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BWW Interview: Javon Johnson Is Always Listening, Writing & Loving STILL.

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Javon Johnson, the most winningest poetry slam competitor to-date will open the Pasadena Playhouse's new streaming platform PLAYHOUSELIVE Sept. 30.

BWW Interview: Javon Johnson Is Always Listening, Writing & Loving STILL.

Javon Johnson, the most winningest poetry slam competitor to-date ("Humble brag," Javon interjecting), will open The Pasadena Playhouse's new streaming platform PLAYHOUSELIVE September 30, 2020 with his one-man show STILL. Poet/performer/professor Javon shares his most timely take on the complexities of the Black experience in the format he's been most successful - poems. STILL. speaks to "the world I care about deeply, what it means to live in a more just and equitable world, and how to help us get there."

The self-described "Love Poet" writes about the family he loves, the world he loves, the friends he loves. "Most of my poems always come from moments in my life that stick with me. The poem is how I really dig into it and excavate those sort of stick-to-it-ness of that story. And so, every last one of them are about family members, and race or gender, or gender relations in the world in which we live."

Javon's always listening, always writing down his daily observations, akin to a comedian constantly writing jokes. "But rather than spinning those observations into jokes, those observations get spilled into poetic format."

Even though Javon revels in the inexplicable experience of performing live on stage (this largest audience to date - 20,000), he still values the actual intimate light bulb moment when a student of his 'gets' a new piece of knowledge. "Nothing quite like BWW Interview: Javon Johnson Is Always Listening, Writing & Loving STILL.guiding the students. Guiding the human being through something. They make fun of it in cartoons. You see the light bulb come on for the cartoon characters. You can actually see this sometimes when you're teaching. 'Oops! Saw the light bulb!' And it's an amazing moment when the light bulb comes on."

Whether he's performing live on stage or in front of his college classrooms as an Assistant Professor and Director of African American & African Diaspora studies (holding an appointment in Gender & Sexuality Studies in the Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Javon has the same goal - to understand who he's speaking to. "I think the biggest thing is understanding people. Trying to figure out people. One of the things I always tell people about the poetry slam as a competition is, sure you have to write poems. Sure, you have to prepare those poems that you've written in terms of performance. But knowing what to put up when is about understanding that audience. What do those five judges in that audience want at this given moment? And that's about understanding people. I think that's true of teaching as well. I've never approached teaching as a one-size-fits-all thing. I approach teaching as a relationship where by which I'm getting to know my students, and my students are also getting to know me. The difference is finite time. A poetry slam lasts about an hour, hour and a half max. You have a few minutes. Students, you have a whole semester, and sometimes yoBWW Interview: Javon Johnson Is Always Listening, Writing & Loving STILL.u see students for years. It's about fine tuning, and about understanding what they need and what they want. I learned early on, that not all students want the same thing, and how then do I reach them? Similarly, it's all about getting to understand people's motivations and their desires and their needs. And I think that's probably the biggest similarity (between performing and teaching), that and a ton of reading that both jobs require."

During his live sets, Javon likes to pepper lots of jokes in between his serious, already composed poems. "STILL. now is set. It was recorded as the show was performed. The poems are organized and structured in a certain way that's trying to tell an overall narrative. If I were to do a live show, I honestly don't know what poems I'm doing until I'm there. And that drives organizers bonkers. I believe in the energetic exchange of live performance. There's nothing quite like that exchange. To perform a poem and hear people laugh, clap or cry, holler, cheer; to respond in between poems. If I were doing a live set, I'm constantly telling jokes. What's happening is that I'm feeling an audience out. I'm trying to understand what they need from my given repertoire of work. As I'm speaking, I'm listening, and they're telling me things about BWW Interview: Javon Johnson Is Always Listening, Writing & Loving STILL.me up there. But I am now reflecting back in the choices that I make. So some sets might be all squarely about race and protest; and some sets might be more about what it means to be a man in a patriarchal world, and how I think about how women have to navigate that. The energetic exchange, that's lost in STILL., because we have no audience in this sort of COVID moment. So not a lot of these interstitials jokes that you would otherwise see. I don't think my carefree side really comes out in this. Hopefully, there will be another time to show that in the future.

"We had to think about what it means to perform live theater without an audience. What constitutes an audience, and isn't an audience always there even when they're not live bodies? And so in that respect, one of the choices that we had to make was to think about a set show. We had to think about the arc of it all in ways that I don't necessarily have to do when I'm performing live."

Jason grew up enthralled hearing the historic speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as well as, the weekly sermons of his pastors. "Perhaps what left the most profound impact on me as communicators of great order are often preachers at church in the Black southern church tradition. There's a way in which that tradition has implanted on me as a poet and performer as well. And so, pastors growing up I think they're great communicators."

Javon's connection with The Pasadena Playhouse goes way back to his grad college days at Cal State LA when he crossed paths with Daria Yudacufski who ran the student center and put up backing for his first college production. Daria, then got hired at USC (now as the executive director of Visions and Voices) by Dennis Cornell. BWW Interview: Javon Johnson Is Always Listening, Writing & Loving STILL.Dennis, currently on the Board of Directors of The Pasadena Playhouse, remembered attending some of Javon's performances, and introduced him to Playhouse's producing artistic director Danny Feldman, and the rest will be PLAYHOUSELIVE history September 30th.

Javon explains how he came up with his piece's title. "It's called STILL. I came up with that title because I was thinking about this storm in which we're in. Black people are still fighting for justice, are still fighting for our rights, and there's people still in the streets demanding a different world in which we currently live. Still being imprisoned unfairly and at a higher rate. These are statistics, not my feelings. We are still being persecuted by a political system that demands X of us without giving much in return. Black people are still smiling. We're still loving and we're still living, and we're still here. We're still human. And we're still trying and we're still persevering. And we're still giving America an opportunity to be the America that it claims itself to be."

To see the Pay-per-view theatrical streaming of Javon's STILL., which launches PLAYHOUSELIVE September 30, 2020 (and available through November 1, 2020); log onto www.playhouselive.org


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