by Eric Clow
Our Lion and Pirate Open Mic went virtual via Zoom this past Saturday evening. I was excited to read a few of my poems, even more thrilled to see many familiar faces who I had missed from our humble open mic community! Although you might find the idea of a virtual open mic a little paradoxical–after all there was no mic, no stage, and the audience was a series of faces in small boxes on a computer screen who waved their hands or sent emojis in lieu of applause–I am not exaggerating when I say it was a delightful, refreshing experience especially in light of so much time at home without my regular interactions with friends and peers. Comparing the virtual experience to our in-person event would be foolish because it was entirely unique: not worse or better, just different.
How was it different?
First, it was more intimate; with a less clear delineation between speaker/stage and audience, I felt more connected to each individual audience member and performer. There was a sense of togetherness in this supportive community of friends. We were there not only to share new material but to say hello, see how each other were doing, learn how others were adapting creatively to the sudden change of pace associated with COVID-19. In keeping with the social feel of the event, one of the activities included being randomly placed in a breakout room with another participant for a brief chat (three minutes). While that might sound slightly alarming to those of you with a shy disposition, have no fear! I myself tend toward that shy demeanor, often chatting with those I know well and kindly avoiding the rest, but that is precisely what made this a rewarding activity for me: I had the opportunity to make a new friend, to get to know someone with whom I had much more in common than I might have expected before I spoke with them.
Second, the event was captioned. For those who might not know, captioning is an accommodation that provides people who are deaf or hard of hearing with a written translation of what is being said in an event or TV program. This way, they can easily follow a conversation or performance without needing the ability to hear clearly. But much like the “curb-cut effect” in which ramps not only make the urban environment accessible to people in wheelchairs but also to mothers pushing strollers, cyclists, and skateboarders, so too does captioning have unexpected benefits for everyone. At points where my internet connection slowed, causing the audio to cut out intermittently, the text provided by the captioner remained steadfast, allowing me to not miss a beat. Likewise, if a particular performer was soft spoken or experiencing issues with their computer microphone, I was again able to understand the content without difficulty. Plus, seeing the words of a poem, story, or song is just plain cool, as often these disparate art forms are meant to be heard AND read; captions enable you to do both simultaneously!
Third, the virtual setting opened up new forms of engagement. As mentioned above, the breakout rooms encouraged wider mingling within the group. Similarly, the chat feature welcomed audience members and hosts alike to send messages to the performers offering praise or specific feedback about what they liked or found captivating about each performance. Performers were also able to pose questions to the audience, eliciting feedback for their pieces.
Fourth, taking our open mic online has the added perk of including artists and entertainers from outside Austin, bringing a diversity of talented individuals and perspectives that are sure to enrich our open mic community.
Adaptation has always been an integral part of the disability community, so we are in a unique position to show the world that even this crisis is an opportunity for us to become more inclusive, more creative, and more connected. We hope you will join our experiment next month and be a part of our evolving Lion and Pirate Open Mic. Visit our website or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates on our upcoming events.
Eric Clow, [email protected]
Media and Communications Specialist
Art Spark Texas