Blog Less Traveled: Buffalo slam poet and playwright Archie Barlow is writing for his life
blog by Scott Behrend • June 06, 2012 @ 7:00am
This week I talk to Western New York native Archie “The Messenger” Barlow, a poet, playwright and spoken word performer whose new play, No Stage, will enjoy a two-week run at the Road Less Traveled Theatre (639 Main St., Buffalo) beginning Thursday, June 7.
Archie’s honors and accolades include victories in the NAACP’s Act-So National Oratory Championship, the New Africa House Slam in Buffalo, the 2004 Last Poet Standing Championship in Baltimore, the Njozi Poets Slam in Buffalo and the Tri-City Slam Series in Cleveland, among others. Barlow was the the Capitol Jazz Fest 200 Nuyorican Grand Slam Champion in Columbia, Md. He was also a member of Morgan State University’s Battle of the Schools Slam Team and has performed on the national spoken word circuit for over seven years.
No Stage tracks the experiences of two young black men growing up in the inner city as they encounter racism and violence as well as love and opportunities for personal redemption. Archie told me that he hoped this play would “...plant seeds that will foster communication between all members of the community at-large in Buffalo.”
“There is a racial dynamic in this country that no longer exists as an undertone, but as a blatant disregard for basic human rights,” Archie remarked. “There has to be an uproar in Buffalo and across the country.”
Blog Less Traveled: The press release for this production notes that you avoided “...the pitfalls of street violence in Western New York” in order to graduate from City Honors and find success as a writer and poet. How did your urban experiences influence the creation of No Stage? How much of the content of this show is based in your own experience?
Archie Barlow: When I was at Buffalo Arts Academy, the common bond between a lot of my peers was the goal of getting out of Buffalo and “making it.” I really just wanted to make it out alive. I loved living in Buffalo. The level of opportunity was very low for black males. I was seeing a lot of my friends killed due to gun violence. I saw a lot of underage pregnancy. Most of my peers wanted to get away.
Every part of No Stage is about Buffalo and how I grew up. The struggle and poverty in my community in Buffalo and in Baltimore inspired the content in No Stage.
BLT: Your stated intention with No Stage is to remove the boundaries between performer and audience. Could you share some anecdotes about particularly memorable and/or gratifying responses from members of No Stage audiences?
AB: The idea of No Stage started in July 2010. No Stage has sold out in 90% percent of its shows thus far. Our goal is a standing ovation. The surprising detail is that we get standing ovations in the beginning and throughout the show. No Stage is very interactive. The audience is involved throughout the play with call and response, claps and snaps. We always end up making someone cry or cry laughing.
BLT: Although No Stage originated prior to the Trayvon Martin homicide case, the material has evolved recently in order to address that very unfortunate phenomenon. Can you discuss the process by which you began to integrate details of Trayvon’s murder and the subsequent controversy surrounding it?
AB: No Stage always involves current events. Before the show, we take a careful study of the people in the city that No Stage is visiting. Buffalo has hundreds of teens shot and/or killed by gun violence. Trayvon Martin’s death is national news. No Stage will not only talk about Trayvon (but also about) the close friends I’ve lost. We will talk about the recent shooting at Martin Luther King Park. I am a Buffalo-born baby. My ears are always listening to what happens in my city, regardless of what city No Stage is in.
BLT: A great deal of your background as a writer and performer is in the genre of slam poetry—you’ve won a staggering amount of awards and competitions by exercising those talents. What kind of challenges did you experience (if any) when you attempted to apply that skill set to writing a play?
AB: Poetry Slam is totally different from No Stage. I learned the skill that is applied in the play from watching stand up comics and actors. No Stage is the highest level of performance poetry and improv. The home of this art form we love and adore has a home . The home is NOT an open mic lounge or a poetry slam cafe. It rightful home is in the theater. W4ML will keep this art form in its home to be mastered for all to see.
BLT: Do you plan to continue working in theater? And if so, what sort of theatrical projects do you plan to tackle next?
AB: This is third play—Pain on Paper (2006), In God’s Eyes Out My Mouth (2007), No Stage and our next play, Awesome, which opened March 2012. Jo’rell Whitfield (co-star/writer) just published a novel called Deferred Dream. We are writing for our lives. This team has been working in theater for 10 years. We will continue to inspire through many forms of art. Our home is the theater. Check us out at www.Writing4mylife.com or on Twitter at @archieatm and @illestlyricist.
No Stage will run from Thursday, June 7 through Thursday, June 21 at The Road Less Traveled Theater.. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday performances will be held at 2 p.m. General admission tickets are available for $20. Student tickets are $15 and senior tickets are $10.
For more information, please call Archie Barlow at 309-706-0711 or Tony Shep at 716-444-3016.