DaVerse Lounge

DaVerse Lounge Journey Bonds Mother and Son

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Marcus Villagomez was 7 years old in 2005, an impressionable kid sitting in the Dallas Theater Center audience for the inaugural DaVerse Lounge show. His mom, Brenda Villagomez, brought Marcus along with a van full of young ladies from the nonprofit organization Girls, Inc.

Eleven years later, Brenda and Marcus have attended nearly every DaVerse Lounge event. They know DaVerse creator Will Richey personally. They remember poems and poets by name. They’ve grown up and bonded thanks to DaVerse Lounge.

“Throughout my career,” says Brenda, who also worked for Boys and Girls Club from 2003-2015, “I was exposing my program kids to these new experiences right along with my son.”

For the Villagomez mother and son team, DaVerse Lounge has been a rite of passage. The shows and their empowering mantra – My voice has power to speak my truth and share my light – filled a void just as it promoted unity and conversation. Marcus, who never took the stage to perform, breathed in all of the social-emotional learning pixie dust permeating the DaVerse oxygen. Brenda nurtured a beautiful rapport with her son. Together they resiliently coped through divorce and abandonment with DaVerse as the uplifting backdrop.

“It’s all about expression,” says Marcus, who is now 18 and a senior at South Grand Prairie High School. “You hear the stories, what they have been through – sad stories, funny stories. As I got older and I started to understand more I started to understand the diversity of it. There is more than my life and my mom’s life. There are other people in this world that can have an impact on you and share their wisdom with you.”

The Villagomez meets DaVerse Lounge story dates back to the beginning of the new millennium. It was Brenda who first discovered Richey in 2002. She took her Girls, Inc. kids to see Maya Angelou at the Coliseum inside the University of North Texas at Denton. Richey was Angelou’s opening act.

“At that moment we all fell in love with Will,” says Brenda. “There was this huge connection to be a part of his life and his program right then and there. I later attended a poetry workshop led by Will at an Irving arts magnet school. At that workshop Will announced that he was going to start a youth poetry show. I knew I had to see that.”

She did see it, repeatedly. Brenda was always there, with Marcus by her side.

“It’s very rare for us to have a parent come to the show with their child, to consistently bring their child to the show,” says Richey, whose DaVerse Lounge is a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink. “It’s rare for a parent to come so consistently.”

But this wasn’t just feel-good fandom. Brenda and Marcus found acceptance, boundless expression and, yes, even therapy at DaVerse Lounge. Marcus’ father walked out of his life when he was 6. So mother and son were dealing with emotions bottled up inside, emotions desperately in need of release. They embraced the welcoming, free-forum atmosphere of the shows. They became part of the firmament simply by being regular cheerleaders in the audience.

“At that point in our lives we didn’t talk much about what we were going through,” says Brenda. “I’m sure those brave kids didn’t talk about it either until they were on the mic. So we talked about it afterwards.”

Marcus agrees: “It brought us closer together. We were able to talk about what was going on in our lives because of DaVerse Lounge.”

Richey preaches the DaVerse Lounge gospel regularly, and not just when he’s onstage at Life In Deep Ellum, the venue that has hosted DaVerse Lounge since 2010. DaVerse Lounge’s “emotional literacy,” that ambiance of openness and fairness, is a balm for all ages, races and genders.

“I believe what we do is for everybody,” says Richey. “In more micro-managed households and families we are not allowed to speak out. So it takes a collective. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a collective to support an adult. We just need to express ourselves. The adults always do receive something.”

Brenda lives vicariously, in a way, through the DaVerse Lounge experience. “It is about giving the youth that outlet that they need,” she says. “We needed that outlet when we were kids, too, but we didn’t get it. Now we have it.”

This is all about the back and forth, the spirit of giving and receiving. Through DaVerse Lounge Marcus learned to give, which in turn allowed him to receive. Marcus now sports a short, curly coif. But back in 3rd grade his hair trailed passed his shoulders. That’s when he made an important decision. Two years later, with his mane down to his waist, Marcus cut it all off and donated it to Locks of Love.

Richey caught up with Marcus and Brenda after the 11th season closing DaVerse Lounge show April 1. As they all sat and chatted at Big Thought’s office last week the camaraderie, the exchanges were so casual, so genuine. These were old friends catching up.

“I used to know everybody; we were small and intimate,” says Richey. “Now because it is so big, to see people that you know is so special.”

Brenda and Marcus Villagomez are still around, and they aren’t going anywhere. DaVerse Lounge still has the same impact it did in 2005. Their DaVerse journey still resonates.

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, State Farm and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support.



Big ThoughtDaVerse Lounge Journey Bonds Mother and Son

Creative Electricity Charges DaVerse Lounge Season

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

You need 161 megawatts of electricity to light up New York City’s famed Times Square. It felt like we had that much power and more at the 11th season closing show of DaVerse Lounge.

Life in Deep Ellum was buzzing Friday night, April 1, 2016. There was so much positive energy in the air, a contagious joie de vivre that exuded from everybody walking through the glass doors. The crowd was varied, a mixture of DaVerse veterans, Lounge newbies, students, teachers, parents, artists, hipsters, young professionals and retired arts enthusiasts.

The evening’s statistics speak volumes:

  • 640 in attendance – the largest DaVerse Lounge crowd of the season
  • 41 students performed
  • 26 high schools in the house, 13 middle schools, 3 elementary schools and 2 colleges
  • 17 of those schools are outside of Dallas city limits (including McKinney High School, Mansfield High School, Greenville High School and Sam Houston High School in Arlington)
  • 13 Big Thought-supported DaVerse clubs attended

The event gave us another first: Marsh Preparatory Academy students presented an impressive singing, dancing and poetry number incorporating two songs titled “Hello” (by Adele and by Erykah Badu), original choreography and unique spoken word. It is the first time in DaVerse Lounge history that one performance features all three artistic disciplines.

“The poetry was amazing,” says DaVerse Lounge creator Will Richey about the Marsh showpiece. “The dancing was beautiful and well choreographed. The entire crowd sang with them. Marsh had the strongest facilitators there. They have some really strong teaching artists.”

For DaVerse Lounge partner and co-mentor Alejandro Perez, Jr., Friday’s show was highlighted by the kit square off of The Drummies, 10-year-old Adarian “AD” Roberts and 12-year-old James “JD” Beck, and a momentary excursion the Melody Memory bandleader took from the spotlighted stage. He slipped off to the Mokah Coffee Bar inside Life in Deep Ellum and found a student from Sam Houston High School who attended a recent DaVerse Lounge assembly and workshop led by Perez and Richey held at the school’s Black Box Theater.

“She remembered what I said about expressing myself with my body,” says Perez. “She said that dance was the best way for her to express herself; she could express herself more with dance than with words. That was so nostalgic for me because dance is my first language. I feel like you say so much more when you move.”

This is the beauty of DaVerse Lounge, particularly its nurturing partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink. Big Thought champions creative learning, the need for all students to soak up real-life knowledge outside of the regimented school day. DaVerse Lounge is all about self-expression and equality. Every child, every teen has the right to get up on that stage and express themselves. At DaVerse Lounge there is no educational opportunity gap. Everybody with a message gets the mic.

“I’m continually intrigued about the necessary implementation of young people to be heard, to be seen, to be acknowledged,” says Perez. “That sacred ground is DaVerse Lounge. When you walk in you become a part of it instantaneously. You can be yourself. You don’t have to pretend to be anybody else.”

Clearly the impact of DaVerse Lounge reaches beyond the four shows each season. Like all youth-driven movements of the 21st century, DaVerse Lounge has a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Richey mentions that high school attendance this season was higher than ever. He credits social media interaction.

Richey also points to DaVerse Lounge’s recent showcase at The Dallas Festival of Ideas: The United City, where a mini-lounge performance commanded a day filled with panels about the future of education.

“It has a much deeper impact on our city and our culture in North Texas than I ever imagined,” says Richey. “So many relationships are developing in the artistic communities that are transcending culture, races and age. The partnership with Big Thought and Journeyman Ink has been incredibly strengthened by Life in Deep Ellum. Joel Triska and the dedicated, selfless people at Life in Deep Ellum have added to the beauty and the depth of the evening.”

But as always, the power of any movement is best felt in the details. There was painter Matthew Brinston onstage creating a gorgeous, evocative abstract piece he titled “Share My Light,” a phrase lifted from the DaVerse Lounge mantra. Brinston, like everybody transformed by the DaVerse Lounge ambiance, has his own potent story.

“Here’s this young guy, 23 years old, whose career has taken off as a painter,” says Richey. “I’m moved by his story, a touring musician who was in a freak accident and pronounced dead and he woke up and just started painting. He was not a painter before his accident. It’s great to highlight a visual artist along with highlighting spoken word poetry and musicians.”

That’s the DaVerse Lounge energy. Perez felt “the pot was stirring and churning” Friday night. Richey soaked up the “intergenerational electricity.” DaVerse Lounge continues to buzz, to mature, to transcend. The 12th season promises to “strongly impact the creative culture in North Texas,” says Richey.

DaVerse Lounge is no longer just a poetry reading. It has the wattage to light up New York City.

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, State Farm and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support.





Big ThoughtCreative Electricity Charges DaVerse Lounge Season

Power of Voice Workshop Fuels Self-Expression

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Those awkward early teen years: No longer a child, not yet an adult. It could feel like developmental purgatory. Enduring the onset of emotions, hormones and insecurities in middle school can be particularly daunting. Not only are kids dealing with the changes in their bodies, they are also struggling to fit into a new environment.

“In elementary kids are innocent, whimsical and free to express themselves,” says Will Richey, creator of DaVerse Lounge, an open mic spoken word event produced in partnership by Big Thought and Journeyman Ink. “When they get to middle school, they are starting to lose that innocence and that freedom to express themselves.”

Not if Richey can help it.

Richey, along with DaVerse Lounge partner and co-mentor Alejandro Perez, Jr. , brought the “Power of Voice” to 875 students at Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School in McKinney. Throughout the course of five weekdays earlier this month, Richey and Perez presented their workshop for 6th graders, 7th graders and 8th graders.

“Power of Voice” would serve as much more than a creative, social and emotional learning exercise for fidgety adolescents. It recharged teachers, administrators, and even school principal Mitchell Curry, who made a guest appearance.

The hour-long workshop, which Richey says he’s conducted off and on for a decade, unfolded in three components, an interactive performance, a writing activity and a group share. It began with an empowering warm up from Perez, including an energizing chant – “I am creative. I am original. I can do anything I put my mind to.”

Then it was time to get to work. This work involves creating a safe haven for self-expression. “From the Page to the Stage” launched with a DaVerse Lounge video highlighting Serenity, a student who used spoken word to process the tumultuous periods of her young life. The title of Serenity’s poem, “I Just Thought You Should Know” became a writing exercise for the kids, one they would share with everyone else in that warmly lit school library.

Everybody in the room, from students to teachers to administrators to even this diligent scribe, revealed something we thought you should know.

“As I observed the workshop led by Will and Alejandro, I realized that these students, not so long ago innocent, were in need of affirmation and an outlet for their voice,” says Barbara Kinast, Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School’s Media Resource Specialist. “The workshop week was incredibly joyful and inspiring for students and staff alike.”

No doubt Perez’s warm-up sets the tone for the hour of heart-on-the-sleeve exploration.

“My challenge has always been to find that happy medium,” says Perez. “I’m all about structuring a fearless environment and soulfully preparing a creative space. “

That sanctuary of communication lays the groundwork for a most beneficial partnership. Kinast requested the DaVerse curriculum developed by Big Thought in partnership with Journeyman Ink so that she can spearhead a DaVerse club at the campus.

“I saw how the workshop had energized the school culture and I didn’t want that to just fizzle and die,” says Kinast.  “I would like to try to keep some of that energy going on my campus by maintaining a place where students feel safe to express themselves and are praised for their bravery.“

Richey immediately points to the power of the partnership between DaVerse Lounge and Big Thought. He instantly sees the big picture, how A walks over to B and then dances with C.

“What we’re doing, not only is it life giving to the students, but it’s also rejuvenating to the teachers,” he says. “That is why the partnership between DaVerse Lounge and Big Thought is so powerful. It should always be about the kids, but DaVerse Lounge and Daverse Works helps rejuvenate adults and educators as it helps us reconnect with our childhood innocence.”

Along the way one kid walks the bridge closing the gap between childhood innocence and teenage expression.

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, State Farm and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support. To check out the Serenity video, click here.








Big ThoughtPower of Voice Workshop Fuels Self-Expression

Dreaming About Learning at Festival of Ideas

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager 

Teach Them to Dream!

Black Sharpie on green index card. Simple enough, right? Yet those words are at the heart of success for students today and into the distant future.

Gigi Antoni, our Big Thought President and CEO, penned that phrase and immediately pinned it to the Big Thought booth Saturday morning, Feb. 20, 2016, at The Dallas Festival of Ideas: The United City. The crowd inside The Women’s Museum at Fair Park hovered around the Big Thought booth, which sat adjacent to the Commit! scorecard.

Big Thought and Commit! partnered for the booths, both of which contained information that examined the cause and effect study of preparing our students for postsecondary educational success. The Commit! 2015 scorecard revealed that as a community Dallas is making strides in preparing students for postsecondary educational achievement.

As of 2015, 16,300 more Dallas County students are now meeting the key postsecondary educational benchmarks as compared to 2011-2012. The largest increases were in Algebra I, and High School Graduation.

The activity at the Big Thought booth was continuous during the 8-hour day. Visitors included folks from the corporate world and non-profit partners, high school and college students, teachers, and general festival attendees. All of them took a passionate approach to the problem of preparing our kids for their educational future. The Big Thought bulletin board was filled with suggestions for change.

“We got lots of responses about bringing creativity back to the classroom,” says Torie Parsons, Big Thought Manager of Events, “about adjusting traditional classrooms, and catching up with the times.”

That open forum for exchanging ideas kept the festival vibrant. Antoni formed part of a 4-member panel led by moderator Byron Sanders that examined the topic “The Future of Education is Now: Remaking Learning Environments of the Future.” The other panelists were: José Adames, President, El Centro College; Ashley Bryan, Director of Planning and Special Projects, Dallas ISD; and Lisa Lovato, Principal, Dan D. Rogers Elementary School.

Antoni made a strong case for learning that’s connected to the real world, learning that focuses on life outside of the classroom, and learning that puts the emphasis on critical thinking. With the fact that kids spend only 25 percent of their time learning in schools, and the rest of the time learning out in the community, this is definitely a new world of education.

It’s time to personalize the learning, play to kids’ strengths, let them choose what they want to learn out of school. Let’s not treat them as they are exactly the same and take them through the same system.

Spoken word, poetry and prose are excellent forms of self-expression. They are personalized learning at its best. Which leads us to Big Thought’s final activity at The Festival of Ideas – a mini DaVerse Lounge show. DaVerse Lounge and Big Thought thank TACA, State Farm and the Dallas Mavericks for their generous support.

DaVerse Lounge creator Will Richey, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Alejandro Perez, Jr. and visual artist David Rodriguez,. welcomed to the stage students from McKinney High School, Sam Houston High School in Arlington and Bryan Adams High School in Dallas. For about 50 minutes we heard deep explorations of race, love, self-esteem, identity, and family struggles.

The poetry was potent. The audience was attentive. The kids got to stand up onstage and share their talents with a captive audience. They are learning to dream.







Big ThoughtDreaming About Learning at Festival of Ideas

One Line Wonders Deliver Beauties at DaVerse Lounge

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

In music, there’s the one hit wonder. That would be the singer or band that emerges with one huge song that makes a potent splash at radio and retail, then never scores another hit again.

In poetry, we have one line wonders. But in this arena we know these spoken word marvels will definitely be back for more. Their greatness is just developing.

So many promising poets took their turns at the microphone Friday night, Feb. 5, 2016 during the third DaVerse Lounge show of the 11th season. The event at Life in Deep Ellum drew about 575 students, parents, friends, teaching artists and guests.

Fueled by the constant enthusiasm of host and DaVerse Lounge creator, Will Richey, and the excellent musicianship of Melody Memory and its leader Alejandro Perez, Jr, this DaVerse gig was filled with impressive and intelligently thoughtful lines that made us think.

Reflect on these beauties:

“My reputation is in relation to our representation”
— Right off the bat we got power. The first poem of the evening delivered these insightful words about race, and about how so many people slowly denigrate their own race.

“You know that guy you always ignored? I’m that guy”
— An ode to all the kids that ever felt invisible. Because in life sometimes you just have to speak out and be counted.

“Be inspired to let your voice be heard no matter how absurd”
— Done freestyle with a bit of a backbeat. The delivery just added more heft to the sentiment. Never be afraid to free your mind.

“His watchful eye is eternal”
— A most brooding line from a poem about fear. Can’t you just feel that intense focus beating down on you until you’re rendered defenseless?

“Ain’t no bad blood, just bad human nature”
— Preach! We should all heed these words to become better listeners, and better human beings.

“My stomach is constantly doing back flips like I’m in gymnastics”
— The effects of love, sometimes they aren’t all hearts and flowers.

“In this game of chess I must use every bishop, knight and pawn to defend my kingdom from collapsing”
— Self-preservation at its fiercest, and what awesome imagery while sensing the engulfing drama of a life-size chessboard.

“The darkness is contagious, and it spreads rapidly”
— The ugly underbelly of popularity. This is for anybody that still thinks being the belle of the ball deserves unadulterated envy.

“Playing a constant game of tug of war with my skin”
— Pleasures of the flesh? Or is it truly the internal turmoil that pulls at our very core?

“What’s wrong with my race? Explain to me the racism within my own race”
— Instead of banding together, we’re tearing each other apart. Brothers against brothers, sisters against sisters – when will it end?

“Usamos un solo apellido, pero mi nombre es Tobías Job Carbajal Fiocchetti Villalobos Arias; me parezco gringo”
— Written and read completely in Spanish, this brave poem examines the dualities, misconceptions and stereotypes of being Hispanic.

DaVerse Lounge and Big Thought thank TACA, State Farm and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support.


Big ThoughtOne Line Wonders Deliver Beauties at DaVerse Lounge

Edgar Allan Poets Channel DaVerse Lounge Creativity

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Nine students. Two educators. One library.

It’s late Tuesday afternoon at Irving High School and the Edgar Allan Poets are gathered in a semi-circle inside the school’s tucked away library. As you can tell by that fabulous name, voted on by the very members siting in the room, this is a poetry club.

But this isn’t your usual poetry club. There’s no deep, philosophical conversation about the merits of Emily Dickinson and W.B. Yeats, or even their namesake himself. There are no rigid rules, members are invited to bring new members in anytime, and there’s always an open forum.

In fact much of the meeting consisted of each member getting up to read his or her original pieces. Think of this as a mini-DaVerse Lounge show minus the large audience and the soul-jazz band. The connection is particularly prescient: Not only did the inaugural member of the Edgar Allan Poets, 17-year-old Ricardo Vega, fuel his passion for poetry during his first time onstage at a DaVerse Lounge show three years ago, but DaVerse creator Will Richey sat in on the Poets meeting.

The breadth of poetic topics truly felt inspiring – what it means to be an adult; first love, first crush; identity, power to be yourself; broken hearts; feeling invisible; evolution; ecology; humanity; escaping stress; homesickness; and even an all-Spanish piece titled “Acento.” Each piece was followed by conversation, questions and critiques. The atmosphere never strayed from nurturing, inclusive and embracing.

“I feel secure,” says Fatima Castañeda, 15, who read a poem about an orange tree that reminded her of her late grandmother. “This room gives off this vibe that makes me feel secure. The people are really nice, they are kind, and they don’t judge you.“

Richey’s DaVerse Lounge mantra immediately comes to mind, “My voice has power to speak my truth and share my light.” Richey led the students, as well as Edgar Allan Poets advisors Sergio Soriano, an ESL English teacher, and Daniel Chacin, the school librarian, in a recitation of those liberating words.

DaVerse, a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink that dates back to 2009, also features 13 DaVerse Clubs in Dallas ISD middle and high school campuses with an average of 10-15 students per club. DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, State Farm, and the Dallas Mavericks for the generous support. The next DaVerse Lounge show is Feb. 5 from 7-10 pm at Life in Deep Ellum.

The Edgar Allan Poets’ link to DaVerse Lounge clearly comes from Vega and also Castañeda, since both have worked with Richey in the past. But the idea for EAP germinated in January 2015 when Soriano and Chacin put up posters around campus trying to recruit members for their burgeoning poetry club. The two Irving High School faculty members felt the need for a platform where students could share their feelings.

“Nothing made more sense than starting a club where students’ feeling were written down, spoken (if need be) and understood,” says Soriano. “When I listen to them, I usually smile and think about how the power of words really is an art. They are artists. They draw their thoughts with every word they write and speak. They paint their world and allow us, teachers, to see their world.”

That world has a creative outlet, and for Yamishelle Perez, 17, being able to express her feelings on paper is paramount. “It helps me release my mind, what I feel, my experiences,” she says. “I like to write things and I have different ideas. It’s hard to fake your sadness. Whenever I’m sad I get a pencil and paper and just write it down. It’s better to share with people; two minds can come together on something.”

For Tobias Carbajal, 16, poetry was almost an afterthought. He admits he hadn’t written a single poem outside of a class assignment before he stepped foot in his first EAP meeting. It was Vega who encouraged him to attend.

“I wasn’t always into poetry; I was always drawing,” he says. “When Ricky told me about this I thought I would go. I wrote something just for this. I could tell my story, something that happened to me. Saying it is like getting something off my chest. I can accept myself more, forgive myself.”

Which leads us to Vega, the Edgar Allan Poets glue. He was the only member at the club’s first meeting and he immediately became its strongest cheerleader. His poetic trajectory began three years ago when he was in the Austin Middle School Book Club. There lies his introduction to Richey and DaVerse Lounge. During that prophetic DaVerse Lounge reading, Vega was so nervous on the mic that Richey stepped in to recite some of the poem with him. Their kinship was immediately cemented.

“I always had an interest in poetry, but I never took it up until that time,” says Vega. “I’m really happy how this club grew. We inspired Tobias. We have Shawna, who is a writer. She likes coming here to read her poems. We are like a family now.”

Richey, wearing his trademark newsboy cap, instantly felt a part of that family. He was deeply impressed by the students and their poetry – the different topics, styles – and especially the arms-open acceptance that permeated the room like the sweet aroma of freshly baked cookies. Richey, however, always returns to the power of spoken word and self-expression.

“There is a certain personal release that a writer experiences when etching words onto the page,” says Richey, “but there is the opportunity for collective release when the words are both spoken and received by another. Therein lies the magic of such transformation.”

Nine students. Two educators. One library. Infinite creativity.

Big ThoughtEdgar Allan Poets Channel DaVerse Lounge Creativity