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The Skanner News
Published: 10 July 2013

Continuing in the tradition of mixing environmental consciousness with young people and art, Seattle's Urban Wilderness Project returns this month with its beloved open-mic storytelling team competitions.

BoUnce is a monthly series held the last Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. This month it's Wednesday, July 31, at Columbia City's Royal Room, at 5000 Rainier Ave.

BoUnce is the sport of storytelling, requiring skill and improvisation – not unlike basketball, says poet and storyteller Jourdan Keith, who founded the organization and created the art form. Two teams of players face off to win cheers and prize money from the audience.

"BoUnce integrates the arts across genres, racial and cultural lines through the team-style competitions that give LGBTQ, straight, People of Color and white writers and performers a time and place to tell their stories together," Keith says.

The evening begins with a free of charge flash writing workshop at 6 p.m. Sign-ups for those who want to participate in the performance begin at 6:30 p.m. Come with a piece you have already written or create a story, poem or song on the spot based on the theme. July's theme is "Hotter Than …"

The performance itself starts at 7:30 p.m.

Cost is pay as you will – the group literally passes the hat for contributions. No one is turned away for lack of funds, which are shared with the BoUnce winners.

These are the rules of the game: Poets, storytellers, spoken word and hip hop artists join together to make up the storytelling sports teams. All players on each team must perform to qualify for the prize. Youth and adults sign up to perform and are randomly placed with 2- 4 other individuals to form 3 on 3, or 5 on 5 teams or you can come with a team ready to play.

There are four quarters per game. First Quarter: Free Style; Second Quarter: How and Why Stories. Third Quarter: If I'm Lyin', I'm Dyin' ( Liar's Round/ Tall Tales) Fourth Quarter: Improvisation.

Scoring: 3 points max awarded by each judge from the audience per performance.

Criteria: Content, Performance, On Topic. Each month there is a different theme. Maximum performance time is six minutes. Teams are scored by judges from the audience and the winning team shares half the door.

Keith says the project was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, when segregation brought literary giants, jazz musicians and basketball players together in one venue. BoUnce includes Seattle literary luminaries, vocalists, spoken word artists and storytellers who all come together to participate with others who walk in off the street.

Keith is herself a literary light, with a history of fellowships and awards from Jack Straw, Hedgebrook, VONA, 4Culture and the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs for her choreopoem/play, "The Uterine Files" and "Coyote Autumn," a travel memoir.

As the Urban Wilderness Project gears up for BoUnce, the group is also, through their Wilderness WORKS program, holding 17-day backpacking trips for young people.

Supporters say this group is unique in the region in the way it blends environmental exploration for youth of color with writing, storytelling and literature.

Another key project, Urban Wilderness' Griot WORKS, trains youth and adult participants to become storytellers through workshops and performances in their community.

The idea jumps off from the ancient West African tradition of encapsulating news events, history and personal experiences in the form of stories and songs shared by wise men and women; griots still exist today and are powerful, important members of their communities.

Another major initiative Keith has brought to the organization is embracing an understanding of the water ecosystem in the Puget Sound region.

Perhaps one of the most compelling programs offered by Urban Wilderness is called R U An Endangered Species? Human Estuaries™ Campaign.

Through that campaign's Blue Corps program, running Thursdays through Aug. 14, participants – who applied and were accepted in June – learn to understand the connection between the water in the human body with the water bodies in the natural environment.

The young people take guided tours around local beaches, watch films about the issues involved, then create poetry, stories, visual art and more that are all geared toward preservation and personal health.

Keith is celebrating her 10th year of bringing young people of color from the urban center into the wilderness as a strategy for healing the deep wounds of racism – some of which are connected to the history of lynchings in rural areas.

As part of the experience, participants may work on trail upkeep or in some cases – including Haiku Hikes – write poetry about their trip.

"I had worked for several different organizations that served youth in the community but often they lacked the cultural connections that were required to actually reach the kids they had received funding to serve," Keith says.

"I thought it was critical that we bring in that cultural piece, so you'll see in the environmental work that we do, we integrate storytelling, we integrate the language and the visuals of the people that we're serving, and that are represented in our organization."

For more information contact Jourdan Keith at 206-579-5848 or through www.urbanwildernessproject.org.


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