Mayda del Valle, the headlining performer at Rainbow Theater’s Birth of Word production, performs one of her poems at the Oakes Learning Center on May 3. Photo by Catie Havstad.
Mayda del Valle, the headlining performer at Rainbow Theater’s Birth of Word production, performs one of her poems at the Oakes Learning Center on May 3. Photo by Catie Havstad.

Students gathered and they listened. 

Birth of Word, a spoken-word event that took place on May 3 at the Oakes Learning Center, brought students from all over campus to share and celebrate various interpretations of the versatile art form. The event showcased a wide variety of expressive performers, including Mayda del Valle, a nationally renowned poet who headlined the event.

Produced by Rainbow Theater, those behind Birth of Word hoped the event would bring together spoken-word artists from multiple walks of life. This proved to be a wearing task for the event’s organizer, third-year community studies major Camille Brown, who described the process as the “most stressful thing I’ve done” — though she she also described it as a “blessing” and a worthwhile task.

“We’ve been socialized to be silenced for things and not talk about what’s most important to us,” Brown said. “Now we have students from this school, students from high school, students from Berkeley, Mayda de Valle, who are all coming here and talking about things that matter to them the most and having other people listen and later … discuss and learn more from each other. It’s a great way to build connections and community.” 

Energy ran high among the crowd as performers presented different interpretations of the spoken word. Groups like the Funny Boners enriched the show with their comedy, while others like the Youthspeaks Teen Poetry Slam Team and the UC Santa Cruz Slam Team filled the room with spirit and passion.

Jackie Martinez, a fourth-year theater arts major, served not only as master of ceremonies for the event but performed as well. She and two other girls acted out a segment of “Taggin’ on Blue,” a spoken-word play about Central American culture in the United States. Martinez highlighted what she thought was Birth of Word’s most significant message.

“The key message that we want our audience to leave with is the freedom to express, to embrace these different types of movements … that a lot of Santa Cruz doesn’t see,” Martinez said. “We have a lot of organizations here that do put on events … [but] there are hardly a few that just have music and food [that just enjoy] the vibe.”

Co-hosting with Martinez was Lisa Evans, a third-year history major from College Ten. Evans, along with many others who attended, emphasized the importance of expressing oneself.

“Expression doesn’t just have to be spoken,” Evans said. “Words are valuable … that’s what the big thing about this is — expressing yourself regardless of [how] that is. If it’s through music, if it’s through dance, if it’s through speaking — just making sure that you get your voice out there and express yourself.”

Evans said that events like the Birth of Word hold power.

“I really appreciate spoken word,” she said. “I think it’s a really powerful medium for talking to people and connecting stories that often don’t get told … there are a lot of vehicles on campus for [spoken word] but I think it’s really cool to showcase them all and bring in [groups from different areas]. It allows a lot more connections that might not necessarily happen.” 

Music also found its way into Birth of Word. James Green, a sixth-year community studies major, performed for the first time at Birth of Word with his band, The Tonalities. Green has been involved with many Rainbow Theater productions, assisting in sound design and organization.

“We look to promote student organizations that have something to say about spoken word, present themselves, or open themselves up to this community,” Green said. “[Birth of Word] is a collaborative space for different ways of interpreting spoken word, whether it is through … music or through dance, [which is] a different way of looking at spoken word.”

Green reflected back upon Birth of Word as he spoke about Rainbow Theater and what he thinks its ultimate purpose is.

“If it all comes back to the Birth of Word,” he said, “how we interpret [spoken word] is the theme, and how we celebrate it is what we do.”