From Stage to Page
An Interview With Johnny Trinh
In an effort to support, promote, and inform we will be publicizing the events, experiences, and work of local poets on our blog.
On Monday, July 20th the pilot program of a unique workshop was launched by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver. Its goal was to be a place,
“where spoken word poets interested in getting their work published are offered an opportunity to have their work read by trained readers, and discussed by a panel of industry professionals.”
We wanted to share the details of the CACV’s original workshop From Stage to Page (the next livestream event will take place on November 4) as well as learn about its development and execution.
We spoke with the creator of this initiative Spoken Word Artist and CACV Program Manager Johnny Trinh.
How long have you been considering this workshop? / How long did it take to develop?
As a spoken word artist, having been involved in the national community since 2012, I have always valued professional development, mentorship, and artist growth. Whether we had visiting artists leading workshops, or attended masterclasses, or participated in workshops at national festivals- I was always most inspired by the moments of learning.
Mentorship, professional development, teaching; for me, is the epitome of succession planning and doing the work to ensure the legacy of our craft.
Specifically, with Stage to Page, I’d say at least a year. I have experienced too many workshops on writing in general, and some on performance technique, new media, and technical production, but I had never experienced something like Stage to Page, and not in this format.
The event took about 6 months of development, from initial idea, to developed proposal, to actual implementation. I am grateful that the Community Arts Council of Vancouver approved the project for pilot. The CACV has a history of identifying and meeting gaps within community art, supporting culture. Within the organization, we have contracted many spoken word artists, so it was a great opportunity to highlight the practice, support poets, and get artists some paid opportunities.
Virtual events present their own challenges. You seem to have considered these and were good about checking in. Were there any hiccups you feel even better prepared for with the second event coming up?
Yes. This event was an opportunity for the CACV to try producing online programming. Compared to other arts organizations, we were a bit slower to jump online.
In preparation, we had an amazing workshop with Oli Salvas of Creative Arts. Overall the premier event went really well. Moving forward we are definitely more prepared, and we’re working on making the text more visible, and the overall experience more user friendly.
I think that because the event went so well (without any crashes, or major technical errors), we feel more confident about experimenting and playing with the format. A major shift this round will be a shorter event, with fewer speakers, which we hope will allow more time to really celebrate the work.
What are some of the positives of a virtual space for this event?
Access. We have a history of supporting marginalized communities, and having ASL translation, allows for more people to engage.
Geography is also no longer an issue, we were able to have viewers from across the continent. We were able to connect differently, and overcome many barriers that you face with an in-person event. It was also easier to moderate the room, and we were able to measure engagement in a clearer way.
What do you feel poets gain from hearing their work read out loud (by someone else)?
This was always an important aspect of the event for me. The whole point of publishing is to release your work to the world in a way that relinquishes control of the sonic narrative that you bring. The way we speak holds such an enormous amount of nuance and meaning. Functionally, it allows the writer to hear what others are discovering in their work.
As a performer, this is something that RC Weslowski and I have chatted about often, and in the development of this project, hearing someone else read your work as a performer allows you to hear different possibilities in the text. It also helps you as a performer notice your idiosyncratic patterns/habits that may not always serve you in performance. It’s a beautiful way to disrupt your patterns and explore in a deeper way.
As mentioned, for spoken word artists, there hasn’t been a clear career path, because there isn’t necessarily a formal/codified training system.
We come to this practice from all walks of life. Programs like the post secondary degree created by Lillian Allen at OCAD, or the Spoken Word Residency at the Banff Centre started by Sheri-D Wilson are few and far between. When I tour and hold workshops, I often focus on performance. My performance training is rooted in vocal work, breath work, and embodiment. So part of my casting for the performers was making sure I had vocally strong artists with experience with new/poetic text. I wanted to exemplify what good training provides.
Besides poets, you had panelists and performers at the first event. Do the performers (reading the work) also offer feedback to the poets regarding their work?
Yes absolutely. I actually made a change part way through the marketing. It was inappropriate for me to differentiate between panelists and performers.
I realized this because I specifically sought out actors and theatre makers who had direct experience in play development. This means the actors have experience being in a workshop environment when playwrights/scriptwriters are workshopping new work. The process is often taking words from page to stage. The process often involves script work, research, experimentation, cold reads, rehearsed read-throughs, edits, rewrites, and repeating this process.
Knowing that all the performers had this experience, their input to the writer was just as valid as the other panelists. So moving forward the only dichotomy includes poets and panelists.
What were you looking for in a panelist?
*Or who do you think is an ideal panelist for providing useful perspective/feedback to spoken word artists looking to get their work published?
Haha, I mostly answered this in the last question. But I can elaborate on the other panelists.
I had 3 main criteria for panelists I referred to as “industry professionals”.
I wanted a range in career experience/level. Definitely someone like Sheri-D Wilson who has published many books, and done this work in an extensive way.
I wanted to bridge sectors, so having a partner in Write Bloody North, a publishing house that highlights spoken word artists to give tangible feedback on publishing was important.
I wanted strong educators who knew how to give feedback, and measure the feedback they could effectively give, so having Kathryn Bracht who is an incredibly accomplished professor, director, dramaturg, and actor- it was a dream team.
I also wanted to make sure that there was diversity within the panel, and overall I felt we were successful in the curation of this. Identity is so ingrained in much spoken word, so I wanted to lean into this friction point.
Can we compassionately explore the reality of what it means for someone from one identity (ethnicity, gender, sex, orientation, faith, etc.) to read the words of another?
Favorite moment of the workshop?
The love and support. I had a meeting with a mentor of mine, Kim Selody, artistic director of Presentation House Theatre on the North Shore. He observed that for many artists engaged in socially transformative work, advocacy work, and resistance to white supremacy- there is an exhaustion.
Oftentimes, and I’ve definitely found myself in this position, we’re asked to educate, facilitate, and or do work that isn’t our actual practice. I could spend 3 hours facilitating a workshop on racism, or I could spend 3 hours performing amazing work that does the same thing, but through my medium.
Too often when we are caught up in these dialogues, it becomes… alien, academic, abstract. We were able to hold a space where diverse voices come together around a virtual table, and really talk about the human experiences, real stories, and find connection.
We were able to celebrate artists, their stories, and build community.
I can’t leave this question without also recognizing the return of artists. Many artists, prominent poets, living legends who, for one reason or another, stepped away from the local poetry community were able to come back. And the incredible support they had for this work. It felt like coming home and that’s part of building community. It was a connection of generations in a kind way.
What are you most looking forward to for the next workshop?
A diversity of work. We learned so much about how different styles of poetry added to the event, so we want to continue to showcase to the audiences the range of possibilities within Spoken Word.
We also want to give the audience a glimpse into the work that goes into the poems we create. Some of the panelists we are so honoured to feature on November 4th include: Kai Cheng Thom, Brandon Wint, Johnny MacRae and Shane Sable.
We want to thank Johnny for sharing the details of this workshop.
The call for submissions is still open, the process is really easy. And we hope there are many submissions.
Details are here: http://www.cacv.ca/stage-to-page/
Johnny Trinh, CACV Program Manager, is a community-engaged artist, with practices in spoken word, theatre, and music. Johnny holds an MFA in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Regina. For Johnny, art has always been a reflection and response to the world we live in. It is an important space to deepen our understanding of our realities. This is especially true when recognizing the impacts of colonialism and our relationship on these unceded lands where we live. Johnny is the creator of Stage to Page. “It takes a community to build an artist, whether you are nurtured by it, or resist against it.” Johnny hopes this program will nurture both artist and community, bringing necessary healing and light to our work.
The Community Arts Council of Vancouver (CACV) was the first arts council in North America. Since its beginning in 1946, the Community Arts Council of Vancouver has been a contributor to shaping the cultural life of Vancouver.
CACV’s vision is of a socially-engaged, inclusive, and vibrant city alive with community arts.
CACV’s mission is to further the development of community arts throughout Vancouver.