A group of poets performing naked in front 300 people
in Jacksonville, FL? This happened at the Fusion Cafe in
Jacksonville's "Five Points" in 1990. The ringleaders of
this display of radical talent and hubris were poet
Robbie Cluesman and entrepreneur Stephen Dare.
Dare ran the Fusion Cafe for three years in the early
nineties. He left Jacksonville in the mid-nineties to
travel the world,and returned in 1999 to create other
venues for artists and performers, including The Loft,
and more recently, Boomtown Theatre on Main Street
in the historic Springfield section of Jacksonville.
Hospitality Consultant Alan Austin wrote in the
Florida-Times Union that "the comments on
jacksonville.com's dining bulletin board that liken
Boomtown to a restaurant in New York's SoHo aren't too
far off the mark."
Unfortunately, Boomtown is now also closed, a casualty
of the shaky economy, but one suspects that Dare
won't be out of the public eye for long.
Bill: Tell me about this picture (above).
Stephen Dare: The photo was taken in the early 90's
significant because of the people who were present
that night. Front & center, in classic "rant" profile, is
Tony Gankarski, who is now a contributing writer for
Folio Weekly. Also present that night were Al Letson,
who went on to appear on HBO's Russell Simmons Def
Poetry; Alan Justiss, recently back from Los Angeles and
Gainesville; and P.J. Thompson, who added post-beat
jazz to the Fusion Cafe's spoken word events; and
others. The art you see there on the walls is by Tom
Hager and Chrissy Pierce, who both have studios here
in Jacksonville. I gave Tom Hager one of his first shows
and he's gone on to win 2nd prize at the 4th Florence
Biennale in Flrorence, Italy. He's had exhibits in Arles,
France; Boston University, New York City, and a bunch
of other places. He used to display his work out on the
sidewalk at Five Points with saran wrap over them to
protect them from the weather. (Editor's Note: Tom
Hager's very first show was at Ed Wilson's Metropolis in
Bill: You, along with Tom and Gunnel at Edge City, have
been on the cutting edge in Riverside and Springfield
for quite some time. Did you go to high school in
Stephen Dare: Yes, I was in the first graduating class of
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. I was a triple
major: theatre, visual arts, and writing. As far as I
know, I'm the only triple major from Douglas Anderson.
Bill: Why did everyone perform naked that time at Fusion?
Stephen Dare: I wanted a poetry scene. First I enlisted the Literature Department poets from FCCJ (Florida
Community College at Jacksonville). One of their members, called Milton, worked with me to bring them together
for a reading at Fusion. But they were not prepared to deal with a "club" type audience, where you had to struggle
to be heard.
Bill: Like a bar band expecting everyone to stop and politely direct their attention to the stage, I suppose.
Stephen Dare: So they were discouraged. Then along came Robbie Cluesman. He was 17 years old when he decided
to be a poet. He was already into Bukowski. It was his idea to perform naked.
Bill: He must have figured, well, if we have to compete for attention...
Stephen Dare: Three hundred people showed up! We never had trouble attracting an audience after that. It was
also around this time that Alan Justiss returned to Jacksonville.
Bill: Right. Alan Justiss is the one I kept hearing about from a kid named Chris Faupel who always hung out at Five
Points. Faupel was a film student, and I had a small part in one of his films as an old homeless guy, during that time
I kept hearing about this Alan Justiss. I read some of his poetry on the Internet and it was really unusual, so I
finally went to see him.
Stephen Dare: Oh, let me tell you something about Alan Justiss. He can be rather abrasive and, as you may know,
somewhat inebriated much of the time. He told these stories about meeting Charles Bukowski in Los Angeles and
we didn't know quite what to think. Well, Robbie Cluesman moved to France and ended up working at Shakespeare
and Company, the famous bookstore in Paris. He got to know a lot of the kids, teenagers, whose parents were part
of the older crowd in the sixties, like Henry Miller, Ginsberg, Anais Nin - and the thing is, all these young people
asked about Alan Justiss! They had read his work and they thought of him as one of the "old guard" - almost like
"the last beat writer" or something.
Bill: Did Justiss perform naked?
Stephen Dare: Uh...no, thank merciful Heaven.
Bill: Tell me about J.P.
Stephen Dare: J.P. Thompson was from Baltimore. He brought jazz into our poetry mix: bongo players,
saxophones, and guitar. He also brought the cute photo editor from the Florida Times-Union, Missy Amman. Missy
was responsible for getting this photograph into an exhibit called "From the Hip" because Fusion Cafe promoted
the arts and worked with disaffected youth (Editor's note: In 1993, the Institute for Public Media Arts sponsored
"From The Hip," a visual diary of community service. They paired 280 young photographers and writers from
across the country to discover and record what young people are doing in their communities and how they define
To be continued
|Above: On spoken-word night at the Boomtown
Theatre, Stephen Dare (standing) enthralls the
audience like a modern-day Oscar Wilde. Seated at
far right is Karen Suarez, former President of the
Florida Writer's Association.
|Above: Dare mixing with customers at Boomtown
|Above: Chris Hutson, Bill Ectric, and Alan Justiss
were regulars at the Boomtown Theatre