PORTSMOUTH — The Portsmouth Little Theatre is ready to open the curtain on a new partnership with The Counseling Center this Friday, as they put clients under the stage lights to perform original poems.
The partnership is a two-part endeavor. The theatre providing the organization tickets to see performances each show is part one. The secondary part, which has become a major focus, is a project called afterWORD Poetry.
PLT Board of Governors President and local poet, Joseph Pratt, has worked with partner and poet Amanda Lewis to create a lesson planned class on poetry, where the group learned about modern poetry tools and techniques. The classes have lasted several weeks and have included acting and speaking lessons.
Both leaders have extensive volunteer and board experience, from Lewis’s involvement in Watch Me Grow Ohio, Portsmouth Street Art Project, formerly the 14th Street Community Center, and Trillium Project. Pratt is employed by Main Street Portsmouth, helps Unity Project, and is appointed to the Portsmouth Shade Tree Commission, Fair Housing Board, and Human Rights Commission. When they aren’t working, the two are often writing and sharing their own poetry. Despite involvement in many groups, the two said the most emotionally rewarding has been this project because they’ve made so many friends.
“This program is very important to Amanda and I, knowing the power of poetry and creative writing for people with a lot going on, having a lot on their minds, or even trying to sit down and reflect and understand themselves better,” Pratt said. “Very early on, I pressed the importance of poetry for reflection and internal communication, because poetry is just like therapy, which they are all going through, but the poet takes charge of their own narrative, and it is a little more empowering.”
Lewis has spent much of the class encouraging the poets to take up space, as their stories and experiences are often deeply emotional and valid. The importance of people in recovery sharing their stories resonates with Lewis and she has become a major advocate.
“I’m super excited to see them perform and I’m so incredibly proud of the work they’ve put into their poetry,” Lewis said. “Opening up past trauma for the sake of art and healing is a bold and risky move, and our poets are ready to stand up and say confidently, ‘You know what? I’m here and I’m important.’”
The two have had classes of fluctuating size, admitting they were initially worried after the first day, being that learning and performing poetry is both intimidating and challenging. Over time, more and more participants began reading aloud in front of the class. Pratt said some of the poetry spoken out loud was written same day, evidence of their involvement and dedication.
“It has been so exciting to get to know these people and become friends,” Pratt said. “There were times early on that we were anxious about making the connection, but then it clicked almost in one day. We have had people go from not wanting to write to being excited to get on the PLT stage and perform it with pride.”
Lewis said that some of the highlights have been finding new ways to get people excited about writing. She spent several days introducing different tools and devices for writing, as well as a few unique prompts to get the class comfortable and thinking creatively. Poets have also responded in individual ways: One poet claimed she couldn’t write poetry but had written lyrics before, so she was partnered with local legend Holly Gail and, in 40 minutes, was able to help compose a song using the lyrics she’d written previously. In another example, a participant in the class was having trouble creating a poem, so she asked her mother, who writes poetry if she could read one of her poems in class. Pratt made copies of the poem and introduced her to a poetry technique called “found poetry,” to which she excelled, creating the best example of found poetry Pratt and Lewis had ever read.
“Finding ways to get them to realize they are capable of artistic feats has been a blast,” Pratt said. “We brought in several PLT Board of Governors Members, including Jim Humphrey and Kerri Davis, Staci Slaughter, and Karen Cobbs to teach public speaking, acting, and other theatrical tools and skills. Many have asked about auditioning for plays, which is thrilling to hear. This year, we’ve opened our doors to the domestic violence shelter, The Counseling Center, and the juvenile court. It has been exciting to see so many new people call PLT home.”
Lewis stressed the importance of a turnout for the event. She claims the poetry is wonderful, the songs are beautiful, and that she hopes people will come to support them in their efforts.
“It takes a lot of strength to experience what our poets have and remain committed to their recovery, and it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be vulnerable in front of others, so it’s important that our community supports them in their healing and empowers them to keep pushing forward,” claimed Lewis.
Friday, February 25, 6 p.m. will start the first ever afterWORD Poetry reading. Book orders will be taken for $20 and admission is $5. All profit will go towards a scholarship for students going to Shawnee State University who have had family members in recovery. The theatre is at 1117 Lawson Street and someone can be reached at 740.464.4501. If you’d like to make a donation to the scholarship, call the number above or email [email protected]