Written by Tim Rosenberger
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00
Tebe Zalango alternates playing violin and speaking. Photo Courtesy of Natalie Jackson O’Neal.
While they only had around 30 attendees at first, Whisper and Shout, a Peoria open mic night where local poets perform their work in front of others, has grown to encompass over a hundred people of various demographics and backgrounds a night.
Whisper and Shout, which has been around since 2010, is a unique community event hosted by the Community Art Center that anyone can attend or get involved in. For those unsure about what they may be going to see, the title says a lot.
“I thought that it [the title] was kind of indicative of what you might experience in watching someone perform their poetry,” William Butler, executive director of CAC, said. “They really perform their poetry. They often memorize it, and it can be something that’s very quiet and heartbreaking or something that’s very loud and brash.”
The night usually starts off with a short discussion with the audience about a current topic in the news, which Brandon Thornton, poet and host of Whisper and Shout, thinks is an important element to the proceedings.
“We really have people from all races come to the show,” Thornton said. “We have people from [different] socio-economic backgrounds. We have 18 to 68 year-olds in the crowd."
“So, I feel like when you get a group of people together like that, that have so many different perspectives and views, I feel like it’s beneficial to them to talk about an issue so you can see other people’s point of views [and] so you can share in the community, but the poetry event is very much a community based event,” Thornton added.
Following the discussion, the performances begin. Poets, about 15-20 a night, generally get around five minutes to act out their piece. They can share poetry, essays or even a part of a novel they have written.
Amongst the local talent every night is a regionally or nationally known artist who performs a piece near the end of the event for 20 to 30 minutes. These featured artists have come from as close as Springfield or Chicago but some have traveled from as far as North Caroline, Florida or California.
Styles of performance vary. Although it differs from person to person, newcomers often have to work at developing that personal style, there being a lot of learning involved Butler and Thornton say.
There is also the communal aspect to open mic night, which Thornton compares to Christians going to church.
“A Christian can stay at home and read the bible and pray, but a lot of Christians go to church because they want a fellowship and [to] be around other Christians,” Thornton said.
“It’s the same thing in the poetry community,” he added. “I would say a lot of poets are like minded in ideas and some of their beliefs. When you come together and you meet with people who are like minded as you, it always feels good to be in [their] presence and soak up their energy and things like that.”
No matter the performer – newcomer, veteran or a professionally touring artist – this process of going on stage is not always easy.
“Even for someone who’s done it for a long time, it’s difficult to bare your soul, and so, we try to have an atmosphere that’s caring and open and willing to hear whatever,” Butler said.
Along with heavy promotion and a good host, encouragement is a big part of the success to an open mic night, Butler says. Newcomers especially get a lot of feedback and cheers from the audience.
Thornton thinks it is also important to have a good relationship with the poets in your area. He often keeps in contact with developing poets, asks them how their work is going and helps them hone their talent.
The open mic night is held from 8-10 p.m. the first Thursday of every month at the Community Art Center at 305 SW Water St., Peoria. It cost $4.00 for CAC members and $7.00 for non-members. Anyone with questions can call the CAC at 309-674-6822.
“There’s so many great poets in town,” Butler said. “You just wouldn’t believe how cool they are when they get up, and they’re so eloquent and so sharp and witty. They just live right here in town, and they’ve made these poems up. It’s a very cool thing to experience.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 December 2013 14:46