I had low expectations for the Friday slot to begin with, but twenty-one paid in the audience - the majority of whom were supportive friends/co-workers from outside of the poetry scene and much of the extended Acentos family - was even worse than I'd expected. Glaringly absent were many of the usual suspects from the scene, or as one person put it, those most likely to be on the receiving end of critique.
The show itself went relatively well, especially once I swallowed my pride and we decided to push on and have fun with it despite the disappointing turnout. Eric, Cristin, RAC and Keith Roach were great, and there was quality audience interaction throughout the show. The end result, though, left a bad taste in my mouth and the future of the show in serious doubt.
Losing money on the show is part of it, but the bigger issue is the decreasing audience and whether or not the format can generate enough of one to make it viable. Interestingly, the number of non-poetry friends/co-workers and Acentos regulars has stayed pretty consistent over the three shows, it's the "scenesters" that have noticeably decreased each time.
From the beginning my worry has been whether it's a little too insider for a general audience, a point a non-poetry friend of mine confirmed after the second show, saying she preferred the energy of the slam. Where Politically Incorrect could draw a significant portion of its audience from the fame of its celebrity guests, poets are nowhere near as famous as they like to think they are, especially when you can catch most of them in a regular slam any given day of the week.
Factor in the rampant pettiness of the scene, where personal issues mean certain guests, or hosts, will guarantee a depressed turnout, and you have a recipe for, if not failure, definitely a tougher road than necessary.
Add in the final ingredient, my being on the fence about doing the show anyway, and you can hear the fat lady clearing her throat.
Keith Roach made a point that I wholeheartedly agree with: slam, having fulfilled its original goal of developing a new audience for poetry, has now lost its way.
Where Bob Holman sees louder than words as providing some much-needed critique for the slam/performance poetry scene, I'm starting to see it more like M.C. Siegel charactized it in his write-up of the show:
...a more formal version of what usually goes on at Acentos after everyone leaves and just a handful of us are left over. We all sit around Guy, and he'll just do his thing....running down the whole history of the scene and hashing [out] all its major debates.Not a bad thing, neccesarily, but perhaps not something that belongs on stage. Not yet, at least.
This scene isn't ready for critique and, more importantly, it hasn't reached a point where such critique is of interest to anyone outside of the scene.
I'll admit, it's hard not to take it personally as I realize it being my show can be blamed for at least 10-15 people who might have otherwise come out for it not doing so. That's something I knew going in, though. It's a bed I've made over the years that I actually sleep quite comfortably in.
More disappointing, however, is that it leaves me unable to give something back to the format that gave me the opportunity to have a voice to begin with. Or, unable to give it back the way I'd like to, at least.
And that right there might be the answer.
If the community itself isn't ready for critique; and the audience that supports it sees it simply as a form of entertainment that doesn't really need it - kind of like summer movies full of explosions; then the answer lies in finding the missing link.
A bi-annual journal, maybe? Online, where production costs are less of a concern? With downloadable video and audio clips? In conjunction with an existing entity, like SlamChannel?
Honestly, I have no idea. I literally just thought of all that as I typed it.
The bottom line is, pending hearing something back from Bob that drastically changes my feelings about things, the likelihood of another show happening this summer in serious doubt.
Contrary to popular belief, I have no problem admitting to failure and right now, louder than words, as well-intentioned as it was, is starting to walk and quack like the proverbial duck.