Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A few questions with Gypsee Yo

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Costume designer Jonida Beqo performs in poetry slams under the stage name Gypsee Yo. This weekend, she performs the world premiere of her one-woman show Harabel at Theatrical Outfit.
  • Atlanta costume designer Jonida Beqo also performs in poetry slams under the stage name Gypsee Yo. This weekend, she performs the world premiere of her one-woman show "Harabel" at Theatrical Outfit.
You've probably seen Jonida Beqo's costume designs for various theatrical productions around Atlanta. As an award-winning designer, she's dressed actors for some of the most popular shows in town.

But what you may not know about this behind-the-scenes costume designer is that she's also a champion on the slam poetry scene with a bevy of impressive national and international titles under her belt who performs under the stage name Gypsee Yo.

This weekend, Beqo will step in front of the footlights to perform the world-premiere of her new one-woman autobiographical show Harabel, which follows her journey from childhood in the war-torn Balkans to the American South. The story delves into memories of her youth in her native country, her violent exit, first impressions of America, and the transition from girl to woman and from stranger to American. We caught up with the artist to ask a few questions about the show.

What is the show about? Is it 100% autobiographical?
The show is a collection of poems and narratives of my experiences as an emigrant, an expatriate, a Southerner, and as a new American. It is not, however, a concert of poems. The story unfolds with each piece that is triggered by elements of daily life - - mainly, my life in costume shops and theater back-stages. The show is primarily autobiographical, but it also incorporates many details of the history of being Albanian, since most of the time in the Southeast I am the only Albanian people will ever meet. I write in the style of magic realism. In other words, the story is true but the telling of it is magical.

What interested you about making the shift from poetry slam to live theater? Is it a difficult transition? Do you feel the two forms are much the same?
Before I took a much enjoyed detour into performance poetry and competed in poetry slams I had an extensive background in live theater. I graduated from UAB with a performance degree and while there developed my first one woman show, a collection of monologues from women I had met in my travels in both continents. I find the going back and forth between the two art forms very organic. It's like singing blues and then switching to jazz for a while, it's all a matter of range. In the end the telling of a story is what matters, regardless of the tools you employ. Both theatre and performance poetry are ancient oral traditions. I hear Shakespeare did pretty good with both.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about the American South? Albania?
My favorite things in the American South are the warmth of its people and their sense of community. I am also moved by the presence of faith as an integral part of Southern life. I come from the only country in the world to constitutionalize atheism so I am quite touched by the old time Southern gospel music. I am also a huge fan of the food and Southern wit, especially in the women. My least favorite thing about the South is its tendency to take what seems like forever to embrace constructive change.
My favorite thing about Albania are its weddings. They last for three days. We certainly are well versed in the art of celebration. The polyphonic music of the South of Albania is an incredible art form that stirs me deeply. Also the Albanian language is unlike any other in the world. It doesn't belong to any linguistic group; it is both its own root and branch. My least favorite thing about Albania is its long history of falling under the rule of despots and dictators. We are yet to improve on that.

Were you a shy kid? Or does performing come naturally to you?
Yes, both writing and performing come very naturally to me. I believe that my talents are God-given gifts I did nothing to earn so I try to be a good steward of them. I continue to work daily on improving on my crafts.
I cannot say that I am shy by nature because I enjoy meeting and talking to people but I was brought up with a very rigorous sense of modesty. It often causes me to either talk down on my accomplishments or not to mention them at all. Most poets that have known me for years on the national scene don't know that I am an award-winning costume designer. Most actors I have had the pleasure to dress in this city during the last seven years have no idea I have placed in the top five poets in the country a few times.
I think most of all I enjoy the process of changing an audience's breathing during the telling of a story. When I sense it happening, it is to me a true act of worship, and I can say that in the moment, I feel God's presence.

Gypsee Yo performs "Harabel" at Theatrical Outfit, 84 Luckie Street N.W., on Friday, January 11, at 7:30 pm and on Saturday, January 12, at 7:30 pm. For more information visit Theatrical Outfit.

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