The poet finished her second piece and looked up at the audience. “I have one more,” she said quietly into the mic. “Would you like me to read the long version or the short version?” The crowd answered without hesitation, shouting enthusiastically: “LONG!” The poet smiled, just a little, her composure strong. “Really?” she asked. “YES!” answered the audience. And it was awesome.
The whole event was an experiment to be sure, something ACMA hadn’t tried before, at least not this way. Open Mic Nights of recent years past have been marvelous affairs populated by wildly talented students with polished pieces, well organized and planned weeks in advance. Last Friday’s soiree was the equivalent of a pick up basketball game, or one of the guitar pulls famously hosted by Johnny Cash (where Shel Silverstein might try out a piece to an audience including Kris Kristofferson or Johnny Cash might sing a tune to T Bone Burnett). It was a night of having fun, trying things out, and cheering each other on like crazy.
Students arrived at the venue, a rug a the base of some concrete steps set up with a simple mic, a stool, and an upright piano, and wrote their names on a clipboard. We tried to mix it up so singers were interspersed with stand up comedy, dance, and poetry.
I told the performers and those in the audience something I believe to be an ACMA truth: “Art matters and sharing art with one another can be a positive and transformative experience. ACMA Open Mic Nights are forgiving and kind affairs, and strive to encourage all performers to continue to create art, share their voices with others, and applaud like nobody’s business.” At ACMA we’re in the business of making artists, sure, and also making good audiences.
We started with the philosophy: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing,” a line from Georgia O’Keeffe.
The night wasn’t only about beautifully crafted pieces, but invited our students to try something that mattered to them. Our school is rich with opportunities for students to audition, rehearse, hone and perfect performances, but Friday invited them to do something different.
There was no backstage on Friday, just people in the audience watching, waiting their turn, and cheering when they saw peers make art. The informal feel of the night complimented the variety of performances: a marvelous song with ukulele, an a capella dance number (really), a very funny standup set on driver’s education, and a show stopping pair of songs with piano and voice. Add to that the moving poetry that started this post, an acting scene, and more than a few songs that had the audience humming and wanting to join in on, and we had all the fixings of a great event.
It takes courage to stand up in front of an audience and, to use O’Keefe’s phrase, “make your unknown known,” and on Friday’s Open Mic Night that’s just what these amazing ACMA students did.
We’ll do it all again, with Open Mic Nights on November 5th, and December 13th, from 6:30-8:00 pm at ACMA. Come cheer on the kids, allow yourself to laugh, applaud, and be inspired.