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Zany Asheville poets raise money to perform in D.C. Fringe



Poetry Cabaret leader Caleb Beissert makes a point, in performing at Asheville Fringe. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas – Several Asheville-based, counter-cultural poets in the Poetry Cabaret Collective are raising money to go to Washington, D.C. to perform in a major avant-garde Fringe festival next month.
The risqué collective performs six adult-themed, self-produced shows of 90 minutes each in Capital Fringe, July 6-12. That festival lasts 25 days its 13th year. It states online it has more than 100 shows by 5,000 artists that draw 30,000 patrons to two dozen venues.
Capital Fringe chose merely about 10 percent of applications among established and emerging artists, said Aaron Price of Asheville and Poetry Cabaret Collective (PCC). A video and YouTube link convinced screeners to invite the locally-based troupe. Keyboardist Price plays music as poets and dancers perform. He accompanies monthly improv comedy and poetry shows in Asheville.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Caleb Beissert, who founded the collective five years ago and leads the troupe. “It’s a dream come true, to take the show to a truly international Fringe like Capital Fringe. This is a major milestone, to build our brand and to tour. We’ve done the Fringe here in Asheville. It’s good to get the show in front of local audiences.” The group’s provocative variety show was among highlights of the 15th annual Asheville Fringe Arts Festival in late January.

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Kevin Evans energetically tells a story with his poetry. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Poetry Cabaret Collective calls itself a “troupe of poets, dancers and musicians creating wild and intelligent shows that challenge norms and enlighten minds.” The troupe pushes boundaries with experimental poetry readings, in short sets and cabaret style. Some do magic. Themes include erotica and social justice, the purpose entertainment and free expression. The mood is often festive like ancient Roman revelry.
Poets heading to D.C. include Beissert, Justin Williams Evans of Charlotte, Kevin Evans and Justin Blackburn with Musical Director Price joining them. Other performers hoping to go include Kevin Barger, Michael Coyle, Vendetta Creme, Kelley Hoyer, Ben Mack, Polly Panic, Hester Prynncess, Indy Srinath, and Union Jackoff.
The collective welcomes further donations. “We need to raise funds to send these artists and their middle fingers to D.C.,” Beissert stated. “It takes a lot to create our wild yet intelligent parties—production costs, lodging, lighting, merchandise, fuel for our fire eater, pasties for our dancers” etc.

As of press time, its website still linked to a “kickstarter” campaign due to expire by mid-week. That fund drive reached the goal of $1,850 Friday, but much more money is sought to make the trip more affordable. Beissert calls the $1,850 target a “bare minimum to produce the show itself. With time running out, we need your help to take us from sleeping under a bridge to bunking in a hostel next to the bridge.”
Price estimates $3,500 is a more realistic need. Yet a reason to set a target lower than truly needed is to better get financial help, since Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. The person or group gets no pledged money, if the total is less than the target.
PCC’s local fundraising shows included Zombie Poetry Cabaret last Sunday.
The kickstarter campaign exceeded it the $1,850 target by $20 by early Monday with 26 pledges, and was set to close before mid-week.
Pledges picked up last week. A major one of $350-$1,499 was pivotal. That earned the donor a house concert by Price. Two others each pledged $100, earning a musical collaboration or consultation with veteran jazz artist Price. Three each pledged $25, and get Beissert’s poetry book Beautiful.
Perks for a $75 pledge (none were received) was a personalized love poem by Blackburn, or personalized insult poem by Justin William Evans who very intensely digged at “Trumpy” at Asheville Fringe.
Beissert did poetry by himself at Fringe’s original site, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2013. That fest began 70 years ago and has over 3,200 shows each year. Before, pianist-guitarist Price played there with exotic cabaret singer Vendetta Creme. The Fringe in Scotland is “high energy, fast-paced” involving “people from all over the world,” Beissert said. “It’s a real creative, experimental atmosphere.”

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Justin William Evans growls with intensity. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Beissert leads weekly and monthly poetry readings in Asheville. They include weekly open mic sessions in Noble Kava, and monthly Altamont Poetry in the N.C. Stage Co. starting in 2013.
Bessiert drums and does percussion with Price and two others, in Kavalactones. As a poet often “I write about music. The rhythm and language of the poetry reflects music.” His poetic delivery is less steady drum-like, and varied and peppier “more like a trumpet soloist. I write in free verse, not steady rhythm.” He rehearses delivery, to hone his craft. He likes to mix his pace. “Fast-paced can get people going. Then you slow down, for the more important” words.
He is ready to improvise his delivery, along with Price and other creative musicians as well as the crowd’s reactions. “Aaron likes to improvise within his jazz realm. I’m open to interpretation. I feel the room, the vibe.”
Now 31, Beissert has recited poetry publicly for a dozen years and before that “journaled” thoughts and feelings. By now “my style has evolved. I feel more natural, in my own skin, and comfortable with it. Younger poets tend to think they have to be someone else.”
Even when in Scotland he stuck to his usual themes rather than European ones. “The American stuff works well over there.” He sensed crowds were “intrigued” by his Southern dialect, which is in a higher pitch like that of comics Zach Galifianakis
Beissert said he is “easy going” as he sounds hosting poetry events. His mildness can contrast with the zaniest poets and ones more into politics than he is. Justin Evans, for one, “sure brings the emotion,” Beissert said. “Plenty of others say stuff on Trump,” he added. “I don’t need to touch it.”
Some political and social issues keep coming up and remain relevant, Beissert said. “Unfortunately, we feel we still need to create conversation about them.”
As he notes, “we represent different perspectives” especially culturally. Kevin Evans has a preacher-like, staccato delivery. He told The Tribune at the local Fringe it stems from his grandfather who preached in a black church.
Beissert has lived mostly in Charlotte, but hails from Georgetown, D.C. making the upcoming Fringe a homecoming for him.
For more on the Poetry Cabaret Collective and its D.C. trip: Contact Caleb Beissert at (704) 975-3636 or via

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