Fabric of Community: Virginia Hampton Back From Belize Talking Performance

2006-01-01 12.01.17

Intro from Lisa Gill: If you’ve been around the Albuquerque scene long, you’ve gotta have some fine memories of Out Ch’Yonda and all the work of Virgina Hampton and Stefanie Willis with grassrootz theater and wild poetry and jazz and mores. I’m thrilled to say Virginia is back in town from Belize to give us a good shot in the arm on perfomance especially directed at poets who want to develop their stage work. In 1995 I had a chance to work with her as my director for a one-woman-show of Caput Nili (supported by I swear 13 people, costumes, film, music, even hairdressing).  She got me up to snuff and we sold out a run of tremendous weekends at the theater and had an offer first weekend to turn the show into what it is now, a book out from BurningBooks/West End Press. The process was so profound and enlightening for me that I dedicated my book to Virginia and remain infinitely grateful. (Right now, I swear she’s back to help get a bit of the brain light socket upstairs in my head screwed back in so I can handle some complicated medical issues–but that’s an aside and digression I’ll write about later.) Right now, I want EVERYONE in this poetry community to know that YOU ALSO can get a fix of the insights and cultivation of  the relationship of body and poetry for stage by working with Virginia in a workshop Sunday July 28th from  1-4 (***DATE CHANGED TO SUNDAY JULY 21 BECAUSE VIRGINIA JUST GREAT WORD  SHE’s BEEN HIRED AS AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF BELIZE AND HAS TO RETURN HOME SOONER TO GET TO WORK.) Catch this workshop and milling at the Filling Station, which is on 1024-4th St SW, just down from the old OutCh’Yonda. Sliding scale fees on the workshop. Whole event goes from 12-5 because an hour before the workshop and for an hour after, community are also welcome to swing by, say hello and check out -and buy–all the great wares she’s been sewing… picture above is from my well-loved favorite bag, one of her crafts… gonna be getting me some more…

Now here’s a first installment of thoughts from Virginia. I asked her to offer advice for poets who want to tackle the stage but are nervous, which I certainly was in 1995 …


For poets who have never performed their work before and are nervous, just know that nervous is normal.  As a performer, I use that nervous energy to motivate my performance.  Yes, even after 37 years of performing, I still count on getting nervous right before I go on stage.  Luckily, performing gives us a few options for expending that nervous energy.  The greatest of those options are breath and movement.   Breathe deeply and shake your hands, your head, your feet, letting all that energy surge through your body.  Many actors have a warm up ritual they do about a half hour or less before the performance alone or with other performers.  When we do the workshop, warm up is one of the things we will focus on.  Then when you begin, your body, your instrument will have lots of energy you can use to bring your poem to life—something I will talk more about in a minute.

Before you can even consider going onstage, you have to have some poetry that is authentic, honest, something that speaks to your own artistic integrity.  Choose your best stuff.  Maybe you have a friend you can trust to read through what you have and tell you honestly what the best three pieces are.  Three pieces are manageable for a first reading.  Then read them aloud to yourself or your friend so that you can hear the rhythm and music in your writing and in your voice, as well as how the images you have created work outside your head where they have been living.  You want the poetry to have a chance at coming alive.  And for that, you need to read it aloud.

One of the most important things for a new performer to do is to find a safe place for that first performance.  A place where the audience wants you to succeed.  Where they are with you.  Don’t be afraid to just go ahead and invite friends or family that are supportive.  Having audience in the crowd that you know is both invigorating and vulnerable.  Sometimes it’s even easier to perform in front of strangers who might have no expectations.  You can make this choice.  In any case, when you take that risk and you get that positive feedback, you will soon want more.  You might also consider doing a duet with another performer, a musician, a dancer to help take all the spotlight off of you alone.  That sense of ensemble and togetherness is one thing that allows new performers to do well on stage.

If you can, many weeks before you perform, memorize the poetry you will perform and own it.  You can still have the poem with you on stage [unless you are doing a Slam!] but you can have it there with you if you happen to get lost.  Then, practice, practice, practice, alone and in front of someone whose opinion you can trust.  Consider altering and changing your voice to express the honesty of the piece[s].  Then explore the authenticity of the poetry through movement.  Try different movements in front of a mirror.  What part of your body does the poem make you want to move or extend?  Find the physical integrity inherent in your body, your instrument, and in the poetry.  At first you can keep the movement simple, using just your hands.  But don’t forget you have a face and a head.  Watch your face in the mirror and use your eyes, your mouth, all the muscles in your face to get the meaning of the poem across.  Since you have the poem memorized, really, the sky is the limit!  You can spin around.  Turn your back to the audience for dramatic effect.  The choices are endless.  Change your shape.  Find an image in the poetry that you can personify with your body.

Of course, too much movement can be distracting, so all these options I am giving you are for your practice time.  You will have to make some choices and I suggest keeping them simple, especially for the first time.  The point is that movement will help you express the poem and put that natural nervous energy to good use.  This is what we theatre actors do and most of us get nervous before a performance.  You will join the ranks of performers everywhere—musicians, dancers, etc.  All of us have ways to use that nervous energy to our benefit.

In fact, the theatre process, I believe, offers methods to engage may elements at once for the poet who wants to be an actor, know that once you have performed your own poetry, acting will be a lot easier.  Most of the time, you will be performing someone else’s work and for many of us that is easier than performing our own work—we are invested in a different way in the words, sounds, images, etc.  Again, I recommend that you don’t do your first performance alone.  Even if you are going to be the only performer of your work—which you could call performance art, at this point—you still need a crew:  a director of some kind, someone who can manage your other technical elements [lights, music, sound, costume, video, etc.], a.k.a. a stage manager, and maybe other performers such as live musicians, dancers, all the things I have mentioned.  As I said, whatever you need to bring the poetry to life.  And, of course, for the very first time, make choices that are both simple and powerful.

— Virginia Hampton

MORE FROM LISA: Any sense of feeling overwhelmed will dissipate quickly and turn into excitement when you have a chance to work with virginia and unlock a bit of the body’s knowledge on July 28th 1-4 workshop at the Filling Station. (Details above.)

If interested, fill out this contact form and Virginia will send you more info.