Penn Students Express Themselves Through Spoken Word

When members of the spoken word troupe The Excelano Project perform, their fans in the University of Pennsylvania community are spellbound by what they have to say. 

The group regularly draws a packed house for its thought-provoking, eloquent performances about topics such as politics, race relations in the United States and the joys and challenges of relationships with friends and family.

Troupe members perform individual pieces or collaborative pieces that they write together.

“For every show we try to think about the social climate that’s going on on campus and around the country, and we write to that narrative,” says Victoria Ford, a member of The Excelano Project.

The troupe is among nearly 50 groups on campus in Penn’s Performing Arts Council that provide a creative outlet for students outside their academic work.

The troupe’s fall 2014 show, “Incendiary,” covered topics including violence, race and the protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the police shooting of Michael Brown.

Ford’s piece involved reading a list of the names of 96 black murder victims, men and women from around the country. After the show, some members of the audience hugged each other.

“It was a beautiful moment that came from Victoria’s piece because she opened up and we felt that we could open up,” says Kassidi Jones, a member of the group. “We felt safe enough to be that vulnerable in that space with one another,” says the freshman from Hartford, Conn.

Shortly after the show, students from the Pan Asian American Community House and Makuu, the black cultural center, met to discuss ways in which they could work together to discuss issues such as police brutality and sexual assault.

“It’s an example of coalition building that’s occurred after the performances,” says Ford, a senior from Greenville, S.C.

“There are often times when we need to go to spaces where somebody says, ‘This is hard, but we’re going to make it,’” says Ford. “Excelano gives students the permission to cry about something they didn’t think they could cry about, or laugh at something that they can relate to.”

Jones says that as a freshman she appreciates the opportunity to express herself and to find her voice.

“Before I was in Excelano, I would just share poems with friends. I would be able to take small moments and use my words to share my thoughts,” she says. “My friends would tell me that’s exactly what they were thinking but didn’t know how to express it.”

Through Excelano, members of the troupe have turned their thoughts and words into an art form.

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