|An Evolving WordXWord Fest Returns For Fourth Year|
|By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent|
07:08PM / Monday, June 25, 2012
|Festival founder Jim Benson, right, with members of the WordXWord Board of Directors and performers Taylor Mali and Derrick Brown. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The critically acclaimed WordXWord Festival will return for a fourth year with more free offerings than ever, organizers said at a press conference at Mission Bar and Tapas on Monday morning.
Jim Benson, speaking at his Mission Bar and Tapas, said this year's WordXWord will include free performances, local participation and an 'art school' for the city's youngsters at Morningside and Conte community schools.
Mission owner and WordXWord founder Jim Benson said the popular weeklong buffet of poets, authors, storytellers, songwriters and spoken-word performers has evolved and refined itself over the previous three incarnations and will offer interesting additions and changes this year.
"I think the first year was 18 performers and about 20 audience members, so the balance wasn't quite there," jokes Benson, charting the exponential four-year growth of the fledgling festival. Since then, he says, attendance has grown "hundreds and hundreds of percent," to around 4,000 people reached last year.
"Over the last couple of years, we've learned some lessons about what it is and what it isn't," board member Alan Baumann told iBerkshires. "Last year, we definitely figured out some things it wasn't."
One of the most significant changes is that this year's festival will be "100 percent free," said Benson, who notes that while past WordXWord festivals have offered a variety of free performances combined with some more elaborate shows with pricier ticket charges, this year all performances will be free. The only WordXWord event with an admission cost will be its traditional kick off party, held every year on the roof of North Street's Greystone Building.
Benson said this is something that has been made possible from the level of sponsorship the festival has increasingly received from the community. In addition to major sponsors Greylock Credit Union, Berkshire Bank, CompuWorks and various cultural grant funding, a number of smaller sponsors and donations have been coming in from a new online crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo, which had reached $4,060 as of Sunday night.
Because of otherwise low overheads, a majority of all funding goes directly to the performing artists, according to Benson, and this year will also allow them to host a new "art school" at Conte and Morningside elementary schools, providing four weeks of visual and performing arts instruction over the summer to hundreds of underserved youths in the city.
"It will help with early literacy and help prevent the summer slide that occurs with a lot of these kids when school gets out," said Benson. "It's been increasingly well documented that these kids struggle from the end of the school year to the beginning of the next school year more than more fortunate kids."
Over the past year, festival has also expanded beyond just the week of words to an atmosphere of writing and literary performance sustained throughout the year, from the now weekly series of "Writers Room" events at Benson's other tavern, Y Bar, and this past April's 30/30 Challenge, encouraging participants to write a poem a day for 30 days, which produced 2,200 new original poems from local talent over the course of the month. Small books featuring some of these works will be available in August for WordXWord.
The briefing was attended by local press and sponsors.
Among the talent to be featured in this year's lineup will be several major authors from the National Poetry Slam scene, including Derrick Brown, Anis Mojgani, Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, Taylor Mali and Robbie Q. Telfer. Organizers say unlike past years, where many headlining performers would come to town for the day, perform and leave, featured authors will participate in various Olympic-style poetry events over a several-day period.
The festival will also offers a showcase for local poets, authors, and songwriters from around the area to perform and compete in a variety of ways, including an event called Page+Stage, which combines poet-performers with stage directors, its annual open poetry slam, and a slam spinoff event called Head-To-Head Haiku.
The festival will launch with Aug. 11 with the rooftop party on the Greystone Building. More information about the festival can be found here.