Fight for Power
Def Poet brings his message to Burque
Daniel Beaty is no one-trick pony. The Yale grad is a composer, poet, playwright, actor, singer and screenwriter who's received numerous awards, including the 2007 Scotsman Fringe First Award for the best new writer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the 2009 NAACP Theatre Award for best actor. It's tempting to think that this is all due to some Faustian bargain with the devil, or he’s perhaps the result of a top-secret government experiment (like the Six Million Dollar Man, but for art instead of spying). Instead, it's far more inspiring to realize that Beaty is simply a vastly talented and committed artist, and zero percent cyborg (as far as we know).
Beaty graciously agreed to speak with the Alibi via e-mail, as he's resting his vocal cords for his upcoming performances, including his stop here in Albuquerque at UNM on Sunday, Feb. 28, sponsored by the department of Africana Studies.
What was your path to performance and writing?
My introduction to performance was when my second grade teacher Mrs. Adams asked for a volunteer to recite the poem "The Creation" [by James Weldon Johnson] for Black History Month.
As I stood in front of the audience of my peers, teachers and parents, I felt I was doing exactly what I was put on Earth to do. The following year, my teacher Mrs. Jackson played Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech on videotape. I went to her and asked if she could help me use words like that. Later, around middle school, I discovered my passion for acting and singing, but it all began with poetry and motivational speaking. Since then I have trained at Yale University and American Conservatory Theater as an actor, singer and writer.
“As I stood in front of the audience of my peers, teachers and parents, I felt I was doing exactly what I was put on Earth to do.”
The show you're performing at UNM is titled A Message to Youth: From Pain to Power. Why the special focus on young people?
My formative years were full of some very chaotic experiences from a father who was a heroin addict and dealer and an older brother who became addicted to crack cocaine. Many of our young people face similar challenges--experiences that cause them to doubt who they can be in the world. I developed tools that got me out of chaos into Yale and now to a thriving career.
“This is truly a message for the entire family because if our young people are going to succeed and overcome their challenges, we have to all be involved.”
I would love to share with young people and their families what worked for me in hopes that it might be helpful to them. Though there is a youth focus, this is truly a message for the entire family because if our young people are going to succeed and overcome their challenges, we have to all be involved.
In your rather packed résumé, one of the most recognizable entries is your participation in Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry." What was it like to be featured in such a well-known, iconic show?
I participated in two seasons of the show. It was wonderful to share the stage with artists such as Mos Def, Jill Scott and MC Lyte. I also enjoy the energy and the immediate feedback from the audience you receive when you are doing spoken word. I will definitely be including some of those poems in this presentation.
What do you believe your responsibility is as an artist?
As an Artist my purpose is to transform pain into power. Shakespeare says it is the artist's job to hold a mirror to society. I completely agree. However, I don't aim to just chronicle confusion. I am interested in how we can be greater than our problems, whatever they may be. My goal is always to entertain and to inspire.