Black Theatre Workshop’s Poetry JAM will be themed “love and resilience”

Friday night’s spoken-word event will feature Concordia graduate Jason Selman

Graphic by Joey Bruce.

Established in 1971, Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) has since grown to become the oldest Canadian running theatre company committed to featuring the works of Black and diasporic communities.

Their upcoming Poetry JAM is a yearly event that usually takes place in person, but due to COVID, will be live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. The theme for this year’s virtual JAM is “love and resilience.”

The event will be hosted by Deanna Smith, the same host of the event Some of Us Did Not Die, organized by the VOLTA Collective last August. Five poets will be performing spoken word poetry for the virtual audience, who will then be able to participate in a virtual Q&A session with the artists.

“I’m really excited to be a part of the Poetry JAM,” said Jason Selman, one of the poets who will be performing. “I’ve done it for many years; I’ve hosted it a few times. A great thing about the event is that it’s a meeting place of artists from different cross-sections of the spoken word community.”

Selman has been involved with BTW for some time, starting as a poetry animator for their youth program from around 2003 to 2013. Poetry animation is the art of designing visuals to accompany a poem. He has since worked on several other projects with the organization.

He graduated from Concordia University with a degree in jazz studies, where he then started a career in poetry, music, and community work.

He started performing as a trumpet player and as a poet in CEGEP, which is around the same time he started self-publishing books. He has since written five books and is currently working on his sixth. His books are on music as well as his identity as a Black man in Canada, a father, and a husband. They also examine masculinity, current events, and culture. 

“I’m writing to music all the time,” he said, adding that the vast majority of his poems are written to songs that inspire him. His poems incorporate the themes and energy of these songs and sometimes the title or lyrics. He is always looking for new artists to be inspired by and never writes lyrics to the same song twice.

When talking about the theme of the Poetry JAM, Selman explained that love is already a theme in his writing. He added that people tend to view love strictly romantically, but love for family, friends, one’s community, the planet, and oneself are equally important. 

“I think love is a doorway to resilience as well. It allows us to be compassionate to ourselves and to other people and rebuild after we’ve been cut down; after we’ve experienced loss. I think that kind of resilience comes from a love of self.” — Jason Selman

“I think love is a doorway to resilience as well. It allows us to be compassionate to ourselves and to other people and rebuild after we’ve been cut down; after we’ve experienced loss. I think that kind of resilience comes from a love of self.”

His advice to aspiring poets is to read. “Read as much as you can: different things, different styles, different eras.” He elaborated on the history of poetry and spoken word, acknowledging that they are ancient art forms that have evolved through time in ways that are important to learn about.

BTW’s artistic director, Quincy Armorer, helped recruit professional spoken word artists for Friday’s Poetry JAM.  

“We’ve brought in people who specialize in spoken word art, and those are the performers that you’re gonna see [this Friday].”

He performed in theatre shows in elementary and high school, but only decided to make a career out of his passion when applying to university. He entered Concordia’s theatre performance program in fall 1992 and has been doing theatre ever since.

“I was always an actor first,” he clarified. “It was always, and still is, my first love. Beyond acting, I wear many different hats. I also direct, I teach as well, and I’m a theatre administrator running a theatre company.”

He became BTW’s artistic director in 2011 but started working with the organization as an actor in one of their shows in the late 1990s. Since, he has held several different roles, including coordinator of their youth program.

Armorer described his role as artistic director as a leadership role where he is in charge of everything from creating a vision for the organization and staying true to it to recruiting team members.

“It’s about creating that whole ‘what is the voice and the look and the branding and the image of the organization.” 

Over the course of 10 years, he has organized countless plays, fundraisers, play readings, and one-night events.

Friday’s event is one the whole Black Theatre Workshop team is looking forward to — they’ve put in a lot of time and talent to make it a memorable first virtual Poetry JAM.