Ahead of Contact’s first ever online One Mic Stand, Young People’s Producer Keisha Thompson reflects on the origins of the event and shares her thoughts on virtual finger clicking, cyber jamming and the challenges of taking such a live artform online…
It feels very strange to say, but One Mic Stand started about 8 years ago. A poetry and live music night that is a testament to the relationship between Young Identity and Contact. It speaks volumes of the youth empowerment that both organisations stand for.
After being a part of Young Identity for a couple of years, I had been fully introduced to world of slam poetry. I had the privilege to compete and be an (sl)ambassador for Apples & Snakes events like Word Cup and Shake the Dust. I went all the way to Washington and Chicago to experience Brave New Voices. Whilst being fully immersed in the world of slam, it became apparent to me that there was a gap in the scene.
Apples & Snakes and Young Identity did brilliant work to introduce young people like me to the scene in Manchester. Then we were catapulted to huge events like Brave New Voices or competing against seasoned adults at national level slams like the BBC Radio 4 Poetry Slam.
I recall a particularly traumatic experience where I managed to move a judge to tears with my poem but was penalized for having it printed and in-hand. And thus, my poem was scored significantly low. Lower than a 3-minute poem about cheese… If I wasn’t a more resilient young poet, I probably would have tapped out then and there.
It felt like we needed an event that celebrated slam but with less of the pressure. Also, many of the poets in our collective were musical artists. As Young Identity, we wanted to create a night that celebrated that. We wanted something that was fun and casual. We wanted a One Mic Stand.
And in true Young Identity and Contact style, we were told to get on with it. We were given full support, a budget, etc. but we had to make it happen. We had to book the artists, host it, speak to the technicians, decide on the running order.
I am so grateful to Shirley May (CD of Young Identity), Baba Israel (former AD of Contact) and Kate Caitling (former Head of Programming) for trusting us and giving us the freedom to spread our project management wings! It didn’t take long for us to attract headline music acts like Jenna G, Ty, Jason Singh and Children of Zeus and breakneck poets like Kayo Chingonyi, Tony Walsh and Joelle Taylor.
However, that is not the thing that makes me most proud of being a founding member of this night. For me, it was always about creating a safe space where people from all backgrounds who like slam poetry and music – both as performers and audience members – can come together and have a good night. No pressure. No raw competitiveness.
There’s always sweets and crayons on the tables and tangential ciphers happening in the smoking area. There’s always laughter, tears, clicking and dancing. In the end someone walks away with £50. But as our friends at Brave New Voices taught us, the point is not the points, the point is the poetry.
This night has served the purpose of allowing young poets in this city to hone their slam skills before moving on to larger scale events. It has been a pleasure to hand the baton over the compelling poets like Isaiah Hull, Liv Barnes, Nasima Begum and Jardell Rodrigues, to name a few.
In the true spirit of letting the next genenation put their stamp on things, I’m glad to say that they are pushing the event to the next level. Many times, we’ve had to turn people away due to night being so popular. So, a big challenge for us has been, how can we keep it intimate and exciting but also be progressive and inclusive?
A few times we’ve streamed the event on Facebook Live which has proved to be successful. Following on from that, there have been suggestions for us to create an event that is purely digital. I can’t quite put my finger on it but for some reason now seems like an opportune time to test it!
So here we are. This Friday, 24 April at 7.30pm, for the first time, One Mic Stand is going fully online. We are going to experiment with a two-tiered virtual experience. There will be an inner circle via Zoom for the slammers, judges, guest performers: Chunky and Nasima Begum.
Audiences at home can watch via the Contact website for free. As we know, these events have costs attached and freelance artists have taken huge hits to their performance platforms and income streams since the lockdown started. So, although it is free, we are asking for a suggested donation of £10, or whatever people can afford.
I’m going to be judging and I literally cannot wait. When the event was going to happen in the real world, I had a day-time event in London but I was prepared to break my neck to get back in time to be a part of the shenanigans. Despite the situational shift, I’m still super excited. One Mic Stand never fails to energise me. Trust me I’m not being biased. I just spitting some facts.
See you there, yeah?