dance quartet, Struggles with Words, Attitudes, and Great Expectations. The Secret Life of Bees (2002) is set in South Carolina, 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act and intensifying racial unrest. This Southern Gothic novel, centered on a young woman, is a coming-of-age tale exploring loss, betrayal, the scarcity of love, and the power of women coming together to heal those wounds, mother each other and themselves, and create a sanctuary of true family and home. Wright is a Brooklyn-based choreographer/dancer whose work has been presented at numerous venues nationally and internationally including Danspace Project (New York), The Windybrow Center for the Arts (Johannesburg), Painted Bride (Philadelphia), and The Penumbra Theatre (St. Paul).

October 2006 — April Yvette Thompson
Theater artist April Yvette Thompson led a group of students at Brooklyn High School for the Arts in a series of discussions and theater workshops using Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. 651 ARTS worked with Thompson, and her collaborator Jessica Blank, in the development of her theater work, Liberty City. This piece, a potent rendering of the melting pot of the Miami of Thompson’s childhood, was shown on our Salon 651 series in 2005 and 2006. Parable of the Sower (1993) is a grim near future novel, set in California from 2024 to 2027, that exaggerates trends in American life apparent in the late 1980s and early 1990s — fear of crime, the rise of gated communities, illiteracy, designer drugs and drug addiction, a growing gap between rich and poor, and global warming. Thompson is a prolific actress who co-starred in The Exonerated for Court TV with Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Delroy Lindo and Susan Sarandon, as well as the off-Broadway play of the same name.

April 2005 — Okwui Okpokwasili
Performing Artist, Writer and Dancer Okwui Okpokwasili chose the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. She spent her residency with Stefanie Siegel’s English class at Paul Robeson High School.  Students were also able to attend Salon 651’s series presentation of her work Pent Up: A Revenge Dance.

March 2005 — Marc Bamuthi Joseph
Marc Bamuthi Joseph, an arts activist, spoken word artist and National Poetry Slam champion from San Francisco worked with 25 high school students from Paul Robeson High School for one week, utilizing Ntozake Shange’s 1975 theatre piece For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf — about the power of black women to survive in the face of despair and pain. During his residency, Joseph had students write snapshots of their current daily lives.

April 2005 — Gesel Mason
Choreographer Gesel Mason utilized Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey From the Inner City to the Ivy League in working with students at Brooklyn High School of the Arts AP English class. The book, culled from Suskind’s series of Wall Street Journal reports, recounts the true life story of Cedric Jennings, a talented black teenager struggling to succeed in one of the worst public high schools in Washington, DC, and his subsequent success at Brown University.

May 2004 — Rha Goddess
Rha selected Lisa Bright and Dark by John Neufield as her book. Rha worked with students from JHS 113 in Brooklyn. Rha visited the class, read some excerpts of her piece Meditations with the Goddess and led a discussion with the class about the occurrence of mental illness in youth.

May 2004 — Marlies Yearby
Choreographer Marlies Yearby conducted a Moving Words program for a group of female students from Paul Robeson High School. Over three workshop sessions, Marlies utilized her “In Our Bones” technique to access the participants’ personal “herstories,” through music, voice, movement and breath. Marlies selected The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz as a springboard for the workshop.  The workshops became artistic incubators that empowered, supported and nurtured the students.

May 2003 — Ronald K. Brown with Author Kenji Jasper
In this inaugural session of Moving Words choreographer Ronald K. Brown participated in a moderated dialogue with author Kenji Jasper for 40 students from Erasmus High School for the Humanities.  They discussed Jasper’s novel, Dark, and the influence this novel had on Brown’s dance piece High Life.  Students read Dark in advance of Moving Words, and Brown showed video excerpts of High Life to give further context to the discussion.

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