by Claudia Alick
from Prologue, magazine for members, Spring 2012
When the power of words, freedom of expression and amazing artists mix, you’re probably at OSF, an open mic, or both.
Open Mics are live shows, usually in bars or clubs, where poets, dancers and musicians share their offerings in front of a microphone. Poetry “slams”—or competitive performance poetry—kick up that format a notch. Born in Chicago in 1985, slams are now a worldwide phenomenon.
OSF’s exploration of open mics began in 2007 as part of the Hip-Hop Boot Camp, which brought together national hip-hop theatre artists with OSF company members to gauge whether an audience—or enough performers—existed for this type of work. The answer was yes.
The next season, OSF partnered with local club EQ.TV on its Möbius Mixers to bring poetry slams to a wider audience. That first evening began with a sonnet and ended with a song. The winners of the slams included locals, OSF company members and experienced poets who drove in from other cities. In the final slam that year, a student on a school trip from San Francisco saw the poetry slam sign and wandered in. He won first place and later performed for the TV show Brave New Voices
Later, OSF produced the Stillwater Slams at a local restaurant. Performers read out loud poems out-of-town patrons posted on Facebook. After watching the show online, the patrons texted comments to the host. Featured artists included Abiodun Oyewole, a founding member of the Last Poets, a legendary hip-hop poetry theatre ensemble; Rokafella, who worked on the hip-hop sequence in Hamlet in 2010; and UNIVERSES, creators of Party People, which opens in July.
Early on, open mics helped UNIVERSES develop their performance style. Member Steven Sapp says, “We were individual artists working, doing open mics, and we got bored with the format of poet get up, poet sit down, poet get up, poet sit down, so we started going up in groups. First it was doubles, and then the whole ensemble would get up and do these poetry, musical, theatre things.”
OSF’s open mics are now held at the Black Swan. The final feature of 2011 was the group 3 Blind Mice with Casey Hurt, writers for The Unfortunates, which will run in 2013. The last two for this year will be held on April 9 and May 7. OSF’s event is called Hip-Hop Poetry Open Mic, although it contains many genres of performance. Why hip-hop? UNIVERSES member Mildred Ruiz Sapp sums up hip-hop best as “the mixing and sampling of music, of cultures, of conversations . . . where everything and anything goes.”
Claudia Alick is OSF’s associate producer for community as well as a poet, playwright and producer