Rewind to the early 2000’s when Russell Simon’s Def Poetry was one of the hottest shows on TV, when poetry and poets were undercover magicians — making ladies undies disappear — you would’ve been hard-pressed to find a spoken word spot in West Palm Beach. By 2006, THE STAGE came unto the scene… it was a place where you could either be part of the crowd, or get lost in the crowd if that was your preference. One thing was/is for sure… you were going to enjoy some amazing talent. Nine years later, it’s still one of the most chill, laid-back places around. With this being National Poetry Month, it’s time to acknowledge them for giving a platform to spoken word artists and those like myself who just appreciate the art. So, I reached out to Desiree Karnis-Reavis, host of THE STAGE for the past eight of its nine years.
Tell me about THE STAGE, when it was founded and why?
It was founded on November 8th, 2006. Shawn Frazier aka “Consider This” the Poet had taken me to a few poetry spots and I hooked! The vibe, the atmosphere, although I had never performed before the actual debut night of THE STAGE I was in love. I had never experienced anything like it. Spoken Word has an energy, it is entertaining but it has a way of feeding your spirit. I wanted to create something to fill the void in Palm Beach, and in myself. Little did I know THE STAGE would metamorphosize from an event into a movement.
The first night we started there were just 9 strangers in a room, and we had no clue how our lives were about to change. Every week we grew until the owners of C&N actually took over the lease next door and knocked down the wall to expand. By that point we would be packed with 100+ people every week. I remember meeting so many people that would travel all the way from Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, just to come to THE STAGE. That’s back before social media blew up and a lot of people found out about us by word of mouth. It was like our own little secret society.
Fast forward to now and a lot of those same people have become part of our poetry family. Over the years we have had baby showers, weddings, birthdays, and heart breaking funeral. We have also tried to bring awareness and give back to our community. From Stop the Violence Rallies, Back To School drives, we have also teamed up with the YWCA to bring awareness to National Stalking Month, and the Susan G. Komen organization for Pretty in Pink Breast Cancer Awareness.
How did you develop an interest in spoken word?
It was just always a part of me, like my DNA. I have notebooks of when I might have been 7 years old writing poetry, before I even knew what poetry was. I had lost my grandfather, uncle, and preacher all in the same year and I started writing through the pain. I still have those notebooks. The ink is faded and the paper has turned yellow but I cherish them.
Wilkine Brutus was the original host, how did you come to host after he left?
I actually had never met Wilkine in person. We have chatted on MySpace and I told him my vision. He had hosted a few events at FAU so I asked if he would be interested. When he showed up on the second week it was the first time I’d ever met him in person. He was a natural entertainer and kept the crowd engaged. After he left I took reigns and have been hosting ever since. I think it’s been almost 8 years now.
It’s a lot of pressure to keep the event going, from organizing, finding features, sponsorship, promoting, and hosting. Every time I get overwhelmed and think this will be the last year I get a phone call, text message, or email from someone telling me how THE STAGE changed their life. That’s how I know God isn’t done with me yet. After endless hours of work, some nights by the time everyone is paid there is nothing left for me, but THE STAGE gives me something priceless. It gives me PURPOSE.
I really have to give credit to my support system — my husband Chris “Wolanyo” Reavis who is also a published poet, Joe McMaster, Erny Canto, Cristina ‘Sacredd” Alvelo, Daniel “DJ Smooth” Fortune, Jason “JaFleu” Fleurant, and the one and only Shawn “Consider This” Frazier have put so much into keeping us always pushing forward.
Who are some of the artists who’ve performed there? Who were some of your favorites?
There are so many to name. Taalam Acey, Black Ice, Queen Sheba, Huggy Bear, Asia, Red Storm. But some of my favorite poets are the local poets. The ones I have watched lose their stage virginity and develop their craft like Pure Blood, John Gifted, and JaFleu… they have supported us over the years and kept us going. The poet I miss the most and will always pay homage to is Will Da Real One. He was my mentor and took me under his wing and taught me so much about performing, coaching, hosting, and just keeping an open mic going.
When are the events held and where?
Currently we meet the 2nd Friday of every month at SOLO Lounge (2800 N Military Trail, West Palm Beach).
How can a person sign up to perform?
They can either contact me directly at 561-215-6102 or sign up at the door. We do only have so many spots so it’s best to be there by 9pm if they want to perform. After the open mic we always have a feature. It’s also important to know we embrace all arts and genres. Whether your gift is singing, playing an instrument, free styling, making people laugh. We love the variety and diversity.
How would you describe the vibe at THE STAGE?
Organic. We don’t let politics affect us. At some spots unless you know the host, or have a following you can’t get any time. At THE STAGE we let everyone perform. It takes a lot of nerve to get up there and share your thoughts. You expose so much that I believe everyone deserves that opportunity.and our crowd is amazing. They are so supportive and open-minded.
- Celebrate National Poetry Month with O, Miami & Palm Beach Poetry Festival (cookmixmingle.com)