Monday, September 13, 2010

Toward A More Open Open Mic Night

So I went to an Open Mic Shakespeare night this weekend, and am currently having a discussion with one of the organizers (who is aware that I’m posting this).

I mentioned to him that, from my position in the audience, it looked like a bunch of somewhat professional theatre folk putting on a show, with little room for anything that could be considered “open”.  He countered that on the contrary, all his group had done was to schedule in a couple of anchoring acts throughout the night, and everything else that I’d seen was indeed people coming in on their own, often with pieces prepared but sometimes just reading from the notes provided.

Which brought up the question of how exactly might you want an open mic night to go, if you’re the theatre company putting it on?  If you set the bar very high by having “real” (forgive the terminology, it’s not correct to say “professional” and I can’t think of a better word) actors do many of the selections then it will be entertaining for the audience, but then that’s not really open in the sense that people might have come expecting.

On the other hand if you truly just opened up the mic and had nothing but a stream of people who’d possibly never done it before, then you’d be open enough but people listening might find it the opposite of entertaining.  (Just imagine an open mic night at the comedy club, and how bad a comedian can truly be, then apply that to Shakespeare).

My worst fear isn’t people who try, and aren’t good.  My worst fear is people who *think* they are good, and aren’t.   (I’m reminded of a line from the tv show Scrubs about karaoke where one character says, “I dunno, I’m pretty particular about my karaoke.  I do these kick moves that I don’t think people really get?  And sometimes I like to wear a cape.”)

What would you do?   How do you strike the balance?  I’ve only been to two of these events, but I’m an interesting case.  I have some Shakespeare memorized, and if somebody stuck a microphone in my hand I’d give it a shot.  I’d actually be happy and excited to give it a shot.  But if you say “There’s a clipboard in the back, just sign your name” then I become glued to my seat, assuming that the list is already a mile long, signed by people who show up every Friday night to perform the same well-rehearsed bits that they do at every event.

So tell me, geeks.  Have you been to these events? Do you like them?  How did they go?  Is there room for first timers?  How could they be done better?  What’s the real goal – to give amateurs a chance at the microphone that they might not normally get, or is it to entertain the audience? What happens when the two are mutually exclusive, how do you strike the balance?

Feel free to answer any combination of the above. :)


p-e-s said...

I've never even heard of such events. Sounds like a lot of fun--but I'm sure amateurism can feel pretty... amateurish. However, the very fact that people are willing to go up and read (act?) Shakespeare is wonderful, I don't meet enough Shakespeare fans.

So whether it's professional or amateurish, I think I'd love it. A mixture of theatre pros and true newbies would be the best, I'd wager.

william s said...

I say go for it whatever your status is as a performer. The important thing is you have to want to stand there and do it. Bottom line.

Don't think about a list and how long it may or may not be, just get your name on the list and do it.

I've done open comedy podia in NYC where i was 24th out of 27 wannabes. The only people watching and judging are the people after you and an organiser or two.

It's irrelevant if the audience enjoys themselves or not. You the performer are the important one. You need to sign that list and do it. Worry about audience reactions later.

Sonnet 112:

In so profound abysm I throw all care of others voices,
That my adder's sense to critic and to flatterer stopped are.

Trust me. I get paid for doing this stuff.
break a leg D.

Minerva said...

William S has it right. I would only add that part of going for it is preparing to give the audience your best performance. For Shakespeare, I think that means memorizing and practicing a piece out loud a few times, even if it's just in front of the bathroom mirror. Do not panic if someone else happens to be doing the same piece you planned to do; it's really fun to compare two versions of the same scene, speech or sonnet. And don't forget the cardinal rule of show business: Always leave 'em wanting more. In my experience, open mikers rarely stop too soon.