West End Poetry Opera Takes On Issues Through Art

Domestic violence, religion, interactions with police, relationships between parents and children – these are just some of the issues that will be tackled Friday, May 22 in Louisville through poetry, music, dance and spoken word.

A group of young artists from Louisville’s West End bring their stories to the Kentucky Center during the West End Poetry Opera.

About 15 artists between the ages of 18 and 26 will take the stage to tell stories of their lives and the things that concern them. The project is a production of Roots and Wings, a community organization that brings together several groups working for social change.

Stacy Bailey-Ndaiye, one of the show’s co-directors, said the audience will be getting more than just a performance.

“They’re going to hear the authentic voice of young adults here in the city, talking about issues related to the West End but it’s definitely more broad than that – I mean, it’s the West End Poetry Opera – and so we’re telling the story of African-Americans, and it really is a call to action,” Bailey-Ndaiye said.

This performance is a continuation of the work begun last October with the Smoketown Poetry Opera, which was performed outdoors across the street from the Sheppard Square housing development in Smoketown.

Theo Edmonds, Bailey-Ndaiye’s co-director, hopes that this performance’s location at the Kentucky Center brings out people from all over the city.

“I suspect that the audience will be one of the most interesting cross-sections from the city of Louisville that you’ve ever seen gathered in one place,” said Edmonds.

All of the material is original, created by the artists who perform it. Brandon Harrison, a 26-year-old poet and spoken word artist who goes by “B-Shatter” onstage, said art is an ideal way to engage the younger generation in serious issues.

“We pay more attention to the artistic outlets than we do the news, or traditional school methods,” Harrison said. “Being an artistic person, it is then my job to still educate and then bring about those issues in a way that I know my generation will listen to it.”

One of Harrison’s pieces is a poem called “Dear Officer,” which imagines asking a police officer some very pointed questions about his line of work.

Do you remember drawing inside the lines of your future profession? Furthermore, did you ever think that you’d be standing outside those lines, dear officer?
I’m asking, if you’re standing from beyond the innocence you stole, just how many vacation days does one receive if the powder from your casings enters the shell of a black soul, check the tags on the black toes, who are afraid of us realizing we’re diamonds, how much does it pay to snuff out black coals, burn down black homes, how big is the bonus for sending black boys to black holes, dear officer.

Listen to Harrison Perform ‘Dear Officer’

In addition to the public performance, there is a strong component of professional development to the project. The performers and crew are learning job skills that the organizers hope will help them in their professional lives. Although this particular project is focused on the West End, Edmonds said the intention is to build something that brings the city together.

Because we look at all the attention that’s been given to West Louisville, there is a clarion call right now to integrate social and economic justice into our urban planning policies, and so we believe that this project is coming along at a very important moment for our city, and hopefully will have the intended impact, which is to be a bridge builder to a better future for all of us,” Edmonds said.

The performance at the Bomhard Theatre is sold out, but the entire show will be streamed live on a video screen in the lobby of the Kentucky Center, and will also be streamed on YouTube.

(Image via Kertis Creative)

This story has been changed to reflect that Harrison performed “Dear Officer.”

Tara Anderson

Tara Anderson is the arts and culture correspondent for WFPL News.