Missing the Open Mike

I won’t be involved in the Open Mike that Stories in the North is holding tomorrow night. It’ll be the first one I’ve missed, but I’m missing it for a good reason; I have a paid gig demonstrating some of my other arts in Sault Ste Marie.

I’m sorry to miss the Open Mike. I like to perform. I enjoy memorizing my piece so that I can give my attention to the audience when I’m on stage, make contact with them. Apart from my open mike stints, my audience is largely on paper, reading my work instead of hearing it.

Even when I was on radio, I had an audience of, at most, three for the actual taping; the technician, the producer and my husband, who always listened while I taped. Perhaps I had thousands of listeners, even a couple hundred thousand, when the pieces aired, but I didn’t get to hear or see their reactions. Of course, authors don’t get to hear or see the reactions of their readers to pieces in print. It can be hard to know when we’ve hit it bang on.

With an open mike audience, there is no doubt. They laugh, or go “awwww”, or groan, or applaud. Or maybe they just sit there in an “I didn’t get it” silence. Whatever they do, the response is there, in your face, immediate. I love that.

It’s a good thing I love that, because the truth is that I’ve never, ever won an open mike contest. Doesn’t matter if I get the laughs and applause – I’m not getting the audience-response votes. I’m not earning that big fifty-dollar first prize for poetry or fiction or non-fiction. I get beat out every time. It’s a tradition, almost. Pay my entry fee, wow the audience, go down in flames. Yup.

I don’t do it for the fifty dollars – although I wouldn’t turn it down if I won – but for that audience response. Not every writer is a performer, and I guess it’s my own good fortune that I am, and that I get such a kick out of the performance.

Unfortunately, Ontario Hydro and Bell Canada don’t take audience response in payment for my bills, so I have to go for the money, at least some of the time. So tomorrow, instead of belting out my parody “Living with Harald” at the Open Mike, I’ll be demonstrating how to make a pop-up bird at the Art Gallery of Algoma.

It’s kinda performance, too, being “on” for all those people who want to know how to make a pop-up duck, or swan, or dove or frog. I’ll enjoy it. I’ll get a good audience response. And I’ll get paid.

But I’m already gearing up for the next Open Mike.

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