Hannah Van Sciver Brings Excelano To Cotuit

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By: Laura M. Reckford
Published: 04/20/12

Hannah Van Sciver of Marstons Mills first started getting interested in poetry performance when she was a student at Cape Cod Academy.

Her freshman year in college at the University of Pennsylvania, she joined the Excelano Project, a spoken word poetry collective at the school.

Next weekend, the group is traveling to Cape Cod for the first time to perform at a benefit to fund breast cancer screening at Cotuit Center for the Arts.

This is not just any poetry reading.

The group is known to sell out the on-campus, 1,200-seat hall and has won the national collegiate competition for spoken word poetry twice in the last few years.

Excelano has appeared on Broadway and on HBO, has performed for President Barack Obama and friends at the White House and has toured all over the world.

According to Hannah, Cape Cod audiences are in for a treat.

“A spoken word poetry show is not like your average poetry reading. It is exciting, intense and emotional to both perform and watch,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Hannah said she originally discovered Excelano when she was in high school.

“When I started to get into the spoken word scene as a youngster, I watched a lot of YouTube videos of [Excelano Project member] Alysia Harris performing on HBO,” she wrote.

That led her to watch videos of other Excelano poets.

It was not until she got accepted at UPenn that she realized that Excelano was a UPenn student group.

Hannah, 19, is an English major and a theater minor in her sophomore year at UPenn.

She is the daughter of Margaret and Harry Van Sciver of Marstons Mills.

Hannah auditioned for the Excelano Project in the first semester of her freshman year at UPenn.

She made it to the final round of callbacks but did not get chosen.

She auditioned again second semester and made the group.

Since being a member of the project, Hannah has traveled to New York City for a show at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe and to compete in the Wade-Lewis Poetry Slam Invitational at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

The group has also traveled around the United States to compete in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.

Hannah said what she shares with the other members of Excelano is a passion for words.

“I love that we all take time out of our weeks to work on our poetry together,” Hannah said. “I especially love performing with the other poets in the group. There’s a really intense camaraderie that always develops when we share the stage with one another. And, of course, I love what we do on the most basic level—sharing our stories. It’s wonderful to know you’ve moved an audience with your performance.”

Hannah first got involved with the poetry scene on Cape Cod after slam poet Taylor Mali of New York City visited Cape Cod Academy.

“Slam poetry caught my attention, and so I started competing in Cape Teen Slam competitions, open mics, PoetryOutLoud and eventually adult slams. I was really inspired by the adult poets already involved with the Cape poetry scene, including Joe Gouveia, Barry Hellman, Greg Hischak, Christine Rathburn and Mwalim, among others,” she said.“After joining Excelano and becoming an English major with my emphasis in creative writing, I’ve come to take my interest in poetry much more seriously. It is a part of my everyday life,” she said.

Hannah arranged for Excelano’s performance on Cape Cod.

The group was looking to set up some tour dates for the spring semester, and she thought students at her alma mater, Cape Cod Academy, would enjoy seeing the group.

She also thought of the idea of the group performing at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, a place where she took classes as a child, participated in shows and slams and even interned there as a high school senior.

Giving back to the community is an extension of the group’s mission as poets and performers, and it was Hannah’s idea to raise money for breast cancer testing through the Cotuit show.

“When we decided to do a charity gig, I thought immediately of Cape Cod Healthcare, as they do so much for the Cape community,” Hannah said.

The performance will benefit the organization’s breast cancer diagnostic fund to subsidize the cost of breast cancer screening and diagnostic services for low-to middle-income women who are either uninsured or underinsured and are not able to afford out-of-pocket costs related to treatment.

As for what local audiences should expect from Excelano, Hannah said, at its heart, Excelano shows young people committed to their craft.

“I think people may also especially enjoy seeing our collaborative pieces. Poems featuring more than one voice and often including choreographed aspects are more difficult to write and perform, but are very engaging for an audience,” she wrote.

Coming to perform on Cape Cod with Excelano is like coming full circle for Hannah.

“If I hadn’t grown up in the rich poetry environment on Cape Cod, I never would have joined Excelano,” she said.

If You Go

What: The Excelano Project

Where: Cotuit Center for the Arts

When: Saturday, April 28, at 8 PM.

Tickets: $10 in advance, and $15 at the door, if available.

For tickets, go to cotuitarts.org or tickets or call 508-428-0669.

Please be aware that latecomers cannot be seated.

The performance will benefit Cape Cod Healthcare’s Breast Cancer Diagnostic Fund.

Established in 2012, this fund helps to subsidize the cost of breast cancer screening and diagnostic services for low to middle-income women who are either uninsured or underinsured and are not able to afford out-of-pocket costs related to treatment.

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