The tyranny of open stage nights

What I want from an open stage seems to differ than what “open stage” means to most, I suspect.

I want long, harrowing performance art with costumes, props and spoken words elements that blows my mind. Yet others expect a warbly acoustic guitar and a soft rendition of some classic rock song.Can the two open stage artists co-exist and share an event?

No.

And that is because the acoustic rock monks who gravitate to open stages like some spanish guitar inquisition have won the war for the open stage at your local pub. Much like oatmeal is much more popular than General Tao chicken – the one that is bland and safe is exactly what people are expecting. If you do make it to the stage, as a performance artist, do not expect any positive feedback as you are dealing with a crowd that is 50% aspiring guitar players performing that night, 2% actual guitar players who offer lessons to everyone else there, 40% friends and family of people and 8% old drunks who can’t be bothered going to a quieter bar.You will not sway the hearts and minds of this crowd without some sort of 1970’s classic rock karaoke.

Going to a different bar won’t help as the same crowd will be there – with a slightly different mix of old drunks muttering to themselves in the corner. It’s a culture that is very particular to open stage nights and open group exhibits – tireless, fanatical and full of love. They perform / exhibit with great peer support and embody the very word “community” with their shared passion. It’s great, but much like in Starship Troopers where in the military “I guess it’s true that Fleet and Infantry just don’t mix” the same can be said about musicians and performance artists on an open-stage.

I’ve seen some ugly censorship when I am an old drunk caught in the acoustic crossfire of some vaguely Celtic themed bar. Once in Ottawa at the weekly small open stage at small irish pub a young, hip gentleman got up with a bass guitar and started to do a spoken word piece about The Beatles. He was shooed off by an outraged eucalalie player. (I’m serious, and the eucalalie player is an art teacher colleague of mine who is obviously highly corruptible with the tiniest bit of power). More recently here in Toronto, at an open stage night on Queen West, there was one honest to goodness spoken word artist waiting to perform and the poor guy kept being pushed back to “right after the next one” – I waited for almost two hours for him to perform, most of the crowd had left and with our table in a surly mood I finally had to leave. No doubt he was allowed on when there was nobody left.

So, my point is that we need a true “open-stage” night option for artists, poets and performers which does not allow any sort of recognisable instrument. I want to see a stage where anything can happen, and does happen. Where I hear and see things I did not expect, that makes me think and reflect on what the hell I just saw. This would be a great open stage. Where does a place like this exist in Toronto?

My friends at CulturShoc are considering starting this exact kind of open stage for poets and performers, and this is exciting. They are looking for interest and even a host. I promise you they won’t shoo you from the stage, stop you from performing or be anything but supportive. This would be a welcome respite from the borg collective that rules the open stages in this city.

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