By JEANETTE LENOIR
You can’t know where they congregate every Thursday evening but the longest running speakeasy in Washington, DC provides a safe space for artist to showcase their work without the stresses that come with public exposure. Dwayne Lawson-Brown, Co-Host of Spit Dat DC said, “The whole idea is creating a space where folks can be safe. Where they can do the art that they want to do and not feel pressured into performance.” He says it’s about fostering community and cultivating their artistry through their own unique process.
Some of the elements that hinder places like Spit Dat from growth include profit, time limits and even subject matters. For example, the issue of depression, homosexuality, transgenderism and even suicide may not be seen as “Art” by some in mainstream consumerism focused media, but Spit Dat allows the space for some of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of mingling with, “spitting” about these controversial topics. I left in awe hearing some of the most powerful poems I’ve ever heard. It was truly an incredible and thought-provoking experience.
Lawson-Brown says the pressures of validation can be a heavy burden among creatives. “When there is a very public audience, that if you’re not the way that somebody else is, that your art isn’t valid and so sometimes spaces have the goal of creating a safe space but because we don’t know how to train an audience to be receptive of all people during an Open Mic then we end up having a performance driven scene,” he said.
The concept of Spit Dat is a personal one for the creator, Drew Anderson, and his co-host who said, “There’s so much more to people than their performance. I always think to myself, ‘show me your soul,’ I don’t want to meet your ambassador, I want to meet you. What does your joy look like, what does your plain look like? Who are you as a complete person?” Lawson-Brown says artists have a responsibility to be honest.
ePa: What’s next for Spit Dat DC?
Lawson-Brown: We’re in the process of expanding right now. There is a need for these types of spaces. People get burned out of having spaces like Open Mics and Poetry Slams, like getting bombarded by the same types of performance. And often it becomes trauma porn, where everybody is still damaged, and nobody is healing. And so, we’re starting to expand and do more events with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Drew and myself had a two man show that ran and was geared around home and what it feels like to heal in that process. I feel like what we’ve started and what we’ve been doing is continuing the history of being able to speak our truths so that others can speak their truths.
ePa: How can people find you despite being an exclusive club?
ePa: How do you encourage artists to find ways to express themselves?
Lawson-Brown: Don’t force it but also get free. Take your time and don’t set goals according to what other people are doing. Know that whatever you’re doing is legitimate and worthwhile. None of us would be doing what we’re doing now if we ever gave up…if we just stopped.