Petaluma artists to appear in this weekend’s ReVerberation spoken word festival

Showcasing community voices, new event focuses on diverse storytelling|

This weekend, when Sonoma County’s FireCircle Theater presents its first ever “ReVerberation Festival of Community Voices,” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park, Petaluma’s Julie Yeager will be one of many to participate in what promises to be a vast, wildly diverse showcase of spoken word performances.

“I am going to do a poem I wrote called ‘Wrong or Right, Black or White,’ about all the people out in the world, and not judging who they are because of how they look,” says Yeager, a graduate of Petaluma High School. She’s published many of her poems in a series of books, such as 2016’s “This Will Be the Day.” “It’s a really good poem,” she says of “Wrong or Right.” “It’s about speaking out for what we believe in, telling people what we believe is right.”

“ReVerberation,” with the conspicuous emphasis on the word “verb,” is described by FireCircle Theater as “A night of experience and truth,” and “a cross-community dialogue through art.” The event will be hosted by slam-poetry champion (and NPR award-winning poet) Jamie DeWolf. A filmmaker, writer, actor and sometime circus ringmaster, DeWolf is the creator of the popular monthly show “Tourettes Without Regrets” in Oakland, and is a regular performer on NPR’s “Snap Judgment” storytelling program.

In addition to DeWolf, the festival will feature appearances by slam-poet Dre (aka Duke the Bossman), performance artist Quenby Dolgushkin, comic-book artist Tom Beland (author of “True Story Swear to God”), drag performer “Titus Androgynous,” writer-comedian Wonder Dave, activist-performer Michal Victoria, cabaret musician Rob Reich, storyteller Rebel Rouser, and several others.

A major focus of the event is the performances of true stories, written through workshops conducted by FireCircle Theater, and performed by a host of local actors. Those stories will include first-person oral histories from Tubbs Fire survivors, gay military veterans from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, and more. The festival will include several visual-and-written presentations in the lobby, an exhibition of paintings and sculptures, and a series of poetry performances.

Yeager will be delivering a number of her own poems, in addition to singing and dancing on the main stage, as part of the show’s grand opening, a performance of the song “This is Me,” presented by students of Alchemia, a Sonoma County arts program for adults with developmental disabilities. In addition to its facility in Santa Rosa, where Yeager routinely works on writing and acting projects, the nonprofit operates the Alchemia Studio and Gallery in downtown Petaluma.

“It’s going to be loads of fun,” says Rush Cosgrove, one of the founding members of FireCircle Theater. “I think there are going to be moments that are really potent and rich, with plenty of powerful emotions on display. But the overall mood will be very festive and fun, and empowering and full of surprises.”

Cosgrove describes FireCircle Theater as a community-based performing arts group with a focus on personal empowerment and community building.

“The ReVerberation festival is the perfect expression of our mission,” he says. “It’s an event where all of the artists are expressing their own personal experiences and points-of-view through various artistic media. It’s a very diverse group of perspectives, some of which you don’t often get to see all in one place on stage.”

He adds that the event’s organizers have two primary goals for the festival, the first being that some attendees will get to have the rare experience of seeing people they identify with up on stage.

“It’s a powerful thing,” says Cosgrove, “when you belong to a population or ‘category’ that’s often not part of the mainstream - and is almost never seen up on a stage telling their stories - to see someone like you up there in an event where every story and every background has value.”

The other important experience FireCircle is hoping to give audiences this weekend is that of seeing performers with an entirely different set of experiences and perspectives.

“Whenever you encounter someone you have nothing in common with, and you hear them share their own history and views of the world,” he says, “the world gets a little bit bigger. You suddenly have a chance to see the world through new eyes. It’s one of the main reasons so many of us wanted to make a life in the arts, because the arts give us that potential. And that’s what we want to have happen at Spreckels this weekend with ReVerberation.”

Liz Jahren, the Artistic Director of Alchemia - which this month is displaying artworks in store wndows all over Petaluma – says she’s happy to be included in the inaugural ReVerberation festival.”

“FireCircle originally approached us about doing workshops in spoken word and personal storytelling,” she says, “and once they came and worked with our students, I saw immediately how powerful and amazing this could be. After that, I hired them to come do some more workshops, to help us generate more material which we ended up using for our own ‘This Is Me’ cabaret project last year.”

While working at Alchemia, explains Jahren, the FireCircle artists played storytelling games and other exercises, eliciting memories and anecdotes from the participants.

“Then they took all of those conversations and helped help the students craft them into written pieces,” she says. “For our students, it’s a really important thing to be able to tell their stories in a forum like this. And they get to really express themselves, some by rapping their stories, some by reading them, some by dancing them. Whatever it is. Whatever’s meaningful to them. It’s going to be so good.”

Asked how it feels to share her poetry in public, Yeager – who recently started her own book publishing company called Backwards Hat Publishing – says she always looks forward to performing, even if it can sometimes be a bit nerve-racking.

“It feels really courageous, actually, when I step up to perform my poems,” Yeager says. “It’s an adrenaline rush. It feels so exciting, to be on stage doing something that matters to you.

“I’ve been doing poetry for years and years now, writing and performing it since I was little,” she contunues. “It’s caught on now, to where it’s not really a hobby anymore. It’s a career. What it does more me is, it’s like therapy. It talks to me, my poetry does, sort of like a therapist. It helps me see things and understanding things. It even reminds me that, hey, sometimes I can take my own advice. That’s a really powerful thing, you know? Almost as powerful as sharing my writing with people on stage.”

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