Tigertail Productions has made its name in South Florida as the "pioneer of innovative art," and the tradition continues with two new poetry residencies beginning in February. Poets and spoken-word artists Andrea Assaf and George Yamazawa will give Miami's youth the opportunity to learn more about themselves and the creative process through workshops, readings, performances, and open-mike nights.
Assaf and Yamazawa are accomplished artists in their own right. Assaf is the founding artistic director of Art2Action Inc. and from 2004 to 2009 was the artistic director of New World Theater. Yamazawa, also a rapper whose EP will be released this summer, is working on a college tour and is traveling to Japan to build relationships between American and Japanese artists.
Poetry became a huge part of Assaf and Yamazawa's lives early on. "I was a young actor in New York City in the '90s. I had gone to NYU for theater," Assaf says. "After I graduated, I was trying to figure out how to be a young artist in New York and finding, of course, that it's difficult to create new work and get produced when you're young and trying to find your voice creatively."
Assaf lived near Bar 13, which had a weekly open mike, and even though she constantly wrote, she never though about presenting her work until a friend wanted to attend an open mike. "A friend encouraged me to go with her to the Bar 13 open mike because she wanted to read and she wanted support," Assaf remembers. "Pretty soon, I got up on the mike and overturned my fears of reading my own work and started to find that was a really wonderful, new dimension to my creative work and the development of my creative voice as a young artist."
Yamazawa came to poetry and spoken word when he was around the same age as some of the Tigertail students. He began rapping when he was about 12 years old. Then he happened to listen to a poet from Def Poetry Jam.
"I randomly came across this poem [by Black Ice] from Def Poetry [Jam], and it blew me away and I started writing poems when I was 13 or 14," Yamazawa says. "I still wanted to do hip-hop, and in high school I got up with this group called the Sacrificial Poets in Chapel Hill, and they sent a team to Brave New Voices, which is the international youth poetry festival and competition. It changed my life, and that was the moment when I decided I wanted to do poetry, and I started competing in poetry slams."
Having an outlet like poetry helped Assaf and Yamazawa develop their sense of poetic style and their sense of self. "I think once I started performing my own writing, it was a whole other dimension of personal growth in terms of being able to publicly speak about this kind of unusual mix of things that I am, which is I'm a mixed-race Arab-American queer person," Assaf says. "Spoken word and poetry really gave me a space to grow in that identity and to communicate my developing worldview. There aren't that many roles created for people like me... When it comes to having something to say about the world and who you are in the world, poetry and spoken word are really wonderful venues for that."
"It helped me realize that my voice is really important and powerful and that there was a large community of young people out there like me that really had something to say as well," Yamazawa says. "For me, it was just an outlet, and young people really need outlets. It doesn't have to be something they're going to do for the rest of their lives, but I think for me and young people like me, where spoken word has been crucial is in giving us an outlet to say whatever it is that's on our minds and for us to really tell our story."
Yamazawa's love for helping students tell their stories is what he will focus on during his residency. "I hope I bring just an eagerness and an enthusiasm for them to share their story and for them to understand that their story is valid and important," he says. "A lot of times young people believe that their story or experience isn't important enough or they haven't struggled enough... I just want to come in and let everyone know that... your experience and story is extremely important, and [we're] going to take the first steps in telling that [story]."
When Assaf begins her residency, she'll bring her theater experience into her workshops. "I hope they'll learn how to grow in their own voices," she says. "We'll do some theater exercises, icebreakers that will help tear down inhibitions and walls and release creativity, some writing exercises." Assaf will also help the students learn how to perform their work, which will come in handy when they participate in the open mike.
Both Yamazawa and Assaf are looking forward to working with Tigertail. "I have known of Tigertail for a very long time because they're part of a network called the National Performance Network, which I've also been a part of as both an artist and a presenter," Assaf says. "This is the first time I've had the opportunity to work with them... It's wonderful to see an arts organization having a long-term commitment to working with particular schools over time and working with the community -- in this case, the LGBTQ community."
"I have had a good connection with the Florida youth poetry scene for some time now," Yamazawa says. "One, it's really good to be able to connect with them again, and, two, I'm just really looking forward to connecting with the youth. I love working with the youth, and being able to work with the youth at such a high capacity and intense volume is really awesome. I'm very honored to be able to come and help out."
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Assaf's residency runs February 2 through 6. A slam and open mike for teens will take place at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden(2000 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach) February 5 at 6 p.m. The Betsy Hotel (1440 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach) will also host a reading and performance February 6 at 8 p.m.
Yamazawa's residency will run February 22 through 27. The slam and open mike during his residency will take place at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden February 26 at 6 p.m. A reading and performance will take place at the Betsy-South Beach Arts and Culture Annex at the Carlton South Beach (1433 Collins Ave., Miami Beach).
All events are free to the public. Visit tigertail.org or call 305-324-4337.