There was a time when the word "slam" meant little to Orlando beyond breakfast at Denny's. But our plates got closer to full in June 1998, when the documentary "SlamNation" was screened at Maitland's Enzian Theater as part of that year's Florida Film Festival. Audiences were unexpectedly thrilled by the film's representation of the high-minded but deeply contentious world of spoken-word poetry "slams," or competitions. Who knew that a winner-take-all recital could be at least as exciting as, say, pro basketball? (Oh, hi, Mr. DeVos ... you still here?)
In the audience for one of those screenings -- and the surprise live performance by Beau Sia, a poet featured in the film -- was one Jesse James Bradley, a bookish, Massachusetts-born kid who liked what he saw ... and made his mind up to start a slam series of his own.
But Bradley, who today operates under the cummings-esque, all-lower-case moniker j. bradley, didn't have the means to get that ball rolling until he joined the Zeta Xi chapter of the Sigma Tau Delta fraternity at the University of Central Florida. With the fraternity's assistance, he finally presented his first slam Jan. 28, 2001, on the school's campus.
"It was one of the best slams I've ever been to, and it's been nonstop ever since," bradley says. In the past year, his "Broken Speech" poetry series has presented about 25 events -- some on the UCF grounds, others at sympathetic area locations like the Barnes & Noble store on East Colonial Drive and "the entity formerly known as Sapphire" -- bradley's euphemism for the venue now tragically renamed The Social. There have been "Dead Poets Slams," in which competitors assumed the personas of deceased writers, as well as a "Prop Slam," in which visual aids were used. There was even a "Tag-Team Slam," though bradley admits that one didn't go over very well: "The rules were too confusing," he says.
Occasionally, "Broken Speech" has branched out into hosting noncompetitive events, thus extending an olive branch to the portion of the poetry community that doesn't approve of the idea of art as conflict. The series' one-year anniversary party -- a Tuesday, Jan. 29, open-mike night at UCF's Wired Cafe -- will be such an effort. "Anyone who shows up can spout out whatever they want to spout out," bradley says.
"Broken Speech's" arrival at the one-year mark makes it the longest-lived slam endeavor in town. (Others, like a series at the now-defunct Performance Space Orlando, failed due to a lack of commitment, bradley believes.) It's also a personal vindication for its organizer, who grew up under the shadow of hyperlexia, a condition whose sufferers exhibit facility with the written word but difficulty with the language arts and social integration. The affliction eventually subsides, and no hint of it persists in bradley's current résumé: In addition to organizing "Broken Speech," he has earned a B.A. in English from UCF. (He graduated last August and now operates as a member of the alumni association.) A poet in his own right, he was the opening act for Jerry Stahl last year at the Bodhisattva Social Club.
Bradley's 2002 agenda will bring him full circle from his formative evening at Enzian. Next August, "Broken Speech" will send a team to the "National Poetry Slam" in Minneapolis, Minn. -- this year's edition of the very same annual event chronicled in "SlamNation." To get his people there, bradley is soliciting corporate and personal sponsorships, promising to dress his poets in logo T-shirts that will identify them as "walking billboards" for whoever ponies up the cash. Adult businesses and other overtly controversial sponsors will be politely turned away. "But, for the most part, we will take anybody's money," he says.
That's called putting it where your mouth is.
Everything nude is old again
Despite the prior claims of host Victor Perez, the "Nude Nite" art extravaganza (Feb. 15 and 16) will return to its old home at 367 Orange Ave., just upstairs from NYPD Pizza. As I reported last week, Perez was stymied in his efforts to get the show into the Winter Park Village shopping center, and subsequent efforts to locate the affair on West Church Street also proved fruitless. To deal with the expected mob scene, Perez is throwing a Feb. 14 preview party and a Feb. 16. afternoon viewing session for early birds. Notes his partner, painter Tiphanie-Windsor Perez: "At least everybody knows where [NYPD] is at."
A pucker born every minute
The Valentine's Day party celebrating the launch of Shameless magazine [The Green Room, Dec. 27] will be thrown Feb. 13 at the Bodhisattva Social Club. Nutrajet and the Delusionaires will supply the music, and the holiday spirit will be upheld in a kissing booth that will cater to patrons of all persuasions. If all goes as planned, the smooching action will be girl-on-boy, boy-on-boy, girl-on-girl and whatever falls in between.
"Pay a little more, and you get some tongue," says Shameless czarina Kali Webb. "It's not going to be like the county fair." No farm animals, then?
Making up for a few months of inactivity, the SoulFire Traveling Medicine Show theater com-pany will perform two shows simultaneously in February: Martin McDonagh's black comedy "The Lonesome West" at Zoë and Company (opening Feb. 14) and Lee Blessing's "Eleemosynary" at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center's Studio B (opening Feb. 1).
A nervous fire marshal bounced SoulFire from the latter space last summer, when construction was at its height, but everything about "Eleemosynary" is reported to be all nice and legal-like. The latter show's cast includes Marty Stonerock (seen in SoulFire's "Faith Healer" last year at Zoë), as well as Theatre Downtown diva Peg O'Keef and Torrey DeVitto, daughter of drummer Liberty DeVitto.
The locally produced sitcom "Making the Grade" will premiere at 1 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, on WRBW-TV (Channel 65). To avoid any misunderstandings, that's the Saturday night/Sunday morning slot that seems to cause everyone (including me) such confusion ... The two quotes of the week come from my long-standing idol, Don Rickles, who showed a keen understanding of the Melbourne experience during his show last Sunday at the King Center for the Performing Arts. "You do good here, they send you to Panama City," the insult master lauded. Then, to a visibly withered audience member: "You passed away, right?" How positively Zen of him to expect an answer.