OMAHA PLAYWRIGHT Jeremy Johnson says he uses slam poetry the way musicals use song: to reveal character feelings that cannot be expressed by talking alone, and to change the onstage energy.
Johnson's adult-themed play, "In the Jungle You Must Wait," gets its premiere Friday at the Shelterbelt Theatre.
"Jungle" is set in the offices of an insurance company. Its employees find interconnection and new meaning when one of their two janitors is hospitalized.
Johnson said one janitor, Sean, is a technical poet who looks down on slam poetry. "He believes in subtlety and technique more than his face being screamed at," Johnson said with a smile. But Sean's opinion shifts over the dramatic arc of the play.
Kelp, the other janitor, cleans toilets and does slam poetry. That's his world. To the other office employees, that world is a foreign planet.
Slam poetry can combine structured elements such as meter and rhyme, plus oral storytelling and hip-hop spoken word. Sometimes vocal tone and volume shift. Sometimes it's done in ironic monotone. Some use movement. Some don't.
"Jungle" director Beth Thompson said she was fascinated by the rawness and depth of slam poetry, plus the unique ways it's performed.
Johnson, 28, has performed slam poetry just twice. "It has a very sensitive softness to it, all while being loud, vulnerable, brash and compelling," he said.
"Louder Than a Bomb," a slam-poetry competition that began in Chicago, has become a national event for high schoolers, including some in the Omaha area. In conjunction with the play, a "Louder Than a Bomb Coach Showcase" will be presented at 6 p.m. April 26 and May 3 by local slam-poetry coaches and the Nebraska Writers Collective. Suggested donation is $5.
Johnson will take audience questions after Saturday's performance.
IN THE JUNGLE YOU MUST WAIT
What: Shelterbelt Theatre stage drama
Where: SNAP/Shelterbelt, 3225 California St.
When: Friday through May 10. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets:$15 adults, $12 students and senior citizens. Exceptions: $10 all seats Thursdays and Sundays.
Info: 402-341-2757 orshelterbelt.org