Reverence Marv Ward Launches First Book of Poetry

One Lone Minstrel cover photo.jpg

It’s no secret that singer-songwriter, Marv Ward, a staple on the local music scene, aka Reverend Marv, has many tricks up his sleeve, and given his penchant for evocative lyrics it’s no surprise to find that poetry is among them.

On Wednesday night, June 21st, Ward launches his first book of poetry, One Lone Minstrel, under the Broad River Books label, an imprint of Muddy Ford Press, at Grapes and Gallery at 1113 Taylor Street, near the intersection of Taylor and Assembly. The event will begin at 6 pm with a reception honoring the author, followed by readings from 6:30 – 7. Ward will sign books form 7 – 8. Light refreshments will be provided with drinks available for purchase from the upstairs selection of wines and craft beers. The event is free.

Jasper caught up with Ward to ask a few questions about the path to this place in time.


J: Congratulations on your new book, Marv! How long have you been writing poetry?

MW: I’ve been seriously writing since high school.


J: Other than in songwriting have you shared your poetry with anyone before?

MW: Well, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I was into writing poetry on walls and fences so I guess some people saw them but this is the first time anything has been in print.


J: Where do you look for inspiration?

MW: From everything, life experiences mainly. In the blues the old timers say that you have to live the blues to be able to write it and sing it and my poetry is the same.


J: Do you edit and rewrite your poems or do they come to you fully formed and you leave them be once they come to you?

MW: Both. Some times, I will get an idea or phrase and it will germinate sometimes for years until it finally comes to fruition. But sometimes they just write themselves.


J:  Who are some of your favorite poets and what is it you like about them?

MW: My biggest influence in poetry is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, I have devoured his work ever since I discovered him and was fortunate enough to meet him back in the early ‘70s and have a little chat with him. Then, I guess, Yeats, Baudelaire, Neruda, and I like Kerouac's poetry also.


J: How does it feel to launch this book?

MW:  I am amazed and feel so blessed this is a life accomplishment for me. I have had songs published since the ‘70s, but the poetry was different and I never thought this day would come. I really hope that those who read it will be able find a correlation in their lives with the meaning and rhythm of the words and be able to share the magic I felt when writing them.  



Author, Marv Ward

Author, Marv Ward

Soda City Story Slam - June 15th

The Columbia Museum of Art recently opened their summer exhibition ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an exploration of utilitarian objects as art.  The gallery opened on June 2 and will be on display through August 27.  Throughout the summer, the CMA will host a variety of different programs and activities centered around the ReTooled exhibit, including a lecture from the curator, woodworking courses, Arts & Draughts, and Soda City Story Slam.


For those unfamiliar with the event, the first annual Soda City Story Slam occurred last June.  Inspired by The Moth podcast, the slam provides an opportunity for 10 local community members to share a brief, unscripted autobiographical story.  According to host Shannon Ivey, event participants include poets, seasoned storytellers, as well as first time performers.


“You’ll find that some of the less experienced storytellers can often be the most authentic.  I’m not slamming any professionals; I just really adore the process of someone who is really called to talk about the topic.  There is something really magical about that,” Ivey says.


In addition to the wide range of content featured, Ivey also emphasizes the diversity of both storytellers and event attendees.  By calling the event a story slam as opposed to a poetry slam, theatre performance, activism event, or competition, Ivey hopes to be more inclusive for those interested in participating or attending.


The slam also provides a unique experience for individuals to dedicate time to listening to the experiences and thoughts of others.


“There are very few times that you sit and listen to someone for 5-10 minutes without interrupting them — not even in our business life,” Ivey says.  “The opportunity to grow in empathy and understanding of our neighbors is really huge. In our political climate, people are pretty angry on all sides. This takes politics out of it and brings humans into it.  It’s a lovely bipartisan way to connect with each other. I’m hoping that this sort of model can catch on and even be used in a bigger sense for more community building.”


The Story Slam has even inspired different spin off projects.  Alison Salisbury, who will perform at the upcoming story slam, organized the Screendoor Storytelling group.  This organization meets monthly at the Richland County Public Library and allows community members to share stories and compete.  In addition, there are tentative plans at the CMA to host a female-centered story slam, a spinoff of Ivey’s projects titled “What She Said.”


“It is just really lovely to see how it can evolve,” Ivey says.


This year, there is one noticeable difference from the previous Soda City Story Slam.  Last year, the event included a panel of judges that decided the winner of the event.  However, Ivey said the winner will now be determined by audience reaction and participation.




Nancy Washington

Nancy Washington

Q&A with Barbarian Rap League Founders--Next Battle June 11, 2017 @ New Brookland Tavern

Interview by Jasper intern Jasmine Ranjit

Battle rap is an art form unlike any other, combining insults with beats and boasts with rhythm. None do it better than the Barbarian Rap League from Columbia, S.C. The BLR, founded by rappers Marvolus and Gemstar Da Goldenchild, aim to create a platform where talented musicians can reach a larger audience. I interviewed BLR and asked them a few questions about rap battles, their ongoing feud with SEBL, and their performance this weekend.

How did the Barbarian Rap League begin?

The Barbarian Rap League was founded by the artists Marvolus and Gemstar Da Goldenchild, out of Columbia, S.C. The League idea came up by us watching URL SMACK battle rap on YouTube all day, and we wanted to bring that kind of platform to talent from our city. We got a venue and booked 3 battles. The event was a success, and the rest is history.

What is a major goal for BLR?

Our goal is simply to create a platform for talented battlers that want to pursue a career in battle rap and get them the exposure that they deserve whether it is locally or nationwide. For example, helping them get on URL SMACK stage the biggest battle rap platform in the world was a big accomplishment.

So you have Rap Battles between other groups including SEBL…?

Well, it's just friendly competition between leagues, SEBL, a league based out of Greenville, and us, based out of Columbia. It's pretty much City vs. City, their best vs. our best. We've had two big events: ‘Civil War 1’ which was in Columbia and ‘Civil War 2’ in Greenville. After the first Civil War, we gained a lot of respect for each other. There was a lot of animosity between us, but now those guys are like our brothers, shout-out to SEBL.

Is the environment of the event different from a concert setting?

Yes and no, because the music is like watching spoken word, boxing, and a comedy show combined. You’re still putting on a show. It's a different feel, but a good feel because you’re up there watching raw skill and talent. Any fan that has never been to a battle event live that finally comes becomes a constant fan.

Why is it important that your music is introduced through a rap battle?

It’s a new audience. You have battles that reach 1,000-6 million views…that market of fans that are interested in you as a battler will be interested in your music too.

There’s a battle this Sunday; what should the audience anticipate from this performance? 

This is going to be a hard-hitting, super dope event on Sunday. The co-owner and talent scout from URL SMACK, the biggest rap-battle stage in the world, will be in attendance and will be looking to give these guys a shot. Everybody will be coming with their absolute best.

The Barbarian Rap League is hosting a battle this Sunday at New Brooklyn Tavern. The event begins at 7:00.

REVIEW: Rock of Ages at Trustus Theatre

Rock of Ages is a musical devoted to the idea of Rock Music as a distinctive character, or caricature, in the popular imagination. And while the actual story of rock ‘n’ roll may be a complicated, complex, and contradictory one, our idea of it is not—it’s sleazy, loud, showy, and, above all, gloriously debauched. It’s about Sunset Strip sleaze, leather-clad excesses, and arena rock choruses that thud through your head no matter how much beer, booze, or other substances threaten to overwhelm. It might occasionally be dumb, but it’s often with a knowing wink and rarely without a double dose of fun.

That, in a nutshell, is what the musical, which was a massive success during its lengthy run on Broadway, and the particular version of it that Trustus is offering, is all about. Artistic director Chad Henderson, who also plays the grizzled club owner Dennis Dupree, points this out explicitly in his program notes, that the troupe’s primary endeavor here is to offer “Nothing but a Good Time,” and they are hell-bent on delivering. How much they succeed though depends, to a certain extent, on how much you are willing to revel in the poppy glam metal songs that are the bulk of this jukebox-style musical. The narrative is more than a bit thin, to the point where the comedic meta-narrative commentary is the only thing that can save it, and it never rises above a sort of rote sense of genre. But that’s not the point—it’s the nostalgic power of these songs, their sound, and their mythos, all of which is difficult to deny.

Luckily, the usually capable casts of Trustus have always boasted standout singers (and crack stage bands), and Rock of Ages is no exception. Songs like “Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Here I Go Again,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” prove they were almost built to double as great musical numbers, and when the full cast launches into one of these familiar choruses it’s hard not to feel like things are right with the world. Individual performers may shine or falter at certain moments, but Trustus company standouts like Katie Lietner as the female lead Sherrie or Michael Hazin as the bar manager/ostentatious narrator, make it abundantly clear why they are familiar sights on the Thigpen stage.

But while Leitner is great in her role and the kind of powerhouse singer the part needs, she and the male protagonist Drew (played by Rory Gilbert) end up a little sidelined despite being ostensible leads. The weakness of their romantic plot line—she arriving in L.A. to be an actress but ending up as a stripper, he as an inspiring rock star-turned-fledgling boy band hopeful—makes them a little less memorable compared to the purely humor-driven B and C plots. It’s in those where the real chemistry and spark of the show happens. Henderson and Hazin obviously have some stage chemistry and comedy chops in their bromance friendship and constant fourth-wall-breaking commentary that the fact that they are trying to save Dennis’ rock club almost gets lost in the mix. Similarly, Kayla Cahill’s performance as the protest-leading Regina and Cody Lovell’s German businessman-turned-candy-purveyor sparkle in their own budding romance and brief stage time. Too, Jason Stokes’ turn as the spoiled rock star gone to seed, Stacee, is also quite winning.

But again, focusing on individual performances is a bit of misdirection here, for any lengthy attention to the plot detracts from the blown-own spectacle of the music itself. Director Dewey Scott-Wiley wisely puts the band in serious costumes and places them prominently right up front on stage, so even when not performing the need to keep the music central was apparent. Music Director Chris Cockrell brings plenty of the necessary glam and pizazz to fit the part, and his crew cranks through these tunes with glee. The scenic design itself was also quite clever, utilizing some scaffolding, and a few stairs, doors, and curtains to conjure up a number of different settings in a blink of an eye. So while not strictly necessary, the production notes here rang gracefully.

In the end, though, this is about as critic-proof a play as you can get, with the pure, unfettered (guilty?) pleasure of the songs themselves in the driver’s seat. Henderson notes that there are some parallels to a seedy rock club being challenged by a more bland business takeover has some interesting parallels to the history of Trustus in the now-sleek Vista neighborhood, and it’s tough not to draw some connections between our current growth-hungry (although also arts-supporting) mayor and the one in the play, but leading you down that road won’t be particularly fruitful. Spray that hair up, throw some glitter in the air and, uh, “come on feel the noise?” – Kyle Petersen

Disclaimer: Chad Henderson is married to the reviewer’s sister-in-law. This made his depiction of Dennis no more nor less ridiculous, although it’s not clear whether the same can be said of his ultimate fate.

Rock of Ages runs through July 1—for times and ticket information head to


Q&A with Barnwell Frontman Tyler Gordon, Who Plays New Brookland Tavern Tonight, June 1, 2017

by Jasper Intern Jasmine Ranjit

Hailing from Columbia, SC, Barnwell is an alt-rock band with a dash of country crooning. Barnwell’s lead singer, Tyler Gordon, answered a few questions about the development of the band, their first two albums and the future.

Q: How was the band formed?

TG: Barnwell started in 2014 when I had a set of songs I'd written and wanted to record. I hadn't really done much in the way of writing or playing live in a few years and I was very eager to get back at it. I recorded them with the help of a couple friends, and it became The First Ghost. From there we started playing live with some rotating people and now it's a set lineup with Ross Swinson, Nick Fogle, and Nate Puza. 

In Motel Art, your voice seems to take on different personas, from protective in “Some One” to vulnerable in “Talk Me Down.” Were your inspirations for these tracks different?

 Yes, they're about two totally different things. “Talk Me Down” has a lot more uncertainty to it, so much so that there's multiple people talking in that song. It's pretty common for a song I write to end up being about a feeling, or a broader concept rather than an event, or a specific person, or something like that. But both types of songs do happen. 

In an interview with the Free Times, you said that “faith in God” was a major theme of The First Ghost. Do you see that influence in your present work as well?

Not nearly as much. The First Ghost was, unbeknownst to me at the time, my processing religion through songs. Motel Art has some of that in there, but not a ton. My feelings about religion shifted drastically about 5 years ago, and The First Ghost was a reflection of that. It's still something that ends up in the writing sometimes, but I've never really sat down and intended on a theme for a record, or anything like that. 

Is Barnwell working on new music?   

Yes, we're writing a new record right now. It's much more collaborative as far as the actual songwriting process this time around, and it's really fun. It also makes for better songs than were on The First Ghost or Motel Art because Ross, Nate, and Nick are great musicians, and humans, and we all work well together. I like to think I know when to get out of their way at this point and let them take the song sketches I show up to practice with to a way better place.                        

Should listeners expect a departure from The First Ghost and Motel Art?

--There's definitely a different feel to the new material we're writing now. I'd say the new record will still sound like a Barnwell record, but so far it's got a lot of elements to the songs that we didn't really use much on Motel Art, which is exciting for us. 

Barnwell has a concert this Thursday at NBT, what should listeners expect from the set?

We're going to be playing some new songs (3 of them, I think) that we expect will be on the new record, whenever we end up recording. So we hope people will come out to have a listen to where the new material is going. But of course we're also still going to be playing a lot of the songs from Motel Art, and probably a couple off The First Ghost as well. Listeners should also expect to be super disappointed if they don't get there early enough to see the whole bill, because Mel Washington, Danny Black, and The Gardener and the Willow are all really great. We're excited to be on the bill with all those guys. 

This Thursday, June 1st, Barnwell is performing at New Brooklyn Tavern alongside acts Mel Washington, Danny Black and The Gardener & The Willow. The concert will begin at 7:30.

Pray for Triangle Zero Talks to Jasper About Their Music & Playing WXRY Music Crawl This Thursday, June 1, 2017

By Jasper Intern Bradley Dountz

With personal technology evolving every passing year, it’s not too surprising the way people make music would change as well. In 2009, University of South Carolina studio art major Lucas Sams hopped on the DIY element to music and hasn’t let up since.

“I got a Macbook for the first time, it had Garageband on it and it just kinda changed my life,” he says of his nascent musical identity.

After practicing his craft while attending USC, Sams is now the brainchild behind local Columbia band Pray for Triangle Zero, who will be performing at the WXRY Music Crawl at June’s First Thursday on Main. “I think we’re probably the weirdest band on that lineup,” Sams said.

Sams was inspired to get involved in music from an early age, with David Bowie and Peter Gabriel as his early influences. However, music wasn’t always a clear-cut path for him walk down. “I always wanted to make music,” he said. “But I quit piano lessons. I never would ever even now consider myself like a good musician at all.”

No matter what Sams says, his music doesn’t sound like someone who is not a “good” musician. His countless songs cannot be pinned down to one genre. His own words describe his music as “space age post punk, very 80’s inspired,” but even that doesn’t cover it that well. His latest self-released album, Pastel Seascape, sounds like a washed out drug haze, that keeps you alert with constant techno beats blaring and scorchingly layered echo drawls.


“I wanna make stuff that doesn’t sound like anything else,” Sams said.

Pray for Triangle Zero’s image has been marked by the rise of vaporwave, a form of electronic music that relies heavily on 80’s and 90’s production design and cultural ambiance. Sams now looks up to similar artists such as himself like Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, and Skylar Spence.

Sams says he was making music “under the radar” for a while, but it wasn’t until he fell into the “experimental crowd” when he arrived in Columbia almost a decade ago, and hearing bands artists like Space Idea Tapes and Jeff South, that his true ambition grew.

Sams looks at his work and how prolific he has been over the years as just a byproduct of doing what he loves to do. “It’s just mostly being obsessed with the work, with making music, especially since I didn’t come to it naturally,” he said. “That uphill climb, that learning curve kinda made me want to do it more.”

Pray for Triangle Zero still has more plans for the future, they are already planning on performing at Future Fest 2017 this year. But it’s the WXRY gig that has him excited.

“I feel good…it’s our first local show this year, pressure is on, it’ll be something,” he says chuckling. Even for all of his upcoming exposure, Sams still looks at the actual music as his end goal. “I still definitely prefer being a producer to playing live...that’s where I really find enjoyment from it.”

“We All Fall Down” about to hit Columbia


Local alternative circus is the perfect balance of theatre and circus.

by Jasper Intern Brad Dountz

Soda City Cirque, a Columbia-based alternative circus, is preparing for a brand-new performance that is designed to challenge your expectations of what performing arts can be. Combining different aspects of the circus and the theatre, Soda City Cirque has created an entirely new experience entitled “We All Fall Down” that is built for people of all ages and incorporates multiple fairy tale stories and circus performances into a cohesive narrative.

Performer Kendal Turner and Soda City Cirque stage manager Crystal Aldamuy sat down with

Jasper for a closer look at how alternative circuses have evolved over time and what people should expect from their forthcoming show.

Turner and Aldamuy point out that alternative circuses have been a part of Columbia for a decade and that Soda City Cirque is made up of performers who have had professional circus training from all over the country from, San Diego to Charleston. At first, performances started out in more humbler settings like Art Bar’s parking lot. As the performances became more serious for those involved, a change of venue was necessary, and the troupe has moved into increasingly more ambitious spaces.

That ambition makes sense given their success—since their founding in 2013, Soda City Cirque has steadily grown in numbers and respectability. “We’ve done five full-length shows, we’ve sold out all of those shows, and we’ve gone from having eight members to 13,” Turner says. “We just kind of keep upping the game every single time. We do it in terms of skills that we add, and the type of performances that we do,” she continues. They have performers who do aerial art, balancing tricks, juggling, and fire tricks. “We’ve got all kinds of different people doing all kinds of different things. What we do is kind of mush those skills into a cohesive show with a storyline.”

The company is also quite proud of “We All Fall Down” as an example of the synthesis they hope to achieve. “I’ve always been fascinated as a writer, as a theatregoer, of the show within the show,” says Turner on the production’s structure. “There’s no curtain, and the audience sees the setup of the show and what goes on behind the scenes. We can incorporate the moving [parts] of the show into the actual story.”

Soda City Cirque has worked with different nonprofits with each of their shows, this time with Turning Pages, which is dedicated to ending adult illiteracy. “It just happened to be so perfect—it’s a fairy tale show about stories and we’re partnering with a group that promotes adult literacy, so it just seemed to be such a beautiful fit,” Turner says. After months of preparing, organizing, and constantly changing what would be in the actual show, Soda City Cirque think all of their hard work will pay off and the audience will be rewarded big time. “This is the biggest and best show that we’ve put on so far,” Turner says of “We All Fall Down.”

Soda City Cirque has put in an effort into getting their message across of pushing the limits of what a circus is supposed to be. “It’s that dream of growing up and running away with the circus, it really is that sort of embodiment, it becomes very accessible,” Aldammy said. Their long-term goal is to truly create a circus scene within Columbia. “It’s about getting people excited about creating different forms of art,” Turner said.

“We All Fall Down” will be performed at 914 Pulaski Street on May 26-27 and June 2-3. Doors open at 7 p.m. Ticket prices range from $10-15 and $50 for VIP package.



New Voices of the Eclipse

Shining light on Underrepresented Voices & New Voices yet to be heard, The Jasper Project invites submissions of poetry from unpublished poets age 15 and up from the 8 counties of the SC Midlands.

Theme = the literal solar eclipse or the metaphor of transforming shadows.

A select number of poems will be chosen for presentation on Thursday, August 17th from 3 – 5 PM in Columbia, SC. One Poem will receive a cash prize and publication in the September issue of Jasper Magazine.

·         Poets may enter up to 3 submissions

·         NO multiple submissions or previously published poetry

·         Names should not appear on poems

·         Please send submissions along with a cover sheet stating  

  •  title of poem
  •  name
  •  address
  •  email


Deadline: June 30th, 2017


Judge: Cassie Premo Steele

Cassie Premo Steele is the author of 14 books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published by small, independent presses. She was featured as a speaker for TEDxColumbiaSC and has been a columnist for Literary Mama and a blogger for the Huffington Post. She works as a writing coach with women from around the world and has a special affinity for creating connections between people and the natural environment. She lives in Columbia with her wife and daughter.

Cassie Premo Steele

Cassie Premo Steele

The Play Right Series, Community Producers, and Sharks and Other Lovers -- a message from cindi

When we started the Jasper Project last year as a non-profit entity dedicated to collaborative arts engineering, one of the first projects on our roster, after putting out the next issue of Jasper Magazine, was the formation of the Play Right Series.

The Play Right Series is an endeavor to enlighten and empower audiences with information about the process involved in creating theatrical arts, at the same time that we engineer and increase opportunities for SC theatre artists to create and perform new works for theatre. The word process is italicized because one of the four main missions* of the Jasper Project is to pull back the curtain on what, for most of us, is the magic and mystery of art. The Process.

How, for example, does a play get from a nugget in the playwright’s brain through her pen and all the way through re-writes, communication with directors, casting, table readings, stage readings, blocking, costuming, lighting, scoring, marketing, financing, rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal, and so much more, all the way to the stage on opening night?

We believe not only that the process of creating art deserves the same kind of accolades and wonder that the product does, but that knowledge of the process makes us both better audiences and patrons, as well as better artists ourselves. One of the ways we implement this belief is by involving Community Producers.

Community Producers are normal people, just like you and me, who invest a modest but meaningful amount of money in the production of one of the Play Right Series plays. In exchange for their investment, Community Producers are offered an insiders’ view of what goes on behind the scenes and are invited to follow the process of producing a new play from the first readings on.

The first in our line-up of new, audience-friendly plays is Sharks and Other Lovers, written by Columbia native Randall David Cook, and our first class of Community Producers is made up of Bonnie Goldberg, Roe Young, Bill Schmidt, Marcia Stine, Charles and Jean Cook, and Jack Oliver.

Larry Hembree is the director of the play and he believes strongly that this program is important for the Greater Columbia Arts Community at this point in time. “In a city that prides its arts and culture scene, the Play Right Series validates the performing arts’ work here and is a testament to artists and audiences that new work can be created and supported,” he says. “The long term goals [of the Play Right Series] are to continue to keep our city and state at the forefront of theatre by continuing to produce as much new work as possible.  Trustus has done a stellar job at this for over 30 years. So has the Columbia Children’s Theatre with its Commedia productions for young audiences.   Now the Jasper Project can continue to grow that. It’s exciting. Because this process is a true collaboration between playwright, director, actors and designers. It can only work if there is true collaboration among all the artists involved which certainly improves theatre skills for all of them.”


Sharks and Other Lovers stars Libby Campbell, Jennifer Moody Sanchez, Josh Kern, Glenn Rawls, and Perry Simpson. David Swicegood does costume and hair, Barry Wheeler is the sound designer, and Emily Harrill is the stage designer.

Because of the support of Bonnie, Roe, Bill, Marcia, Charles, Jean, and Jack, the Jasper Project is delighted to present a staged reading of Sharks and Other Lovers on Friday, April 28th and Saturday, May 6th. Both readings will take place at Tapp’s Arts Center and the cost is only $10. There will be a cash bar and an exciting discussion of the journey the play has taken thus far, and where it will go from here.

I hope you’ll join us for the first in an on-going series of experiments in theatre arts. It’ll be fun, and we’ll all be better theatre audiences (and hopefully artists) for having been there.

Take care,



*The Jasper Project is committed to four integrated criteria:

  • Process – illuminating the unique processes endemic to all art forms in order to provide a greater level of understanding and respect for that discipline.
  • Community/Collaboration – nurturing community both within and between arts disciplines.
  • Narrative – creating a more positive and progressive understanding of SC culture.
  • Economy – being efficient stewards of arts funding committed to creating more with less. 




Review: Trustus Theatre Presents Hand to God

If the image of a Trustus company member with a puppet on his hand in the promotional materials for Hand to God conjures up some déjà vu , that would make sense—the theatre produced the irreverent Sesame Street send-up Avenue Q back in 2012, showcasing the power and possibility of adult-oriented theatre that incorporates puppetry.

Given that, it’s hard not to make some surface-level comparisons to the two shows, particularly since they lean into the dependable gag of having puppets say naughty things. But while Avenue Q was toying directly with the staging and conventions of the traditional children’s programming around puppets, Hand to God uses another, lesser known convention of puppetry—sock puppet performances that fundamentalist churches often use to teach about the Bible to young ones—and spins off boldly from there. The expected biting satire lampooning conservative evangelicals is there, of course, but playwright Robert Askins actually peers deeper into the very nature of storytelling, and of mythmaking itself. He tellingly bookends the play with soliloquies (fittingly from a puppet) that wax poetic and half-crazed on the subject matter to prime the audience for such connection. And it works. To paraphrase Joan Didion, Hand to God is fundamentally about the stories—the fictional stories—we tell ourselves in order to live.

The building blocks of the plot are relatively simple—a grieving widow, Margery (Jennifer Hill), and her teenage son, Jason (Jonathan Monk), find solace in their church’s puppetry club. Pastor Greg (Paul Kaufman) is into Margery, Jason is into girl-next-door fellow club member Jessica (Martha Hearn Kelly), and troubled teen Timmy (Patrick Dodds) is also into Margery. The devil gets involved. Shenanigans ensue.

Central to those shenanigans is Jason’s masterful sock puppet alter-ego, Tyrone, whose foul-mouthed antics and increasingly belligerent presence gradually subsumes Jason’s character. Tyrone voices the most extreme parts of Jason’s psyche--anger, fear, love, lust, all get ribald treatment from the puppet even as Jason himself remains shy and meek. The thematic layers that get worked through in this performance--the trials of puberty, the bewildering emotional highs and lows of religion, the grief over a lost parent--all get lifted up, swirled around and interrogated by the crazed humor rather than turned into punchlines. A great example of this (mild spoiler alert) occurs during an extended puppet sex scene, which is both as comical as you’d imagine it but also surprisingly rife with sweetness and emotional complexity as it managed to capture the screaming sex drive and shuffling awkwardness that is endemic to adolescent dating rituals.

On the whole, this is one of Trustus’s finer productions in recent years, with a would-be boring set that manages to get all of the nuances and details of a church rec room down tight, with the dated evangelical posters and chintzy decorations evoking that highly specific atmosphere. And when it rivetingly transforms into the devil’s happy place at one point, with demonic, upside down crosses and lewd messages scrawled on the walls, the place becomes positively electrifying.

Too, the casting and performances here are sharp and delightful. The show itself requires Monk to give a masterful performance as Jason to make the whole thing tick, and watching him make machine gun-fire shifts between Jason’s voice and mannerisms and Tyrone’s will remind you of the magic of theatre over and over again throughout the show. The supporting cast around him is equally superb though— Paul Kaufman nails the ingratiating, slightly delusional self-confidence of a do-good-but-not-that-good pastor. Jenny Mae Hill deftly pulls the young Southern widow caricature in just enough to bring genuine pathos to the character while also gracefully hitting all the comic notes as well. Martha Hearn Kelly and Patrick Dodds both take on the kind of roles we’ve seen them in before, but there’s no denying that they both can convincingly bring to life the girl-next-door romantic interest and nascent bad boy, respectively. Kelly’s Jessica is particularly good as she seemingly calibrates a relatively straightforward character to match Jason’s eccentricities in a way that could have been forced but instead manages to feel tender and organic.

In addition to the set, director Patrick Michael Kelly’s careful blocking is also a technical showcase, particularly when allowing Monk and the rest of the puppeteers (primarily Hearn’s Jessica) to move around the stage quite naturally alongside puppets that feel every bit like separate characters from the actors bringing them to life. There’s a sense of well-rounded excellence that pervades this production, and it’s a pleasure to see such execution on a local stage.

What most surprises though, is how well the play itself deserves such thoughtful production. For all of its acerbic one-liners and comedic foibles, it’s making some astute connections that will leave you buzzing as you leave the theater. The web of connections Askins draws between sexual desire, religion, mental health, and storytelling are sharper and more thought-provoking than dramas with a tenth of this play’s charm and wit.

And one thing’s for sure—you’ll never underestimate the power—or really trust, even—a sock puppet ever again. –Kyle Petersen

Hand to God runs through May 6 on the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre. Tickets are available at

This is not a poem. This is an incident report.


At the South Carolina March for Science, held at the Statehouse on April 2, Earth Day, Tara Powell read a powerful new poem, "Incident Report." Written specifically for the march, the poem addresses environmental concerns through conversations with her four-year-old son.


The state march was held in conjunction with a national March for Science and many other marches around the nation and the world, all calling attention to the importance of science, the value of clear air and water, the reality of climate change, and the policies of the Trump administration that betray all of these things. South Carolina organizers included speakers from the arts and religion on the program--including Powell, an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina and a poet. 


Powell's poem calls attention to the value of science through conversations with her four-year-old son, who shows up in the poem with a paper model of the solar system on his head. "This is not a poem," Powell repeats, it is an incident report, it is a report card, it is a lesson plan.


We are honored and delighted to post "Incident Report" for the first time in print here on the Jasper blog. 



Incident Report


Columbia, SC, March for Science

April 22, 2017


Listen up, class.

This is not a poem, y’all.

This is an incident report.

My four-year-old came home wearing the solar system

on his head.  It’s all the colors,

scraps of paper orbiting his curls.

I imagine this boy commanding tides,

moving back the waters creeping up our steps.

I tell him about the cypress water;

he tells me about stars.

One thing reflected in the other.

The bream move beneath, whatever

we believe.  The stars shoot across,

whatever we know.


Hurry up please, it’s time.

This is not a poem, Columbia.

This is a report card.

My four-year-old came home wearing the solar system

on his head.  It’s a crown of many colors,

illegal in another place and time.

An emergent truth:  he is his brother and sister’s

explainer-in-chief, not me.  He says

his friends at school are going to kill the trees,

that they tore the garden out by its roots that day

and the teacher couldn’t stop them.

He never wants a playdate again.  He is afraid

they are coming for our magnolia.  He patrols

the yard, my sweet, solar boy.

The trees give us breath, he says.

My boy makes me breathless.


Last call, America. 

This is not a poem.

This is a lesson plan.

My four-year-old came home wearing the solar system

on his head.  The moon was pink last week,


the egg moon, the first of spring.  The rising water

still deeply brown.  Uneasy lies the hand

that crowned that crown, the mother who picks

it up when he puts it down.  The march is round

our trees and down our street,

over to the schoolyard where they play

for keeps.  The good Lord grant what I hope for him,

plenty of ink and a wide blue pen,

a curl of stars and marching feet,

strings to take soundings from below the deep,

a listening ear, and a voice to teach.


The things he wonders, I will work to know.

Tara Powell

Tara Powell

I'm sorry, Officer - I forgot to rhyme: Poet Laureate Plays April Fools' Prank on Public

Poetry turned a lot of angry frowns to smiles today on Columbia’s Main Street as One Columbia for Arts and History and our Columbia city poet laureate Ed Madden played a big April Fools' joke on folks parking their cars downtown.

According to Madden, “I was brainstorming with my intern Luke Hodges about gorilla poetry projects—projects that would put poetry in places people would not expect it, projects that would put poetry in daily life. We came up with a lot of ideas, but this seemed the perfect one for this year since April 1st falls on a Saturday when the city does not ticket downtown.”

Along with the help of “a nice mob of folks” windshields throughout the area were slapped with pretty realistic looking parking poetry tickets, like those pictured below.

“It has been great,” Madden says. “Some folks were angry at first, and then laughed very hard.” He continues, “When I was going back into one of the parking garages a woman pulled over and stopped me and told me how mad she was when she first saw it but, then, what a great idea it was. She loved it!”

Lee Snelgrove, executive director of One Columbia agrees. “The project caught people off guard and made them take a moment to consider poetry as part of their daily experience. It was a fun project to be a part of.”

ticket Barbara Hagerty.jpg

What's Your Idea for the New City of Columbia Flag?

Design is all around you in both loud and quiet ways. From the buildings we work in to the products we use, many times we experience design in ways that have been created for us. Sometimes, though, we are brought into the experience.


The re-imagination of the City of Columbia flag is one of those opportunities.


Last fall, the Columbia Design League hosted a lecture featuring noted vexillologist Ted Kaye, author of the flag design bible Good Flag, Bad Flag. As you might suspect, a quick Google search of the words “flag” and “Columbia, SC” delivers two distinct stories. First, comes the protracted battle to furl the Confederate flag from the state house grounds. On a more positive note (and included in Kaye’s fall presentation) is the other flag, the State of South Carolina’s official flag, which South Carolinians embroider, fly and stick on everything from silver jewelry to foam coozies to belts.


One flag decidedly absent from our conversations around the event was the City of Columbia flag. Before last fall’s event, most of us hadn’t a clue that the city even had a flag. When we evaluated the flag based on Kaye’s criteria, it was painfully clear. Our dynamic city deserved a flag upgrade.


With so many paths forward to a new flag, the question was our approach. One of the biggest issues with the current design is that the imagery — stalks of corn and cotton — is dated. When you add a seal to the mix, the flag says government and farming. What’s missing? People. People are what make up any city. That’s who the flag should represent.


That’s why both Columbia Design League and One Columbia for Arts and History overwhelmingly decided to partner on the project and bring it to life as a public initiative with a $2,000 award for the winning idea.


A city flag is not a logo or even a brand. It’s an object that represents all things in this city. The flag’s next iteration will represent the people, the various cultures, the physical features, and most of all represent the pride we share for our city.


The current design, created by Taylor School first grade teacher Kate Manning Magoffin in 1912, has served our community well. We encourage you to take the same pride as Mrs. Magoffin did and create your own vision of Columbia’s flag, too.


Visit Design a Better Flag to learn more about flag design and how you can submit your idea. Designs will be accepted through April 10, 2017.

- By Julie Turner



City of Columbia flag since 1912 -  

City of Columbia flag since 1912 -