3 May 2010

Chat roulette open mic and the events cultural foundations

Last night was a Chat Roulette themed Open Mic.  Quite a simple concept I thought.  Inspired by Merton's Piano Improv videos I decided to recreate the situation on a live stage.

This idea appealed to a lot of people and out of all the themed open mic nights I have done so far this one drew the most pre-event interest.  I received several messages during the day checking that it was still happening.  Performers like Lawrance and Paul both worked with the images on the screen to entertain our randomly selected chat partner and as they expressed delight with smiles and raised thumbs on the screen, the live audience in the venue responded.  The intertwining relationships between the stage, the remote webcam connection and the punters in the room was a lot of fun and I received a lot of compliments for making it happen.  But for one person in particular this was a highly offensive and inappropriate thing for me to do.  And although you may now be expecting me to talk about nudity in fact it was something else entirely that angered this performer.

Before I talk specifically about him let me lay down some background.  Open Mics are unplanned environments where everyone in the room can posses a different set of expectations. Therefore performers are tested on their skills to improvise more than anything else.  I believe the ability to adapt and work with the crowd you get given is way more important than technical ability.  At most open mic events the challenge comes from natural things, like predictable audience types (large and noisy or quiet and respectful).  Then there's planned tests of creativity thrown in by the host like my addition of the Chat Roulette screen or Simon (Monday nights @ Oddfellows, Exeter) organising his poe-offs where he gets 2 previously unacquainted poets to take turns reading verses.

Whatever new things get thrown at a performer they have three choices:

  1. They think on their feet and adapt to the situation or challenge as best they can.
  2. They accept they cannot adapt and gamble by doing a pre-planned performance hoping it will be a hit.
  3. They get themselves all hot and bothered and attempt to change the situation to match their preconceived image of how the night should be and when they are met with failure, blame everything but themselves.

The first two options are legitimate approaches to performing, both with equal chance of success but the third is an attitude doomed to failiure and it was exhibited last night by Sideways Dave.

Above is a picture that I took showing the laptop, the camcorder and Sideways Dave just before he stormed off stage mid-song announcing "I've had enough of this".  Dave's interpretation of the situation was that more people were paying attention to the screen than him.  My interpretation is that Dave had completely failed to grasp the concept that he was ON that screen and had the ability to interact with it however he wished.

Ironically the final nail in the coffin was when the battery on the laptop died causing the screen to go blank.  This resulted in a collective roar of disappointment from the audience similar to when England miss a penalty shot in the World Cup.  Dave could have used this as an oportunity to get one back at technology, he could have made a witty remark and regained the attention.  But no!  He was just stuck in this miopic attempt to bash out a generic performance and as such left the stage.  His rebellious protest actually earned him the biggest round of applause I have ever seen him receive which has me confused.  I genuinely do not know whether the rapturous applause was in support of his protest against a noisey audience (technically not possible), whether it was in support of him leaving the stage (a bit too nasty of the audience to be so), or whether is was the product of a confused audience hearing one person clapping enthusiastically and following suit (the most likely reason).

Apologies if I sound harsh and unfair.  Dave is a talented player who has studied Bob Dylan intimately but he's a serial offended when it comes to moaning and it's simply pushed me to my limit.  He has previous for this kind of behaviour and is always very vocal and critical of my ideas in contrast to several others who give me words of support for ingenuity.  I see him as a bizarre kind of workman turning up to a job with only one screwdriver and then blaming the client for having different sized screws.  He has a repertoire that ranges from slow sombre to moody melancholic and a preoccupation with this idea that all open mic events should be quiet straight-edge affairs where the entire audience sit in perfect silence watching the stage for the entire night.  And when he turns up at The Perfect 5th on a Sunday to find an energetic audience, intoxicated and demanding, guess who gets an earfull... me, the host!  Now I don't mind people disagreeing with me.  It's perfectly natural for my ideas to be incompatible with other people's plans, but he expects me to change the unchangeable.  You can't outsource an impossible task to me and then blame me for failing.  Dave has been to the event on previous Sundays when it's quiet and he's had a completely attentive and sober audience hanging on his every word.  He knows it's unpredictable but does he change his act at all... no!

So my words to any performer is this.  If you are not prepared to have a large repertoire and adapt your style of delivery and set content in the 10 minutes before you walk on stage, get used to failing to entertain and accepting that failure.

There is of course ways that I could change my night to provide performers like Dave with what they want.  I could charge a fee on the door which would discourage those there only for the drink.  I could verbally tirade the audience demanding complete silence before a performer begins and ask anyone talking during songs to leave.  I could pre-book acts and advertise them in advance so audiences know what to expect and can choose not to attend.  But I don't want to introduce any of these because I don't think Taunton can handle that kind of specific event.  The population of pro-culture punters is so small that when you divide it into subgroups you are left with unsustainable audience sizes.  The only option is to combine mis-matched genres and let he who shouts the loudest win.  It's a horrible situation for any venue owner or individual music lover to be in but why do you think I spend hundreds of pounds in transport costs each month taking my poetry to places like Bristol and Exeter.  Because they are the locations who have enough cultured people that you can drill down to very niche groups and still be able to fill a modest venue.

Please do comment on this post:

  • Is Taunton cultured enough to play host to specific sub genres like Poetry/Flamenco/Grime/Folke?
  • Should I introduce measures to my open mic to discourage non-musos at the risk of killing it's popularity?
  • Is Dave representative of performers and should I stop expecting acts to be creative?

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