Have you ever been to a spoken word or performance art event where there was no jurying and appeared to be no criteria for what constituted an acceptable presentation? Like an open mic where anyone can have their five minutes of fame or the event formerly known as 7-Up where anyone can volunteer to take the spotlight and present what they are interested in. They can be pretty exciting! You never know what to expect and you can make some amazing discoveries.
On the other hand, it’s possible to sit through some pretty painful performances so a measure of control seems to make the audience’s experience smoother.
There’s a philosophical difference in these two approaches that seems to divide spoken word into two camps. I’ve recently had an email discussion with Traci Moore, the editor of Monsoon Voices, the Live Literary Magazine. Her method is to have people submit their stories just as they would with a print or online magazine. She edits just as an editor would and that give her some assurance that the end product – the performance – will be up her standards. As she says, “the selections we make are based on the quality of the writing/music and whether the content fits with our guidelines/mission.”
I was on the other side of the debate (well not entirely because we do have a theme and a rehearsal for Odyssey Storytelling.) My idea is to get as many diverse people on stage as possible and let the audience possibly suffer through a not-very-good story in exchange for hearing some spectacular ones. At the very least, they are learning about other peoples life experiences that may be very different than their own.
It always amazes me that when I do my informal poll at the end of a show on “which story and storyteller did you like the best / didn’t like at all”, I get a different answer from everyone. The ones I thought were questionable always have a defender – someone who the story touched. The ones I thought were clever and well done always have their detractors. That’s what keeps it interesting to me. I can never predict the impact of the event.
Do you like to be surprised or do you like to know that there will be a predictable level of skill and talent?