After a spoken-word introduction by the purple bow-tie wearing Darius Daughtry, a teacher at Northeast High School (he and poet Ashley M. Jones are the organizers behind SPEAKtacular), the standing throng of audience members was drawn a quarter-turn around the doughnut-shaped YoungArts “Jewel Box” space by the sound of many young voices chanting “Speak, speak, speak.”
Eight high school poets were assembled in a row of chairs (they wouldn’t stay seated for long) and—bouncing soliloquies of spoken-word between them—kicked off a tightly choreographed two-hour performance that included poetry, music, and dance.
The student poets composed all of their own material, and used humor, pathos, and old fashioned temerity to explore subjects as wide-ranging as love (blind romance vs. pragmatism), racism, creative expression (a girl begins to sing, and her fellow performers sneer: “No, no, no: it’s poetry or nothing", at which point she throws out the names Erykah Badu, Maya Angelou, and Tupac, and tears her co-poets apart with spoken word), war, poverty, domestic violence, global injustice, and the “Versace only, AK47-toting” culture of some of modern-day hip-hop.
A jazz quartet comprised of Northeast High students (the three boys hesitated when asked the band’s name, then settled on Sunshine Addiction, with the caveat that the trumpet player, teacher Leonardo Bacigalupi, had to first be consulted) accompanied the spoken-word performances with jazz. A Northeast High Assistant-Principal acted as DJ, contributing music throughout the performance, and another teacher choreographed stellar performances by the show’s two high school dancers.