Whether its the way he invokes Billy Shakespeare, his particular style of dress, his syntax or his voice, there’s something about watching Benny Roman perform spoken word that makes you feel like you’re in the Renaissance. In one of his pieces “Excuse Me, Miss,” a woman delivers part of a Hamlet monologue to convey her lamentable state. Of course, Ben is the one portraying her. In this way, each of his pieces is like a one-act play, and at a certain point, the term ‘spoken word artist’ gives way to a more powerful title: Storyteller.
And although his vests, theatrical quotes and word choice may sometimes give his work a medieval feel, the content couldn’t be more relevant. In “13 and Brown,” Ben tells the true story of the time he was held at gun point by the police while walking to work. “A Life” paints the picture of the race issues this country is dealing with today, told in front of one of his many poignant watercolor pieces, this one a single hand lying limp on pavement.
Ben’s painting is very much a part of the experience, and he often works on his painting and spoken word in tandem, as if it were all part of the same process. Watching him with a brush is inspiring. While waiting for me to show up on the day of our shoot, he set up in front of the Bethesda fountain. With earbuds in, he flicks his wrist and dabs here and there, stopping every few seconds and changing his perspective or his brush, and interacting effortlessly with anyone who approaches him. At one point in the feature below, a boy asks why he’s not painting any birds- so Ben stops what he;s doing and adds a bird in the corner of his piece.
To me, that sums up Ben Roman as an artist and a person: genuine kindness. His works all deal with the same concept that Matthew Silver preaches in his underwear in Union Square: Love Each Other. Its a simple enough message that’s easy to deflect, but to hear Ben talk about it, it does actually make me want to take my head out of my own ass for a minute and pay attention to the beauty all around me, stop being so angry at everyone for trivial things and start smiling more. Hopefully he’ll have the same effect on you.
The shooting of this episode was a comedy of errors. I forgot the ND filter, i had problems with the mic all day, and basically, the majority of what we shot was unusable. I wanted the second piece to be one shot, but i ended up having to take the best parts from three different takes to make it all work. Anyway, i figured Ben’s performance was strong enough to carry it in spite of the technical shortcomings.