I recently moved to New York City, Bushwick to be specific. After finally settling into my new apartment and finding a job, I decided it was high time to start exploring the open mic scene and finding places to read my work. Earlier this week I was slotted late on an open mic. I was tired after my first day of work and was ready to go home. I felt pretty low energy by the time I got on stage and since there weren’t many people left in the bar I didn’t think my stage presence, being visibly exhausted, was a big deal.
Then I remembered that old adage in performance: Perform for the crowd. This doesn’t mean pandering to the audience, what it means is that whether it’s one or one-hundred people listening, as a performer and entertainer I have a responsibility to give whatever audience is present my best possible performance. So I bucked up, drank some free water and opened with “Marathon Monday” which is one of my favorite pieces to do in a new venue.
The next morning I was thinking about the open mic. Beyond my feeling of responsibility, the advent of Vine and Snapchat, let alone the perennial power of YouTube, have made consistency even more important to a performer’s success. If there is only a single person in a venue that sole listener has the potential to reach hundreds of people. The audience of a video, or any virtual piece of information, sent out by an individual is limitless. It’s possible that it’ll make it to the friends of the person filming, then to their friends, and their friends and a few more friend circles out. And while this by no means implies that the video will go viral, it does mean that the work will have been viewed by a group people who, at a certain degree, are pretty much strangers to one another. The difference is that the crowd is in their own rooms rather than packed into the venue.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no delusions of grandeur. I don’t believe that my performance that night had any shockingly discernible effects on my career. But as a poet in today’s world I need be mindful and make every opportunity I have to read into a performance I’d want people anywhere in the world to see.