Next Tuesday, Nov. 13, the spoken word troupe Right Side Up Poets is putting on a show at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club in downtown Santa Barbara.
Right Side Up Poets is made up of students that have come from many different quarters of UCSB Professor Kip Fulbeck’s class ART 137: Spoken Word. This is a group of professional-level artists who are more than willing to spill their secrets to an audience of State Street strangers. I had the pleasure of interviewing three of the core members, Demi Anter [full disclosure: Anter is a Daily Nexus employee], Mel Rosenberg and Ryan Yamamoto last week.
After spending two hours sitting on the cold concrete outside of Embarcadero Hall, listening to Yamamoto point out the little Batman insignias drawn in chalk on the benches and hearing Rosenberg stop mid-racing-thought at least 100 times while Anter made jokes about Rosenberg’s dad looking like Ira Glass, I reached a conclusion: I wanted to be friends with these people.
This isn’t just coming from someone who thrives off of the incredible connection one gets from sitting in a spoken word show audience (although, full disclosure: I am totally a fan). On the most basic level, the artists that make up RSU are FUN. And charming. And smart. Like the funniest kid in high school who was able to make even the most serious student smile with witty comments. RSU is a group of artists that makes you feel good about yourself, makes you laugh and makes you ponder things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of. And this is just from conversation — wait until you hear these people perform.
Take Yamamoto, for instance. He may complain that he is RSU’s token “Y-chromosome,” but he works that title to its fullest. Just like a best guy friend should, Yamamoto encourages the group, stands up for them and brings the jokes.
“During the summer, we had chain messages for days [to talk about forming RSU], and Ryan would bomb in with comments that had nothing to do with what we were talking about,” Rosenberg said.
But more than that, Yamamoto brings a bit of intensity to the group, which can be seen in his spitfire way of performing poetry.
“Mel and I, we tend to create stories with a clear beginning and an end. Ryan takes the audience to a million different places and then comes back at the end. It’s a wild ride,” Anter said.
“The best lecture I’ve ever attended was watching [Yamamoto’s] pieces,” Rosenberg added.
If Yamamoto is the token Y, Rosenberg might be the token girl-next-door. Her funny quirks, sunny disposition and constantly streaming thoughts make her a sparkling performer.
“[With Mel], you can tell that she’s not hiding anything about herself, and you can tell that she is a writer. It’s like a short story that you really enjoy reading, and even if it is dark and scary you would want to hear it again,” said Yamamoto.
Even as artists themselves and not audience members, RSU has the ability to connect with each other through their pieces.
“Mel taps into storytelling a lot,” Anter said. “Her character [on stage] has a bit of franticness, and a reoccurring issue of being on the outside. That’s something I really connect with.”
Anter is sort of the boss of the group. As Yamamoto said, “She’s the captain. Anything Dem says, I have utter faith in.” Anter is the one, in fact, who brought RSU together and who has been organizing the SOhO event along with Professor Fulbeck and his friend, local spoken word admirer Jeff Bochsler. Anter has also built a website for the crew, and even encourages her fellow artists to create blogs and websites to showcase their writing ability. Along with her organizational abilities, Anter is an exceptionally passionate performer.
“It is so remarkable, the amount of passion and energy [with which Anter] performs. Everything feels so fresh, and she really taps into what she was feeling at the time,” Rosenberg said.
The three artists admitted that at times, spoken word is almost a therapy session. This idea is prevalent in RSU’s darker themes and pieces, which can range from personal relationships to larger social issues.
But if you aren’t a fan of the dark stuff, do not fear. For the SOhO event on Tuesday, the group has purposely chosen their lighter and funnier stories to entertain audience members and make a lasting impression.
“Everyone is doing his or her absolute best piece, which is exciting because that really makes it a ‘Best Of’ show,” Anter said.
So how did RSU’s members come up with these tried-and-true pieces? The troupe answered in different ways. For Rosenberg, the best ideas come in the shower. For Anter, the best lines come randomly when she is immersed in a spoken word class or around other artists. Yamamoto needs to sit on the beach before he can even start thinking about writing.
But they all have one key thing in common: They write. They sit down and they take the time to type out their feelings and witticisms, and then memorize them. They have thesauruses built into their heads. And they are willing to share their brilliance with any Gaucho who is willing to take that 10-minute drive or bus ride down to SOhO next Tuesday.
I know I’m the one interviewing Right Side Up Poets and asking questions and being a reporter and all that jazz, but I’ve just got one more question, and this one pertains to y-o-u, our loyal Artsweek readers: How could you not go? I’m sitting here all antsy and jittery just thinking about it.
“Come to our show … go order some artichoke dip. Have that be your reason for attending,” Rosenberg said. “But you will leave completely changed. And that is guaranteed.”