* What’s your art form?
I write and perform both spoken-word and hip hop. Most of the residency work I do revolves around spoken-word. For people who may not know, "spoken-word" is kind of an umbrella term for performance poetry-- it incorporates elements of poetry, theater, storytelling and other forms.
* Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring spoken word artists or performers in general?
Aside from the basic stuff we talk about in workshops like the importance of focus and specificity, using concrete language, projection/enunciation, etc., I think a very important part of doing spoken-word today is finding your voice. If you watch a lot of spoken-word online, or go to events, you'll likely be exposed to the same kinds of vocal deliveries. As the form gets more popular, it's going to be increasingly important to break from those formulas. When I judge a slam or watch an open mic, I'm drawn to the performers with natural, conversational deliveries, as opposed to "poet voice."
* How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?
I use the word "intentionality" a lot. That's been an ongoing theme in my own work for the past few years. I think a lot of it comes from teaching and facilitating discussions around the form. When I'm constantly reinforcing these lessons and providing constructive critique to others, it forces me to also turn that lens on my own work. Aside from that, it's also just energizing. So many artists I know are kind of cynical and burnt out, and teaching is one way to remedy that.
* By the end of a week with you, what are 3 things you hope most students have learned?
First and foremost, I hope that a residency provides a platform for students to grapple with the ideas and emotions that they need to. Yes, this is about poetry; but more than that it's about using it to process feelings, to claim one's identity, and to build community through art. Secondly, I want students to get a taste of what is really a new, dynamic literary movement happening right beneath our feet. I want them to feel like they don't have to just watch this movement happen-- they can BE this movement. Spoken-word is only going to get more and more popular. I want every student who is interested in it to know that they have this as an outlet. Finally, I love sharing practical tools-- how we craft hooks, convert abstract into concrete, project our voices, approach the microphone, etc. All of these "little" things are so important to spoken-word but also have applications far beyond the stage.
* What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?
It's really about access. I can play shows and sell CDs as Guante, but COMPAS facilitates my sharing my work with thousands of young people whom I would never have met otherwise. I like to think that they get something out of it, but I know that I get something out of it-- exposure to a new audience, the opportunity to spread this art form that I really believe in, the energy that comes from working with youth, and much more.
* Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?
Students who are engaged in the arts are more engaged in general. They become better critical thinkers. They enjoy life more. We have to think about education more holistically. For all the practical applications of arts techniques, there are some incredibly important intangibles on the table as well. You can use hip hop to teach a kid math, but you can also use hip hop to save a kid's life. Learning about spoken-word is never just about writing poems; it's about critical thinking, leadership, civic engagement, identity formation, having an expressive outlet, and a million other things.
* Can you describe your recent experience working at Southwest High in Minneapolis? Did your workshops go the way you hoped?
Southwest was special because it was an after-school club, not a class, and all of the students were highly motivated. As much as I love introducing spoken-word to kids who have never seen it before, it's just flat-out FUN to work with students who are already super engaged with it. It becomes more about tweaking little things, sharing tricks of the trade, and "talking shop." Spoken-word is such a great way to build community, and that residency was a perfect example of that.
* How did you feel about working so close to where you grew up at La Crescent Middle School recently?
It's always nice to travel to a part of the state where spoken-word is still a relatively brand-new thing. There's so much power in the form, but it often starts out as something very alien and weird to a lot of students. But then over the course of the week, we're able to bridge those gaps, get writing, and eventually get up on stage. As new as spoken-word is for many people, it's important to remember that it's also one of the oldest art forms that human beings have, and taking part in that tradition is a very special thing. I definitely saw myself in those students, since I'm from that area, and I can only imagine where I'd be today if I had had earlier exposure to this form.