A bunch of bad cats

A bunch of bad cats

Poetic Soul Fusion at the Loft Theatre

By Chelsea Davis

Photo: Gem City performs at the 2013 “Poetic Soul Fusion”

Poetry. Spoken word. Music. Singing. Communicating. These are the things that go on at a show put on by The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show.

“The Signature is a live, energetic fusion of creativity, cultures, community and improv,” Lucy Owens, the show’s producer, known in the art community as Sierra Leone, said. “It’s such a special event because no show is duplicated. We never produce the same show twice.”

The theme for the show on Friday, July 18 is “Poetic Soul Fusion,” an amalgamation of the different facets of performance. There are performances of spoken word, music, dancing – anything and everything all working together to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

“Each experience is unique and involves every single kind of performance,” Owens said. “Live band and music, comedians are in the mix, you’ll see a dancer, visual artists and improv with vocalists and instrumentation. Poets – they’re the moral fabric of every single show.”

The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show is produced by Oral Funk Poetry Productions (OFP), the production management arm of Tripple Croxx Entertainment, an entertainment company serving Dayton and Greater Dayton, run by Lee Croxx.

“Lee is the CEO, my partner,” Owens said. “He’s the heart of [our company] and what we do.”

Each quarter, The Signature puts on a different show with a different theme.

“People may not realize, but we actually have a series of maybe 12 things at this point,” Owens said. “This is the only thing you’ll see resurface – Poetic Soul Fusion. Poetry and vocalists collaborating.”

Owens, as Leone, gained notoriety in the art community for her own performances and, now, productions.

“Being an off-Broadway revue, our reputation across the Midwest is just priceless,” Owens said. “We’re engaging, edgy, vibrant, quite sexy and diverse; a little racy and groundbreaking. We’re right on the edge before someone wants to call our parents. But we have a lot of fun with it and I love tying together local artists with national and international artists. Scripted synergy.”

Owens began as a poet before starting down the production path, and has recently reconnected with her creative, non-production side.

“I have recently returned to the stage and am performing,” Owens said. “I’m excited to be back writing and I recently received a book deal. I’m excited about all of that.”

When it comes to explaining how she chose her stage name, Sierra Leone, Owens could fill a book.

“I did get a little flak over it, but I chose it in honor of the tribe – the only tribe to make it back to Africa after becoming free,” Owens said. “There’s beauty there. Now blood diamonds, not as beautiful, but in the midst of any type of madness there is still beauty there. In a place of so much pain and hurt you still get to something so beautiful. That’s how I feel about my art.”

 

Who to see

The shows, in particular the Poetic Soul Fusion show, have created a reputation in the Dayton art community and beyond, and each quarter The Signature is blessed with new and exciting artists, as well as old favorites.

A new artist performing at the July show is Grammy Award-winning performance poet and author, J. Ivy. Born and raised in Chicago, Ill., Ivy first got the performance bug after performing a piece he’d written as a school assignment in front of the student body – receiving a standing ovation.

“I wrote a poem for a homework assignment – I didn’t want to, but I did,” Ivy said. “At the time, I was good at writing notes for girls. I read the piece for the class and after class [my teacher] pulled me aside and said she wanted to put it in a show. She said, ‘This time I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.’”

Ivy didn’t originally think the creative path was his path. As a teenager, he was playing football and running track, but it was the energy of performing live – and getting that standing ovation – that made him rethink some things.

“I fell in love with that moment,” Ivy said. “The energy I felt, releasing … the creative release and the response. From there, I was doing every show at school and then in college and it continued.”

Even after realizing his passion and prowess for poetry, it still hadn’t occurred to him he could make a viable career out of doing what he loved.

“Early on, I was just in the moment, but I guess when those moments started to stack up and I did a show and somebody gave me money to perform …” Ivy recalled. “The more I was able to get out there and perform and meet new people, I started thinking more long term. I started viewing it as touching the world with my art.”

After leaving college and coming home, Ivy knew he had to make this poetry thing work, which in the early 1990s wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

“Poetry wasn’t a vital career then,” Ivy said. “Even still, I’ll meet someone and they ask what I do, ‘I’m a poet,’ and they ask ‘OK, so what do you do?’ But really 20 years ago people didn’t understand and couldn’t see a future in it.”

In 2001, Ivy performed in Russell Simmons’ “HBO Def Poetry Jam.”

“I was the first black cat out of Chicago to do Def Poetry and once I did that, all doors opened for me,” Ivy said. “A line that says, ‘Hindsight is 20/20, but faith is blind.’ You know where you want to go, but that blank line between A and Z, you just don’t know how you’re going to get to Z, but once you keep moving, the path starts to reveal itself.”

Many doors have certainly opened for Ivy. In addition to his own work, Ivy has collaborated with a multitude of artists, including John Legend, Erykah Badu, Bob Dylan, The Roots, Stevie Wonder and Kanye West.

Ivy met fellow Chicagoan West through mutual friends as West was working on his debut album The College Dropout. He collaborated with West on the song “Never Let Me Down” and received a Grammy Award for his performance.

Now, Ivy is gracing Dayton and the Loft Theatre with his poetry and voice.

“This is my first time getting into it,” Ivy said. “I’m really looking forward to performing. I just expect to have a great time. I love traveling around, so I’m just looking forward to kicking it with some new folk.”

Signature favorite Sunni Patterson will also return to Dayton for Poetic Soul Fusion. Patterson is titled as a spoken word artist, but also considers herself a poet, a speaker and an author, among many other things. Patterson has won multiple poetry awards, including Most Inspirational Poet, and was awarded the Eve Ensler V to the Tenth Anti Violence Movement Award for her work with Gulf Coast women and girls.

Patterson, a graduate of Tuskegee University, has always been a performer.

“When I was younger, I was always the sparker and performer,” Patterson said. “Whether at church or functions, I always did little cards, like Mother’s Day cards. Extravagant cards with artwork and poetry.”

Patterson credits her family and the creative atmosphere in New Orleans for fostering a creative and mindful spirit, whether she realized it or not.

“Being from New Orleans, you’re just surrounded by jazz and music and poetry, just all of this kind of artistic, creative, cultural, spiritual movement,” Patterson said. “That is one thing that is always there.”

Patterson also can’t remember a time when she just wrote without intention.

“I can’t say I just never wrote about nothing,” Patterson said. “Probably because I had come from a space that had to. I was always charged to write about something.”

She said it was her father who really pushed writing for something. Patterson said he would put a book on her desk, at as young as 9 years old, and tell her to change the image of slavery.

“I was in elementary … I’m trying to read ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ and he’s giving me these kinds of books,” Patterson said. “My past and my road, it had to be connected.”

Patterson first connected with The Signature around four years ago.

“Sunni did my show a few years ago and she did something that is to this day unspoken, unheard of … never happened before … she performed with her baby strapped to her,” Owens said. “It was absolutely amazing. It was something women didn’t know they could do. Women didn’t know they could have a baby strapped to them and still live their dream. It created a precedent.”

Patterson recalled the phone conversation beforehand as being one met with confusion and some discomfort.

“She was like, ‘Are you sure?’ I was like, ‘I’m positive it can happen,” Patterson said. “It’s just my reality. I can’t leave him. I am the bottle. I can come with him or I can’t come.”

All in all, it worked out for the best and opened the eyes and minds of those in the audience. It also created a strong professional relationship, as well as a solid friendship between Patterson and Owens.

“I’m always thankful for these shows,” Patterson said. “I do like The Signature – the audience and the spaces. She’s very intentional about spaces and flow, and I appreciate that. It’s not a typical open mic. It’s a very intentional show I can appreciate and it has a flow and ease. That’s her vision.”

This year, Patterson is returning with her slightly grown son and her new baby girl.

Although Ivy and Patterson are two extremely exciting artists performing in the Poetic Soul Fusion show, Owens has put together an extensive and impressive list of artists, including performers from the Lincoln Theatre Incubator in Columbus, Ohio, as well as a collaboration from singer Renee Dion and poet Naki Akrobette.

“[Dion] is an improv guru … jazz music and funk,” Owens said. “This sister is bad! [Dion and Akrobette] are doing a piece that’s going to be really fabulous.”

The purpose of these shows, according to Owens, is to not only bring in these creative powerhouses to showcase their talent, but to allow people – audience and performers alike – to look at the world through the eyes of others.

“It’s highlighting this beauty of urban creative art, and to highlight professional urban creative art,” Owens said. “It’s just a medley of artistic expression.”

The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show will showcase “Poetic Soul Fusion” Friday, July 18, from 9-11 p.m., at The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. For more information, please call 937.228.3630 or visit tripplecroxxent.org.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer By Chelsea Davis at ChelseaDavis@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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