Spoken, not said.
If we’re honest with ourselves, open mic nights can be a bit of a mixed bag. And sure, that’s how they’re supposed to be – an evening that any old Jack or Jill can go to to get up on stage and get a few seconds of glory. You can’t always expect that much from them. At least, unless you go to Du Beast on a Thursday night.
Before going, I invited a friend to the “open mic night”, Berlin Spoken Word. But after just one dose of it, I realised it would be unfair to sum it up like that. It delivers exactly what you’d suspect: spoken words. Those can be poems, stories, true anecdotes, amusing lies, songs, stabs at saying something in front a crowd, whatever. They’re not restrictive about what you can do, almost to the point that the schedule starts to go a bit haywire. But what they are selective about is that human element, that open-minded, conscientious empathy, that an average open-mic night down the local pub really lacks.
One of the things you’ll notice in the first few minutes is the ease. The organisers get everyone going with some clever audience games, and there’s the chance to win some freebies. Plus, it’s not a competition. It’s easy to sign up, and that means it won’t only be the finest grains of polished prose being filtered into your lap. But getting a peek at some literary rough gems just makes the space feel more intimate, that you’re getting in on something that was written alone and is now being shared for the first time. Or, even if the pieces are old, the sense of smoothness and familiarity that comes with that is also incredibly winning. The lack of pressure lets all that angst about performing evaporate through the ceiling.
But it’s not just this relaxed outset. “Conscientious empathy” is the best way I can think of to describe the structure of the night. Themes are chosen to give a loose direction, and I have never seen a theme which didn’t push me to want to come and see what they make of it. Especially because they clearly choose the themes based on things that are on their – and our – minds. The most memorable night for me was “Community”. It was a special donation night, where you could bring along any spare pens, paper etc. that you could to give to refugee schools, or cash donations so that they could go out and buy the equipment, and of course the stage was open to aid-related announcements – including a personal plea from someone who quit his insurance job to work at the Köpenick refugee centre. And that was just one night – they go out of their way to do these projects all the time.
Taking part in that night made me see in a concrete way how performance nights like this can actually matter. With literary evenings that I’d been to before, there was no hands-on, no sense of being people in a room, no real talking. Just abstract words. Spoken Word understands words, but it also understands – and cares about – people.
Berlin Spoken Word
Innstrasse 4, Neukölln
Every Thursday. For event details and theme of the night, check the omniscient Facebook.
Turn up at 8pm and chill in Du Beast’s cosy, wood-panelled pub.
If alone, make friends with all the other people reading at the bar.