[Editor's note: This feature preview's the Samurai of the Spoken Word event, "April Assault Of Spoken Word," tonight at Slowdown. The show is free, 21 and over, and starts at 8 p.m.]
story and photos by Mike Machian
“Just relax and slow down,” David Nesbit tells a woman about to begin her first spoken word performance. A small, brightly lit stage awaits her, where in a few minutes she will open the “Abundance of Spoken Word” show at the Pizza Shoppe in Benson.
A diverse crowd made up of young artists, retirees and baby boomers sit packed around a few tables a few feet in front of the stage. This show is put on by the Samurai of the Spoken Word, a collection of spoken word artists formed by Nesbit for shows like tonight’s.
The origin of the Samurai can be traced to the art and fashion shows Nesbit and his partner Ann Myers have put on through their company EVENTgelical productions. During their shows, they would always set aside time for spoken word performances. It was during these shows that Nesbit met future Samurai Mikey Taylor and Will Ross who were part of these performances.
The first official Samurai performance came about when Will Ross told Nesbit he was going to be in Omaha and wanted to perform. Nesbit’s first call was to the Pizza Shoppe who provided the space for that show on December 26. They've been performing there regularly ever since.
When planning that first show, they talked about taking donations for the performers but decided to pass the hat for charity instead. Nesbit says each show supports a different organization and before each show, “We all confer and decide what charity it will be." Some of the recipients of donated dollars so far have been Planned Parenthood, the Food Bank for the Heartland, The Domestic Violence Council and the Lydia House.
David Nesbit watches the Samurai of the Spoken Word performance at the Pizza Shoppe on April 16.
Each show also has a theme. Some, like “Love Gone Wrong” for the show after Valentine's Day and “March Madness Mosh Pit” for the show in March are obvious. Others Nesbit admits are picked because it is “something alliterative to catch the eye” like the upcoming “April Assault of Spoken Word.” No one will think twice if someone doesn’t stick to the theme as long as they put on a good show.
The crowd won’t hesitate to let you know if you’re doing a good job by shouting out their approval or interjecting a joke. Nesbit says the one thing that makes a good performance more than anything is being real. "Some of the biggest reactions we have gotten have been more about a person's obvious passion about their work,” rather than their subject of the piece.
That “obvious passion” is what brings them onto the stage. “If you ask any other member of the group, they'd say much the same thing. We all love to perform, but it's about expressing ourselves and seeing an audience get into [the performance]."
Photo: Marlowe Mapes performs at the Samurai of the Spoken Word performance at the Pizza Shoppe on April 16.
Ryan Lacy is someone whose need to express himself led him to give spoken word a try. Describing himself as the “shy and quiet kid in the back of the class,” Lacy has been writing for years but has never read any of his work in public. Even though he shares everything he writes with his wife, he would just throw paper at her and say, “Here, read this.”
Taylor, along with Lacy’s wife, convinced him to audition and he soon became a Samurai. Although Lacy says he’s not scared of the spotlight, he was still nervous. “It’s strange. I had to open my mind and soul up to a room of strangers.”
The crowd listens to the first-timer auditioning at the Samurai of the Spoken Word performance at the Pizza Shoppe on April 16.
When the show begins, the first timer is clearly nervous, but she doesn’t rush. The crowd rewards her performance with laughter and applause. Her nervousness is understandable as there isn’t an empty seat in the Pizza Shoppe tonight. Each show is drawing a bigger crowd that the last. Because of this the Samurai will leave the Pizza Shoppe on April 30 for their next show at the bigger Slowdown.
If Nesbit has his way, it will only go up from there. “I would love to see us make this into something bigger where we can expose a lot of great performers to the city. Mikey Taylor and I have said that we'll call it a huge victory when we play the Orpheum.”
Samurai and author Travis Heerman watches another performance at the Pizza Shoppe on April 16.
Along with tonight's performances at Slowdown, the Samurai also have several shows in May including the "Dreaming" art show on May 5 at 5 p.m. at 712 S. 16th St.; at Barley's in Council Bluffs 114 W. Broadway on May 13 at 5 p.m.; and at the Pizza Shoppe on May 21 at 7 p.m.
Mike Machian is a Hear Nebraska contributor. He shoots photos under the name Shoot to Fill.