Community Voices Producer Kristen Wicker takes us behind the scenes at The Signature – a poetic medley show, now in it’s fifth season.
The Signature brings in Tony- and Grammy-award winning artists to headline variety shows that feature an eclectic mix of spoken word poetry, live music, dance, comedy and visual arts.
“If you’ve been on a rollercoaster before, I think that’s how you would describe The Signature,” says Lee
Cross, CEO of Tripple Croxx Entertainment. What started in September 2000 as a record company for the poetic stylings of his wife, Sierra Leone, has morphed into a multifaceted production outfit – and its crown jewel is The Signature, an urban arts showcase held three times each season.
“When you come in the door, it grabs you, it punches you in the mouth and it keeps you down until, I mean, the very last whistle blows,” Cross says, “I want it to be like a smorgasbord. I want it to be like when you go to the Golden Corral or the all-you-can-eat places. I want you to be so full, and so entertained and so overwhelmed and so happy that all you can do is just call it a night.”
I met with the couple in their Fairborn home to talk about how The Signature came to be. I asked Sierra Leone what has changed since they launched the show in 2008.
“I think the people and the community, they kind of enjoyed us, and then after the finale…they kind of didn’t want to show up at the finale because it’s like, “It’s over.” So then when we came back, it was like, “Oh, you’re back?!” And so it was like that year after year and now that it’s season five, it’s like, “When’s the next show?”
Cross says, “We decided, hey, there are not a lot of stage shows for minority cultures to attend. I think you’ve got Tyler Perry, and I think you’ve got Tyler Perry. So once you get through with Tyler Perry stage shows for African Americans, you really don’t have a broad choice. And we wanted to bring something fresh, something new, something that really hadn’t been done.”
The couple also felt it was important to host such a show to support artists ― creatively and financially. They wanted to create a vibrant, sustainable community for urban artists while bringing new and fresh talent to Dayton audiences.
“When I’m looking at urban creative arts, what I want most for it is for people to begin to value the art of poetry because it’s not valued to some degree,” Leone says, “People feel as though you can call a poet and have them do a poem and if they ask for money, you’re thinking, “You’re supposed to starve, aren’t you? You’re a poet, you’re a starving artist.”As we say, our children ― they don’t eat thank yous. They eat Sponge Bob snacks.”
When it comes to The Signature’s future, the couple has big plans. Indeed, they hope one day to take The Signature to such cities as New York and Las Vegas, and to the iconic Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.
“We’re not looking to be just here,” Cross says, “We want to be able to take Dayton worldwide with The Signature. Everywhere we go, we represent Dayton. You know, we represent urban creative arts. We represent ― that’s what we do. Whenever they discuss it, whenever they talk about The Signature, no matter what country, what language, they’re going to have to say, “That’s from Dayton, Ohio. That’s the Signature ― it started there.”
The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show takes place Friday, Sept. 28, from 9 to 11 p.m. at The Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton.