There is a golden rule to be followed for anyone who wants to make a name for themselves as a performer or an artist: get yourself out there.
For would-be singers, musicians, comedians and, in my case, spoken word performers, that means only one thing: open mic nights.
Nothing will happen unless you make it happen, and that means putting yourself up there on that teeny pub stage, in front of an audience who may or may not be drunk and who may or may not actually give a rat's arse about what they're seeing or hearing. You just don't know until you try.
For me, it's about getting a bit of buzz going for my debut novel (see my bio). On any given night, a couple of people might come over and express some interest, which is probably about as much as I can expect until I become more well-known.
I'm still not sure whether it's going to help, but I have learned a few things along the way. Here they are, for better or worse:
- You shouldn't be afraid to go alone. Support is great, but you don't need it. It may well be that you're able to find a reliable troupe of friends, willing to come along on a rainy Monday in Islington, but if you can't, don't let that stop you.
- There is such a thing as a "vibe" from an audience. I didn't really believe this at first, but it is definitely possible to tell when the crowd might be totally indifferent, or even downright hostile. There's no way to get round it. Sometimes, you just have to power through and hope you can get them back on side.
- It's best to try a mix of different nights. It's not strictly necessary to go for one specifically geared to what you do - that way, you're likely to get a more diverse audience. It is worth making sure your act will be accepted, though. It's no good turning up to a music-only night if you're not a musician. It sounds obvious, but it happens.
- Once you've tried a few out, decide which ones you like and go back to them. It's likely there will be regulars who'll start to recognise you, and that, after all, is the whole point.
- You might only be performing to two people. That's ok: those two people might each tell two friends and they might each tell two more, and so on. Every performance counts.
- Hecklers are a very real possibility, and they can put a damper on the whole night. What I do, thankfully, doesn't really invite heckles, but they can set everyone else on edge, and even discourage other performers from staying. Watch out for them, but don't let them get the better of you. Sometimes, it's best just to ignore them.
- Thinking laterally can help. Are you a comedian who can also sing? Maybe go to a music open mic and casually mention your comedic exploits at the same time. Are you a storyteller who's also a poet? Try a poetry open mic or even a slam. There's more than one way to skin a cat.
- Hone your patter. Explaining a little about who you are and what you do is better than just diving right in and can even help ease your nerves a bit. Pointing people in the direction of where they can find you online is also a must.
- Reciprocity, baby. Stay and listen to the other performers and they'll be more inclined to stay and listen to you. Plus it's only polite not to duck out in the middle of someone else's set.
- If you bomb, don't turn on your audience. I've seen this a couple of times and it's a sure fire way to get people to remember you only in a negative light, thus increasing the probability you'll bomb again if you come back.
- The best nights are the most memorable ones. An improv version of Oedipus Rex with audience participation? A comedian with a face painted like the Joker? Songs about spiders and snakes? Great! (All examples from a single night, by the way.) The more variety, the better. It'll make the night stand out in the audience's memory and hopefully, it'll help them remember you, too.
I am, of course, still learning, but I do think I'm starting to get the hang of it, and hey - maybe I'll see you some night.