GetLit Poetry Slam Hosted by LATC

Original post by Michael Sedano found here:

Los Angeles Theater Center is a theater multiplex of five performance spaces joined to a luxurious marble-walled grand hall and lobby. The descent to the basement rest rooms takes visitors along a massive bank vault. Remodeled stairs to the balcony feature half inch thick glass and stainless steel rails. the balustrade overlooking the lobby gives unobstructed vistas of the huge and luxurious space.

The LATC is a great place for theater and a fabulous place for a poetry slam competition among teams from local high schools. That’s what drew me to Spring Street early Thursday and Friday morning. Lend a hand with administrative chores and share the energy of dozens of Get Lit staffers and a thousand or more kids gathering to perform or cheer on their spoken word artists.

GetLit Classic Slam follows a wondrous format. The contestant chooses a poem by a well-known poet and writes a response poem. The contestant knits the two with narrative, working from memory to meet a time limit. It’s a beautiful way to link generations by remembering in one’s own voice good work from another time.


Rachel Kilroy put me to work at the merchandise table where I would sell “Poet” merchandise. A jumble of colors, sizes, styles, teeshirts, tank tops, sweatshirts, beanies, filled plastic storage bins. Git Lit’s first book is hot off the presses, and several boxes wait under the table skirts. Rachel’s mother is there. Later I meet her dad. The family that supports literacy and oracy together make up just three of the dozens of volunteers and paid staff bustling through the lobby, theatres, and outside foyer, getting the crowd set to make a beeline for their seat.
Thursday, I worked with one other volunteer. Friday three knowledgeable women took over. Two, who were mothers of contestants, and a retired high school English teacher, organized the garments, folding and laying them out across twenty feet of table space. I hope the clean-up crew labeled those stacks before moving them to the bins and transport to the finals on Sunday.
Thursday and Friday, school teams competed in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. The winners move to the final competition, this year taking place in the opulence of the Orpheum movie house.

Registration keeps the kids outside as the coaches sign in and take a bag of credentials outside to waiting and cheering teams. A signal from Get Lit executives Diane Luby Lane or Amanda Pittman and the lobby doors fill with excited kids thronging toward their stage. There, an MC whips up enthusiasm before introducing the first contestant.

A panel of judges scores the panel of competitors. A few get selected to compete in the day’s second round of competition, the afternoon’s semi-finals.

The Get Lit experience cannot be matched by any other competitive activity. Reciting and performing spoken words to audiences of hundreds of peers produces pure exhilaration. At the end, the kid walks off stage into the waiting arms of the team.

For finalists, the experience of taking the Orpheum stage to a screaming full house will make all the work of honing the performance into a winner worth it. And it is.

Teams and individuals pose in front of a Get Lit seamless. An official photographer is there to document every team.
When the formal pose is done, the cell phones come out for exuberant selfies.

Get Lit published its first collection of work by Get Lit participants. A single copy sells for fifteen dollars at the venue. For details, click here. I sold one person the show special, 10 books for a hundred dollars. In addition, Get Lit would donate ten books to a participating high school, or a school of the customer’s naming.

My heart went out to the schools who prepared for the competition but didn’t make it to LA on time. On Friday morning, two forlorn registration bags lay tossed behind a sign. Maybe those teams can find a donor to pay for an overnight stay in DTLA. These kids and their coaches deserve a night in the big city.

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