Rosamond S. King, a poet, critical writer and artist shared a powerful blend of poetry and song in her performance “Resident Alien” in Shoolroy Theatre on Wednesday, April 5. In a distinctive performance style which she calls “Verse Cabaret,” King interspersed poems from her book “Rock | Salt | Stone” and from a new series she is working on with lines from well-known songs.
King was brought to the College by Professor of Africana Studies Nicosia Shakes as the last performer in the Transnational Performance series that was also organized by Professor of Theatre and Dance Jimmy Noriega and Professor of Religious Studies Dheepa Sundaram.
The work that King performed dealt with a wide range of issues including queerness, the immigrant experience and police brutality. It also drew on her scholarly research in populations of African descent in Africa, the Caribbean and North America. “Her work is also interdisciplinary and intersectional, with a deep understanding of how race, gender, sexuality and nationality interact in the lives of Black [people] and other people of color,” Shakes said.
Though many of King’s poems addressed particularly difficult topics, her energetic use of her body, song and audience interaction kept them buoyant and engaging. “While she speaks about these painful subjects, she also uplifts the people whose stories she tells; she humanizes them and includes content that also depict love and pleasure,” Shakes said.
Much of the power in King’s performance lies in its nuance. From using an exaggeratedly casual tone to explicitly describe queer sexual experiences, to repurposing the tune of the well-known folk song “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” to discuss immigration, King approached the topics of her work in surprising and original ways.
Though her performance was clearly rehearsed and polished, King also interacted casually with the audience throughout, asking the packed theatre direct questions and encouraging us to snap, clap and respond to her work.
“Her blending of different performance styles, interactions with the audience and the staging of the performance enables people to empathize with the stories she depicts, even if they may not be familiar with all of the contexts in which these stories occur,” noted Shakes.
This original performance style was one reason why Shakes wanted to bring King to campus. “King’s Verse Cabaret technique represents a very interesting and fresh take on this method of performing, and I wanted The College of Wooster community to experience it as an alternative to other, more well-known forms of performance in the United States,” she said.
King read multiple poems from her new unpublished series about living in the “abattoir,” a word that technically means “slaughterhouse” but which King uses as a metaphor for dangerous neighborhoods in which oppressed people are subject to, in her words, “systematic, continuous and premature death.” These poems discussed violence, especially that which continues to be inflicted on people of color by the police.
However, even in her exploration of the bloody, unsafe “abattoir,” King provided nuance. In a particularly moving moment in her question-and-answer session after the performance, King emphasized that she wants her audience to be aware that “people still fall in love in the abattoir.” King’s singular performance style was the perfect way to articulate this complexity and leave the audience both deeply educated and moved.