By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Jun 23, 2011, at 2:26 AM Updated on 6/23/11 at 5:14 AM
“Everyone has a story,” says Tulsa poet Deborah J. Hunter, “and you can’t hate people once you know their stories. I try to tell those stories — as often as possible to as many people who will watch and listen.”
Poetry for Tulsa writer and actor Deborah J. Hunter has always been something more than words artfully arranged on a page.
Poetry has been a way of teaching and connecting, of healing and understanding, that Hunter has employed in her work as an artist-in-residence at area schools, and as an activist working to help people living with mental health issues and the homeless.
Hunter’s social activism profoundly informs the poetry she writes, such as her spoken word performance piece, “Amazons, Gypsies and Wandering Minstrels,” which she will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Tulsa PAC’s Norman Theatre, Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St., as part of SummerStage. (For tickets: 918-596-7111)
Hunter won the 2000 Jingle Feldman Artist Award from the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, and she has performed as a solo artist, and in productions by such local theater groups as the Nightingale Theater, Theatre North and the Broken Arrow Community Playhouse.
“As I’ve said many times before, everyone has a story, and you can’t hate people once you know their stories,” Hunter said. “I try to tell those stories – as often as possible to as many people who will watch and listen.”
Q: You have performed “Amazons, Gypsies and Wandering Minstrels” several times in the past. How has the piece evolved over that time?
A: The first monologues are from my personal experience at the onset of my daughter’s, schizophrenia and the others are based on former clients that I had when I was a case manager. Over time, I’ve become less emotionally involved, so the women in this piece have evolved into characters that are not exactly like the real women on which they were based, which I think, makes them more universal. This time, I have made it a little more theatrical as well by adding a vocalist, Crystal Carter, and dancer Yawnie Knox, along with the drumming and percussion by Leslie Brown and Kristin Ruyle that I had a few years ago.
Q: Was there a single poem that inspired you to begin your own poetry?
A: Yes. The poem “Rocking” was the very first one that I wrote. It’s one of the mother’s monologues (in “Amazons, Gypsies and Wandering Minstrels”) that brings the audience into the pain she experiences as she witnesses her daughter’s descent into mental illness. It begins:
the middle of the night
sob awakens me, pulls me
up out of my pillows
I realize I am the one who is sobbing.”
This was my actual night-time experience.
Q: For you, what is the difference between a “spoken word performance” and a “poetry reading”?
A: A poetry reading is just what it says — someone stands and reads poems. Spoken word utilizes storytelling techniques, which may include characterization by way of vocal changes, facial expression, body language and movement. It definitely relies heavily on the conveyance of emotion. Connection with the audience is more important than connection to the page.
Q: What would you most like to see happen in Tulsa in the next 12 months?
A: It would take a magic wand to make Tulsa become what I would want it to be for those who are homeless and those with mental illnesses. There would be ample housing and services to help them become the best they can be and these would be administered with love and kindness and empathy. Tulsa would become the model for doing what is right for those who are disadvantaged and marginalized by society regardless of their disabilities or circumstances.
Q: What is your idea of a perfect weekend in Tulsa?
A: Seeing some theater or performing, going to the Cherry Street Market, hanging with friends pool-side or in a restaurant, laughing with my family, reading a good book or writing a new poem that makes me say, “Yeah, that’s exactly right.”
Original Print Headline: Spoken word artist shares her inspiration, motivations