I was quite surprised recently at the fear that came up when I thought of performing at an open mic.
You see, I had an obligation for a grant that included a requirement that the funded work be performed, (otherwise I would have stayed under my blankets or at my desk on this typically frigid, San Francisco summer). But where to perform on short notice? Why not open mic?
My thinking had been that open mic is a spontaneous and low-risk event; a great place to workshop material, but I had never tried it. When I researched places in San Francisco to attend or perform at open mic, I was astounded at the number of locales. Mother's Hen is an organization dedicated to helping Bay Area poets, artists and organizations present their work to the community in which they live. They keep an open mic directory here.
Perfect, I thought, problem solved. I’ll just saunter down and give a bit of a read. Besides, since I’m not on the bill of an open mic, I wouldn’t have to feel personally responsible for the size of the crowd.
But in fact, as I prepared to go, my stomach turned to ice. I wouldn’t know anyone there or more exactly there wouldn’t be anyone who had come to the event specifically to see/hear me and so no one there would know what they were in for. I had always thought of advertising and marketing a reading as a burden, the un-fun side of writing and performing. But I discovered that having an audience that has pre-judged you as worthy of their attention takes some of the fear out of the first couple of minutes.
The first place I went to (Amnesia, on Valencia St., aptly named because years ago it had been a lesbian bar) presented me with another challenge: most of the performers were musicians. Now, it’s difficult enough to ‘compete’ against highly entertaining humor or erotica but music? Yikes. The place filled up with guitar cases and young men under 25 wearing hats and vest over t-shirts; the gorgeous woman sitting next to me at the bar had a massive tattoo on her face. What are the chances it was a place receptive to a piece about Paris in the 1300s? I slid off my bar stool and disappeared without performing.
A friend of mine told me that my nervousness is because I’m not comfortable with my material and he’s right: first draft of a new novel isn’t my favorite thing to trot out.
I was just as frightened the second time, though I thought perhaps it might be a good idea to take postcards of my book and leave them on the tables. Musicians performed in every time slot. I snuck out the back door after the mandolin player finished.
But I’m bound and determined to make it work, so I’ll keep you posted as I work at it, sorting out the musical venues from the writers’ locales. If you have any advice, please post it here!
Causes Jess Wells Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Friends of the Urban Forest, The Heifer Project, Forests Forever, NRDC