Across 16 states now, I’ve noticed a couple key ingredients in what makes a strong open mic—the kind that’s been running weekly for so long the regulars can’t remember a time before it was part of their creative routine. The kind that feels like buoy, or an oasis—a safe place, as it were, for performers and audience alike.
One ingredient: A venue with a layout that puts eyes (and ears) on the mic. A true stage is awesome. A side room with a door is really helpful. An arrangement of chairs facing the mic should be considered sine qua non. Bonus points if distractions (like cappuccino machines or pool tables) are well-managed or nonexistent.
Another: A sponsoring organization with literacy and creative expression as its mission.
ReVerb Open Mic in St. Paul, MN, can claim both of these things. Hosted by an organization called TruArtSpeaks, ReVerb happens every Thursday evening from 6-8pm at the Golden Thyme Café in (or at least near) St. Paul’s historic Rondo district.
Golden Thyme has a perfect side room. Maybe a little acoustically dead. Maybe with light so bad it was impossible to take a photo of the stage space. But it had a windowed pocket door to isolate the open mic from the coffee shop proper, while enabling latecomers to time their entrance so as not to interrupt a performance.
This may sound minor, but trust me. It’s both unusual and much to the benefit of everyone involved.
The night I went, two TruArtSpeaks artists—Seymour and Isha—split the hosting duties with help from an intern named Ari. The small side room filled by 6:30, as did the list after some gentle nudging from the hosts. Like all open mics, it was a mix of nervous first-timers and people for whom this is clearly Their Thing. Like all open mics, it starts late as a matter of course. Like all good open mics, the audience came to listen. Like, really listen.
Unlike any other open mic I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a few), ReVerb offers performers the opportunity to use part of their 6-minute slot to hear a little audience feedback. No one said feedback had to be positive (the hosts didn’t bother with a recitation of rules or protocol), but the audience did so anyway. Then again, no one said feedback had to be germane either, and some of the commenters deviated into personal stories, responding more to subject matter than poetic device or performance affect.
Good to know when a topic resonates, I guess.
This feedback element changed what would otherwise have been a Show into equal parts Creative Workshop and Group Therapy. And y’know, that was kinda awesome.
When I had a regular open mic in Raleigh, it was very much part of my creative process. It was something of a driving force, giving me a reason to write new shit every couple weeks. And it was a place to try out new things (or newish things…I’m not really a fan of foisting my raw work on the unguarded).
I’ve been to a lot of Shows, a few of which managed somehow to evolve into a community or artists’ colony. Open mic hosts of the universe, if this is what you want, well, declaring your open mic to be all about encouragement is good. Explicitly encouraging the audience to talk to the performers or, as they do at the Red Dirt Home for Wayward Poets, to hug a poet…that’s a step further.
Making time for feedback, making that part of the event itself? Now that’s a commitment.