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So Many Words

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 2, 2006 5:30PM

WORDSFest, a premier collection of local African-American performers and one of the most entertaining events you’ll see this Black History Month, opens tonight at the Theatre Building. The two-weekend showcase shares a path with last month’s Sketch Fest. Each grew from an impulse to bring together and raise the visibility of a talented community, each arrived at the Theatre Building when they outgrew their original space. Both open their arms (and their workshop) to aspiring performers. But WORDSFest gives its audiences more bang for the buck, each night a thematic variety show.

wordsfest.gifVariety only begins to describe it. Spoken word performers mesh poetry, rap, DJ skills, and theatrics to defy easy categorization. Fans of the Def Poetry Jam and BEZ’s 848 won’t want to miss Kevin Coval. Kwe brings African-inspired multimedia performance on the heels of his debut album and book of poetry; you can see him this weekend before he busts out. Improv shows run the gamut from the insightful social commentary of duos KevINda and Straight and Nappy to the wacky, bizarre, but unsafe for the kiddies Pimprov (if you think pimpin’ ain’t easy, try improv). Solo artists remounting their original shows include DMG Freedom’s meditation on life in prison, Shoshannah’s cautionary tale “That Hoochie” and Celisa Grayer’s wacky “Personal Assistant” (which we enjoyed).

The festival itself is at a unique junction: youthful enough to experiment but established enough to secure support from the Second City’s Outreach and Diversity program and the Detroit Foundation for the Arts. You have two chances to see each showcase, but if these performers live up to their promise next weekend may sell out fast.

WORDSFest hits Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W Belmont Avenue, tonight through Feb 5 and Feb 9-12. Tickets are $15 general, $12 students, $40 for a festival pass. More information at