In 2017, Marc Bamuthi Joseph was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to write the play /peh-LO-tah/, which “uses the universal game of soccer to examine immigration”. This show has received national praise since its debut and ArtsEmerson is beyond excited to welcome this production to the Paramount Center May 1-5. Before you attend this riveting show, check out this blog detailing the exciting life of poet, activist, dancer, teacher and playwright, Marc Bamuthi Joseph!
Bamuthi Joseph discovered his passion for dance and theater at an early age, even making his Broadway debut at ten years old where he played the tap dancing understudy to Savion Glover in “The Tap Dance Kid.”. In the early 1990s, after his performances on Broadway and dabbling in television, Bamuthi Joseph embarked on a search for an “artistic identity” that had to do with what he calls “shifting the culture”—away from the “compartmentalization of the arts and toward their fuller integration into daily life.”. For Bamuthi Joseph, that journey was rooted in the hip-hop culture of rap and dance.
After graduating from Morehouse College in 1997 with a B.A. in English, Bamuthi Joseph was offered a fellowship at the Branson School in Marin County, California. It was there where Bamuthi Joseph began to develop his passion for spoken-word poetry and experimenting with blending poetry, dance, and theater. In 1999, Joseph won the National Poetry Slam Championship (with Team San Francisco) and eventually became a three-time San Francisco Poetry Grand Slam champion. One of the award-winning pieces “Word Becomes Flesh,” Joseph wrote in 2003. This performance took the form of spoken and danced letters from an unwed father to his unborn son.
In addition to “Word Becomes Flesh,” Bamuthi Joseph wrote “Scourge,” a poem that addresses his own issues of identity as a U.S.-born son of Haitian parents as well as “the break/s,” which is Joseph’s personal spin on Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, the American Book Award-winning history of hip-hop.
Bamuthi Joseph has lectured at more than 200 colleges, has carried adjunct professorships at Stanford and Lehigh, continues to be a popular commentator on National Public Radio, and was also the Director of Performing Arts Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco until recently. He is now the Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the famed Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Along with his new role, Bamuthi Joseph plans to continue with his own projects which include Life is Living, a national series of one-day festivals designed to activate under-resourced parks and affirm peaceful urban life, Youth Speaks, a poetry program where Joseph mentors 13- to 19-year-old writers, and the Living Word Festival for Literary Arts, a festival that Bamuthi Joseph curates. Youth outreach is one of the driving forces behind his work and has said that “working with young people always inspires [him], pushes [his] humanity, and forces [him] to find creative means of exciting the imagination.”
/peh-LO-tah/ is no exception to Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s mission to engage youth and community. In this spoken-word dance piece, Joseph explores immigration and human connection through the microcosm of soccer, a game that Joseph calls “the only thing on this planet that we can all agree to do together.”