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Poet Brandon Leake, local spoken word artists take Reno audience on journey of raw emotion

By Nora Tarte

Reno residents and fans of the Nevada Museum of Art were treated to a special performance on Tuesday. Brandon Leake, a Stockton-based spoken word poet who won America’s Got Talent (AGT) in 2020, performed his one man show Insomnia for a crowd of nearly 100.

Akin to a play, Leake has aspirations of turning his work of art into a Broadway production. He describes it as similar to a musical, but with poetry instead of songs. 

As expected, Leake’s poetry, which included hard-hitting subjects from race and depression to death and inspiration, shined. He used some subject matter teased in his shorter AGT performances and broached new topics and ideas with his written works. 

Somewhat autobiographical, Leake got raw, talking about the death of his childhood best friend and the events that led him to his current career path. 

In between poetry, Leake acted. The stage, set up like a dorm room, was his playground. To lighten the mood, he made jokes about being a college kid away from home for the first time. (Side note: Brandon is actually married with two kids.)

Brandon’s unique style of performing captivated the audience who snapped their approval to his messages. The performance gave off poetry slam vibes, but also moved into a new medium as a stage play. The in-between pieces could use some fine tuning, but the storyline is fluid, taking us on a journey about what it’s like to be a Black man in college with expectations crushing your shoulders, life threatening your innocence and a mother who does a lot of worrying.

While it may be hard to imagine anyone pulling attention from Brandon Leake—as he moves and performs, the words appear to be visibly taken from his mouth—the openers and intermission performers didn’t pale in comparison. 

Elisa Garcia of Spoken Views Collective performs at Nevada Museum of Art. Image: Courtesy Brandon Leake
Elisa Garcia of Spoken Views Collective performs at Nevada Museum of Art. Image: Courtesy Brandon Leake

Some more rehearsed than others, members of the local poetry collective Spoken Views Collective took the stage to share old favorites and brand-new works about everything from fitting in to falling in love. Their styles range from edging on hip-hop to more artistic expressions riddled with thought-provoking metaphors. Jeffrey “Big Homey” Banks made the trip from Washington D.C. to share his raw and personal poetry.

The night was one of two performances of Insomnia, both done in Reno, to test out his one-man show. However, with the chance that Leake will take the show on tour, he may give Reno residents another chance to catch him in action.

After the show, Leake took pictures with show guests and sold merchandise to fund his various causes aimed at bettering his hometown of Stockton where he long served as a high school teacher and worked in youth outreach. Books from Big Homey were also for sale, as well as items to support the Spoken Views Collective.

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