As musicians, poets and rappers demonstrated their crafts at Think Tank Revolution’s performance this weekend, members of the group had just one person on their minds: founding member Trent Taylor, who was diagnosed with leukemia last spring.
Taylor, who would be a senior this year if he had not withdrawn for the semester, could not attend the show Saturday night in Mitchell Hall Theater because he was scheduled to undergo a bone marrow treatment this week. The audience and participants were asked to sign a poster board that displayed a picture of him performing at a prior Think Tank Revolution event.
Senior Charles Wekselbaum, who founded the group with Taylor as an original member, said performing in Taylor’s honor was a difficult task.
“It’s frustrating,” Wekselbaum said. “It forces you to ask all the obvious questions – why, why, why, why? At the end of the day you have to come to terms with the reality of the situation and there really is no answer.”
Wekselbaum read a poem aloud that Taylor had sent only hours before the show. The lyrics sparked sighs from the crowd.
“How does one approach the hour of coming when it may never come?/ Most certainly not by trading Paxil for patience/ but consolation is not offered so/ so I take pain as my friend/ and know as long as he’s there/ something’s right,” Wekselbaum said, reading Taylor’s words.
Despite Taylor’s absence, students and D.C. residents continued in his tradition by participating in Think Tank Revolution’s first performance event of the year. Wekselbaum said the group was originally started as a means of creating discourse among student writers.
“The goal was to take these writers from such different backgrounds and figure out a way to present their writing on stage, whether it be in collaboration with each other or just as individuals,” he said.
Think Tank Revolution originally started performing at events hosted by other student organizations around campus, including Liquid Arts and the Black Student Union. The group has only five permanent members, but its shows include many guest performances from both GW students and D.C. lyricists. Performances Saturday included free-styling (improvised rapping), recited poetry, slam poetry and a drum duo that started off the show.
“I’m a vegetarian vegeterrorist, Unitarian fundamentalist, antiquarian sentimentalist, human carrion rights activist, black-listed, card-carrying, fighting man of the opposition, masked bandit, trying to write, with no stake in a position,” rapped Benjamin Himmelfarb in his first Think Tank Revolution show.
One of the highlights of the show was when Robert Schulzmann, a German native, joined members of the group on stage and started rapping in German, spitting out words and rhymes that no one seemed to understand but enthused just about everyone.
Schulzmann, who is not a student at GW, has only been in the United States for three weeks as an intern at Voice of America, an international broadcasting service funded by the federal government. He met one of the guest artists, local D.C. rapper “Johnny D. Disaster,” at a record store a few hours before the concert and ended up attending and performing at the show.
“We talked and I asked the guy what’s going on and he said, ‘Oh, you can come with me. I’ll show you some slam poetry.’ It was very great. I’ve never seen something like this before,” Schulzmann said, adding that he was disappointed that Think Tank Revolution did not hold performances every week.
Schulzmann’s performance inspired GW sophomore Dan Cohn, who lived in France during his junior year of high school, to start rapping in French.
“The kid just started rapping in German, and I was like, ‘Hey I’m bilingual,’ so I started to hop up there,” Cohn said.
Cohn, who is from Vermont, said he started getting into free-styling as a freshman in high school when he would go to parties where people were rapping.
“It’s funny cause down here no one really free styles but up there it’s part of the culture,” he said, adding that he likes Think Tank Revolution because it is not anything like your “classic, popped collar G-dub kid.”
While the show offered performers the chance to publicly voice their poems and, for many, show off their free-styling abilities, the audience also found the show equally exhilarating.
“The show was phenomenal. The artists were articulate and expressive,” said Michelle Gaudet, a former GW student who graduated in May but came to support friends in the group. “They created an experience by engaging the audience with the beats drumming and powerful lyrics. There was balance between the rehearsed and the spontaneous.”