A shout out to the spoken word

Victoria Spoken Word Festival performances run Feb. 23-25 at the Intrepid Theatre and Solstice Café

Missie Peters

No special effects, instruments or gimmicks. Just the spoken word.

“There is an appetite for quality spoken word and I wanted to keep that going,” said Victoria Spoken Word Festival artistic director Missie Peters. “It is incredibly important to me both to grow and establish the scene here in Victoria.”

Combining elements of poetry, storytelling, stand-up comedy and theatre, the art form has seen steady growth – but a dearth of post-secondary poetry opportunities for the artists prompted Peters to take matters into her own hands creating a hybrid festival of sorts.

“You can’t go to university for (it). We should have opportunities all across the country to develop the art form itself for artists and give them this opportunity to grow,” she said. “So I am doing it.”

The festival kicks off with three days of artist-only workshops in improv, beat box, singing, and clowning, because Peters believes the non-traditional elements offer young poets an expanded tool box from which to explore. Artists move on to write an ensemble script with their new skills within 24 hours and perform it in front of a live audience.

“The festival is about trying to expand spoken word,” she said. “It will hopefully be something you, me and no one has ever seen before.”

Starting in 2011 with a presentation to the Awesome Sh*t Club, where entrepreneurs like Peters pitched ideas to judges in a Dragons’ Den-style format for cash, her festival idea won the $600 grand prize and the first annual event was born. Without that opportunity this year, she turned to crowdfunding to source the $1,000 start-up cost.

“It is a really great way to connect with people who care about your project. I thought it would take six weeks to reach our goal but we did it in two,” she said. “It creates a community event that is, by necessity, supported by the community. If the people in Victoria didn’t want it, we wouldn’t have $1,000 in our campaign.”

Crowdfunding, a relatively new tool where campaigners set up an account with websites such as IndieGoGo.com or Kickstarter.com and rely on the donations through the site to fund their projects, helped the festival raise more than $1,100  with two weeks to go.

In addition to the financial benefit, supporters from across the country left positive comments for Peters, a source of motivation for the poet who moonlights as a government worker by day.

“It is almost more important than the money,” she said of the community input. “It lets you know as an organizer all (your) work is important to someone.”

One of 12 poets from across Canada invited to take part, Victoria resident Justin McGrail believes Peters’ efforts are making a difference in the popularity of the art form across the country.

“Support (for) the festival is coming in from across the country. This (festival) is a highlight, a growing network of spoken word poetry,” the 20-year poet said. “In a way, the support Missie (Peters) has reflects the growth of spoken word in the country. I can say I have seen it in my lifetime.”

With performances Feb. 23-25, culminating with the grand finale at the Intrepid Theatre streaming live on the Internet, even Peters doesn’t know what to expect because it hasn’t yet been written. She is confident performances will be well worth the price of admission.

“I create the venue and (the artists) are going to fill it with art,” she said. “(Spoken word’s) power is in the performance and on the stage – as opposed to the page.”

Spoken like a true poet, who does know it.

Victoria Spoken Word Festival performances run Feb. 23-25 at the Intrepid Theatre and Solstice Café with a public spoken word workshop Feb. 26.

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