As the prototype for what could end up being a monthly event at Santa Clara’s Studio Bongiorno, the gallery hosted Mighty Mike McGee and friends, Kim Johnson and Joyce Lee, for a poetry event on April 3.
“Tonight’s show is sort of ‘let’s get people around the fire and do what we used to do for, oh, the last 20,000 years and tell stories and poetry’ – share words, basically,” said McGee. “It doesn’t matter what the format is of what’s being said. It’s more about the fact that it’s being said in front of people who really want to be around the fire and listen to others express themselves.”
Opening with an open mic that included a surprise performance by Santa Clara County Poet Laureate David Perez, the evening started in the courtyard, in front of the fire, but was moved inside to the studio’s main space due to the evening chill.
McGee served as host and performer, introducing each of the main acts, as well as the open mic performers, with short stories filled with humor that kept the audience laughing as they heard the sometimes horrifying tales seamlessly spoken from the performers’ mouths.
McGee’s work was, as he called it, a straightforward mix of stand–up comedy and in–depth, sad poetry although he delivered his works with such a conversational style that the audience often forgot there was much “sad” to it.
Lee’s intensity captivated the room through her speaking style and comedic segues. “Joyce is a flavor all unto herself,” said McGee. “Joyce’s work is indicative of life in Oakland. It’s indicative of a single, black woman living in a very multi–cultural region of the country. She is social justice warrior … and she is fierce.”
Johnson, likewise, had the audience entranced, telling stories of her oft–bizarre relationship and effortlessly explaining her anxiety and fears in a way that felt genuine. “Kim’s work has always been some of the most playful language,” said McGee. “When I say playful, I don’t mean silly, but I mean, like whoa, I didn’t know you could do that with words. I didn’t know that you could basically create whole new meanings out of something.”
The combination seemed to work. The studio was packed with people, many whom were visiting it for the first time.
“I love connecting with a room of people – or for tonight’s sake an outside of people,” said McGee. “I just really love [Studio Bongiorno]. I feel like I stumbled on it … I got here and I was completely mesmerized. This place just keeps unfolding and I was like how does this place even exist in Santa Clara? It’s intense. It’s such an intense place but there’s nothing about it that feels wrong to me and that’s rare for a venue. It’s really rare. It’s an unconventional place to have events like this. Tonight is the beginning of something that could become a very regular thing.”