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Poetry in Motion

You could say that Sarah Jones' poetry is on the move. Her one-woman show, Surface Transit, has been in demand throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, and will soon be produced for television by Spike Lee. Jones' dynamic performance and gutsy social message have won her fans from Robin Williams to Lauryn Hill. Surface Transit -- like its 26-year-old author -- is all about fusion.

Jones combines improvisation, dramatic monologue, comedy, and social commentary to present a cross section of American society that is both hilarious and disturbing. Using few props and her own versatility, she transforms herself into a black bag lady, a hypochondriac Jewish grandmother, a "recovering" hip-hop MC, a homophobic Italian-American cop, a Southern white supremacist, a Russian immigrant with a biracial daughter, and more.

Jones' racially mixed background (her father is African-American, her mother of European and Caribbean descent) and upbringing (she was raised in ethnically diverse neighborhoods and schools) have given the performer the necessary scope to create a diverse group of characters -- and to connect them. Her characters are based on people she has known; she transforms them into people we all know.

Influenced by hip-hop culture and the raw performance techniques she learned on the open-mic circuit in New York City, Jones begins Surface Transit in a New York City subway car but always ends up somewhere new. "I give myself freedom in the script to do a lot of improvisation and interact with the audience. Recently I performed at a fundraiser for a major corporate entity, and there were lots of bankers in the audience. When it was time for the homeless woman to come out, I let her really give it to them."

Jones' tenacity doesn't play favorites. Although a fan of hip-hop and rap, she has called to task performers from the Fugees to LL Cool J for their misogynist lyrics. One of the characters in Surface Transit, Keisha Ray, confronts rappers head-on in a hip-hop tune, "Your Revolution," dedicated to "all the men and women trying to maintain self-respect in this climate of misogyny, money worship, and the mass production of hip-hop's illegitimate child, hip-pop."

In Surface Transit Jones refuses to relegate people into a predictable "good guy/bad guy" dichotomy. In her world everyone is familiar with hate. As she points out, "All of my characters have hated or been hated. If you polled the country, everyone would fall into one of these categories or both." By revealing differences Surface Transit exposes some surprising connections; Jones' theatrical sense allows her to entertain while she enlightens -- no mean feat.

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Mia Leonin

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