A Rant About Open-Mic Readings

By Jesse Minkert, posted on Facebook (February 2010)

Actually, I like to read at open mics. They give me a chance to put my work into the ears of people, usually people of similar interest. I’ve been reading at open mics for many years, primarily at the Red Sky Poetry Theatre. But I have a few minor quibbles with some of the readers, and I’d like to suggest some ways to make the experience better for everybody:


1.       Know the time limit before you get there. 5 minutes, 3 minutes, 7 minutes, whatever, and be certain that what you have will fit in that time. Don’t read up to the second the duck call sounds. (Works In Progress uses a duck call.)

2.       Don’t pretend not to have heard the duck call and read merrily on as if everybody would just love to put off their turn at the mic just to listen to more of you. Do not be that rude.

3.       Don’t show up late, miss everybody else’s turn, and then think you deserve to read for 30 minutes. You will not be making friends.

4.       Don’t tell the audience not to applaud. That’s just snotty. Accept applause graciously. Some of us like to hear it.

5.       Speak up. Speak into the microphone. Keep far enough back from the microphone so that your P’s don’t explode like a booby trap.

6.       Don’t tell the audience that you just wrote this poem while you were sitting at the table waiting for your turn. Just read what you have.

7.       Don’t burn time thumbing through the pages of your notebook looking for one more piece to read.

8.       While standing at the mic, do not, under any circumstances, answer your cell phone. Seriously.

9.       Don’t pass out photocopied handouts. It’s usually too dark to read, and you ain’t teaching a class on yourself.


In comments that followed Jesse’s posting, people added the following thoughts:


1.       Don’t show up just for the open-mic and skip the featured readers or skip most of the open-mic until it’s your turn.

2.       Don’t sign up and then disappear.

3.       Don’t read and then disappear (that’s rude).

4.       Remember that your introduction counts as part of your allotted time (too many people ramble on with their introductions, but somehow think their allotted time applies only to the poems themselves).

5.       Time your poems beforehand so you know what you’re doing, and be prepared to choose a shorter poem if the time allotment has to be shortened at the last minute.

6.       Always leave your audience wanting more (you don’t have to use ALL of your time).

7.       Don’t tell the audience that you’re nervous (either they can’t tell and you blow your cover, or they can tell, and they don’t need to be told). If anything, it is good to mention that it’s your first time reading at an open-mic, or perhaps the first time at that particular open-mic (the audience and MC is always pleased to know that, and it will make the audience be more supportive and understanding).

8.       Avoid reading something that you just wrote. Save it for later. Audiences deserve to be more than a dumping ground for first drafts.

9.       Listen to other readers as closely as you would like them to listen to you.


And what about audience etiquette, too?