Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Open mic

Tonight is the once-monthly Housatonic open mic night at Deb’s studio and I’m going to sign up to read something. You may wonder what open mic night might be like in a village that doesn’t even have home mail delivery and be afraid, very afraid. Last month Scott intended to go but got part way down the road before he turned back, fearful of having to be polite, and Robby, who goaded me into going, didn’t show up either. I, however, had just been to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Egg in Albany and concluded that anything would be better than that.

I’d seen Paul Taylor once before at Jacob’s Pillow and remembered that it wasn’t so bad. Good, actually. At the Egg the dancers were beautiful, if a tad over-muscled, performing what didn’t look like extreme physical feats but would be if you tried them yourself. Throughout the first dance they twittered about on the stage—going through the motions, as it were—and it was mannered and repetitive or maybe just so hard to do that they didn’t have any emotive energy left over. To top it off the music was recorded, or to put it better, “not live”—as in “dead”. Canned Handel. During the improbable wild applause that followed, Roberto leaned over and whispered, to my great relief, “If the second act isn’t any better, we can leave.” We did, and the best part of the evening was our race to the car through a convoluted series of futuristic tunnels and empty parking lots that reminded us of Logan’s Run.

In contrast to what Roberto must've paid for our Paul Taylor tickets, at the open mic an optional donation of $5 went toward wine, cheese, and electricity. An audience of about thirty gathered, most of them people I knew or had seen around town, and about half signed up to perform poetry or music or just tell stories in organized slots of five and ten minutes, with a twenty-minute feature.

It was, to my delight, completely engaging—alternately moving and hilarious—and to discover the nuggets of talent and accomplishment that exist in the people I see every day was exhilarating. It made me think about how all great art contains the possibility of failure and how fear of failure had smoothed all the edges in the performance at the Egg. This, however, was Housatonic, and if you fall flat on your face in Housatonic, so fucking what.

The feature was a roundish guy with ponytail and walrus-like moustache who read poetry while a woman improvised on the cello and another woman “moved” to the words and music. Initially, this did not seem propitious. Last summer I went to an arty event in a shed somewhere where we were interred in the dark, forced to sit on folding chairs, longing for the sun and blue sky that could be glimpsed through the open door—while a “sound” artist did his thing and a dancer did hers for an excruciatingly long amount of time—to which my only response was GET ME OUT OF HERE! So while these people were setting up for their 20-minute set I was prepared to do my yoga eye exercises, which is what I do when I’m bored and don’t think anyone is looking at me. At least the tedium of performance art has resulted in excellent eyesight.

I needn’t have worried. The reader stumbled over his words a bit, but the music and dance (by a woman who teaches cello at the Steiner school and another whose background is in folk dancing) felt almost channeled, it was otherworldly and so deeply sensitive and inspired that you wanted it never to end. Then the one dancer was replaced by three volunteers, culled at random from the audience, and against the solemn reading of a Neruda poem, their improvised antics had us in laughing to the point of tears.

The next Sunday I went to the Dream Away Lodge, which you get to by driving on a convoluted forest road up a mountain in Becket, for what had been billed as “Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art Night.” The “door” fee was $5 if you drew and $15 if you didn’t, and consisted of “performances” by thirty-something Nathan and twenty-something Justin, two lean guys who used it as an opportunity to wear as few clothes as possible—in the living room of what is, ostensibly, a “family” restaurant. They did three “scenes,” complete with costume changes, and poses ranging, as in an art class, from five minutes to twenty. In the first scene they wore identical bowler hats, fake handlebar moustaches, black jockey shorts with white trim, thigh-high knitted black-and-white striped…stockings? socks?…and big boots. In the second they graduated to tiny gold lamé women’s “boy” shorts and the music was, if memory serves me, an instrumental version of “Sexual Healing”—with horns—all while eight silent, serious people sat in front of them, hunched over sketchpads. Although Nathan is gay, Justin, the father of two small children, has no such excuse, and no doubt had to get a baby-sitter for the evening because his wife was in the back recording the whole thing with a video camera.

The last time I saw anything like this was at the Pyramid Club in the East Village, in the olden days—the eighties—when New York was gritty and alive and people made art—get this—just for the fun of it! So now I’m wondering if this is only happening here or if it’s a trend. Let me know. I hope it’s a trend because if it is, we might just get our art world back (see The D.I.Y. artist, below) without even having to pay for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've seen nothing like this in Chicago lately.... But then again, I'm not getting out much!