BROOKLYN — Lemon Andersen grew up in Brooklyn during the ‘80s and ‘90s. His parents met at a methadone clinic and later both passed away from AIDS. He served two prison sentences before he was 21 years old and a poet at heart, he wrote about it all. The result was a one-man memoir, named "County of Kings."
Presented by Spike Lee in 2009 at the Public Theater in Manhattan, the show went on to travel the world. Performed in venues from Sweden to South Africa over almost four years, people from all over the world related to some of the struggles Andersen faced in Brooklyn. But the show never graced a Brooklyn stage. Until now.
As part of Brooklyn’s first ever BEAT (Brooklyn Emerging Artists in Theater) festival, "County of Kings" is coming home.
“I get choked up just talking about it,” said BEAT Festival Artistic Director, Stephen Shelley to a crowd of people at the festival launch party in the Nu Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn Wednesday morning. “'County of Kings' will kick off the festival this year and for every year coming year, forever.”
Andersen was proud to bring his play home and said that it would be the last time he would personally perform in the show, though he would pass the torch to newcomers.
“It feels right for me to end here in Brooklyn,” he said. “For me, right here, it’s the center of the world.”
But County of Kings is just one of many show-stopping performances featured in the festival’s line-up.
Elevator Repair Service is also a Brooklyn-based operation that has never performed on a home stage. They are set to perform a mash-up of "The Great Gatsby," "The Sound and the Fury" and "The Sun Also Rises" among the stacks at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Brooklyn’s Youth Poet Laureate, Ish Islam, gave a sneak preview of the quality of the performances. His spoken word piece revealed what it was like to grow up on Clifton Place in Clinton Hill as it gentrified. His words and rhythm brought listeners to tears and City Council Member Letitia James continued to hum his lyrics as she left the hotel.
Islam, 20, wrote his first poem at age 12, going on to later win several poetry slams. Currently a student at Kingsborough Community College, Islam wants to work as an artist as long as possible, and festivals like BEAT make his dream possible.
“The BEAT festivals celebrates the creativity of individuals waiting to be discovered,” James said. “Often ignored by larger institutions, this festivals reaches out to local artists and tells them they are welcome.”
The festival, encompassing over 30 show during two weeks in September, takes place in all corners of the borough, from Coney Island to Fort Greene.
“I have been all over the world,” said Andersen. “But there will be nothing like Brooklyn this summer.”
The BEAT Festival runs Sept. 12-23 at venues across Brooklyn. Each show costs $20. For more information and a schedule of events, visit the festival website.