I went to a poetry gig last week, only I wasn’t performing. It was the first time in ages that I went somewhere purely to be an audience member. I thought it would be am incredibly annoying experience, being there knowing that I wouldn’t get a chance to go up on stage and do a set.
And in a way I was right in that the whole dynamics of the evening were different. Relieved of the emotions of pre and post performance, I was able to sit back and relax and watch the listen to the performers.
The first thing that struck me was just how good everyone was. There were no signs of nerves, no silliness, nothing amateurish or half-baked. Every performer was on top form. The second thing that struck me was how amazingly captivating each and every performer was. The event in question was Taking the Mic in Exeter at the Phoenix arts centre, which is nominally an open mic event, (although slots have to be booked in advance), but everyone who performed was excellent.
And this made me a little nervous. I’ve been performing poetry now for five years or so and every time I step on stage I tell myself, ‘Well, this is going to be pants’, and every time I step off stage I tell myself, ‘Well, that was pants’. Before my performance I’m usually thinking of what I shall be doing and the minor details of my set, so I don’t have much of a chance to concentrate too much on the other poets. And after my set I’m usually too relieved to think coherently.
Freed of such constraints, I was able to sit there and fall in love with every single performer. And one question came to mind: How on earth do they do it? How do they perform so brilliantly, so effortlessly, every single one of them?
I do a lot of practice and I plan what I’m doing, and I have to write out in advance my ‘spontaneous’ comments, and this kind of makes me immune to seeing my own oeuvre as equal to the others on the local scene. In other words, I’m merely trying to keep up! And sitting in the audience emphasised this, showed me that when it comes to performance, stage craft and presence, I still have a long way to go.
It’s good news for the local scene, of course. South Devon and the south west in general has the most wonderful, diverse and creative bunch of spoken word artists in the country, and im glad to be a small part of it. Watching the performers at Taking the Mic was a fantastic experience, and I urge all poets to go to gigs and just watch, freed from the restraints of preparing for a set. It’s done me the world of good, (while at the same time giving me a huge dose of the willies).