Platforms that put amateur talent to test

Mumbai isn't a city of dreams for nothing. Whether you aspire to be a poet, musician, storyteller or comedian, there are places where you can find a welcoming stage and a willing audience. Brunch chronicles them.

brunch Updated: Aug 17, 2014 15:51 IST
Sharanya S
Sharanya S
Hindustan Times

Ah Mumbai. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But first you need to find a place that will take a chance on a nobody with no experience – someone with a whole lot of enthusiasm but inexperienced; a whole lot of talent, but unpolished.

In a city where the roster of shows, gigs and events is always full, a few good guys are making room for amateur singers, rappers, spoken work poets, musicians, comics and storytellers with open mic nights.

They’re a great place to spot talent early (and for performers to realise what lies on the road ahead). This is where amateur talent is put to test, night after night and eventually, winners are born. So we decided to check out some of the more popular organisers and find out their stories.

Caferati @Prithvi

For: Storytellers, songwriters, singers, and performers

Started by: Peter Griffin, Annie Zaidi and Manisha Lakhe

At the beginning of the evening, a white board stands at one end of Prithvi Café with a few names listed on one side. By the end, it is completely filled with names and randomly assigned numbers to determine the order of performers.

Caferati @Prithvi is an open mic in the true sense. While people can sign up in advance, participants are also allowed to just keep adding their name to the board as they come in (sometimes as many as 30 people sign up for one show) and they only have two minutes to perform an original piece of work.

In their two minutes, people sing, perform dramatic monologues and recite poetry. The participants include college kids, office goers still in their work shirts, and even people who work at Prithvi Theatre itself, like Raju, an employee at the bookstore.

There is no official winner or judge at Caferati, except the audience itself. Perform well, wait for people to cheer and get a complimentary Sulemani chai.

In the spotlight: At Caferati @Prithvi, you have two minutes to perform an original poem, monologue, story or anecdote

Started in 2009, Caferati has found support at Prithvi Theatre.

“Sanjna Kapoor, who ran the theatre then, was looking to make the place a hub of activity,” says Peter Griffin.

“We’ve done open mics and poetry slams at The Kala Ghoda Festival, and those have also had supportive audiences. I think that writers appreciate having such platforms, and they evangelise them to their friends, who show up to support them.”

Caferati @Prithvi is held on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7pm

Tall Tales
For: Storytellers
Started by: Michael Burns and Kaneez Surakhia

Michael Burns and improv artist Kaneez Surakhia go through about 15 to 20 story submissions a month, select five or six, and spend time editing and rehearsing with the storytellers. The stories are then narrated for a live audience. “We look for stories that have something revealing to say about the storyteller and about life through his or her eyes. It’s really that simple,” says Burns.

The first show of Tall Tales was held last year in June at Studio X, Fort, and since then, they’ve held monthly shows and workshops. It is obvious that they love stories.

The greatest story ever told: If you’re a storyteller and a performer, then find your audience at Tall Tales

“Stories are the expressions of our innermost desires and fears,” says Burns. “They are how we make sense of the world and how we relate to each other. Stories meticulously shape how we see our self-worth, our role models, and what we believe we’ve been put on this planet to do. Stories are at the heart of a successful product.”

To be part of Tall Tales, you need to love to perform. Before you get cold feet, Burns insists that performance skills can be learned. “It breaks my heart to hear people say, ‘You’re either born with it or not’. I teach public speaking at the university level and I see that myth blown up over and over and over again.”

This might be intimidating to people, but that’s when the best performances happen. “My favourite moments are when a storyteller surprises us with a level of professionalism during a performance that we didn’t see in the audition or rehearsal,” says Burns.

Send your stories to story@ and catch the next show in September at Studio X, Fort

Dirty Talk
For: Queer content
Started by: MJ of Gaysi Family

Everyone wants an audience,” says Gaysi Family’s MJ. And it’s not tough to find one at Dirty Talk.

Dirty Talk wasn’t a planned move for Gaysi Family, the online LGBT publication. It just somehow fell into their laps. The Mumbai Pride group used to have an open mic night and when they didn’t want to do it anymore, Gaysi Family took over.

Queer si baat: At Dirty Talk, be prepared for discussions on the various shapes of penises or a satirical poem about lesbians

They conduct many shows, including Read Out Loud and movie screenings, but Dirty Talk is one of their most popular events. In the past, they have seen guests and performers like Kalki Koechlin, All India Bakchod, Sid Coutto and even Stephen Fry. Yes.

Dirty Talk is for those not afraid of, well, dirty talk. Gender, sexuality and other not-so-comfortable topics are usually the themes. The last one I attended included a satirical poem about lesbians, a heartwarming story of a boy diagnosed with HIV, a performance of Eve Ensler’s Save Barbie, a short version of the play, Cock, and a detailed discussion on the various shapes of penises.

The audience is loud and appreciative. It’s almost like a party. But Gaysi don’t take their job lightly. After putting out a call for participants, they go through all the entries, pick the pieces that work, edit, rehearse and fit the monologue before the big day.

“The audience has paid to come to the show and we have the responsibility to put on a great one,” says MJ. “Rehearsals are needed because it’s easy to lose the audience. It’s a big and sometimes drunk audience after all.”

For updates about the next edition of Dirty Talk, check Gaysifamily. com or follow them on Facebook

The Big Mic
For: Comedians, Poets, Rappers and Magicians
Started by: Sudeip Nair, Pramod Sipahimalani and Rajesh Marar

The Big Mic is all about encouraging artists. They host open mic nights for comedians, poets, musicians, rappers and even magicians.

Testing waters: Their comedy and poetry nights are extremely popular, magic not so much

They started three years ago (they were called Bombay Elektrik Projekt before that) because they felt that the city lacked avenues for performers to showcase their work.

The Big Mic does not curate or limit their participants. All they want to do is provide a platform that is open to everyone. “We don’t filter content and have lost out on audiences because of it,” says Nair. “It’s really easy to make fun of someone’s craft, but our approach has always been to provide support.”

Each event has almost 20 participants and their comedy and poetry nights are extremely popular. Turns out not too many people are enthusiastic about volunteering to be sawed in half by an amateur magician. But participation is the least of The Big Mic’s problems.

They’ve been around for quite some time and finding a permanent home has been tough. They’ve moved from venues like Ibar, Zouk to now The Hive, a co-working space in Bandra. “It can be very tough to find venues, but it’s even harder to find the right audience,” says Nair.

For updates on their events, follow them on Facebook

Open Mic Night at Canvas Laugh Factory
For: Comedians
Started by: Canvas Laugh Club

Stand up comedy has found a permanent home in Canvas Laugh Club, Lower Parel. One day of the week, usually Monday, is reserved for open mic.

While they do have their share of "my friends think my sex jokes are funny, so I’m going to try stand up comedy now" kind of people, the open mic night at CLC is a brilliant platform for anyone who takes comedy seriously. Winning it leads to an open spot at a regular comedy show and that could lead to a 20-minute spot which could lead to a real career in comedy.

Purnima Heble, marketing and PR head at CLC, explains, “Open mic is not just a platform for upcoming comics to prove themselves but also a chance for us to add new content, fresh talent and more options available within comedy to our audiences.”

The show has a fixed format. An established comedian hosts it, warms the audience up and, taking the audience’s reaction into consideration, picks the winner. The audience is vastly different from those at regular shows. There are a few hecklers and some real douches at comedy shows but these are surprisingly missing at open mic nights. “We price the entry low because it is an open event and the content is not tested.

While I won’t deny that it is difficult to find audiences, more people are becoming aware about comedy and we are seeing a change,” says Heble. Expectably, CLC is inundated with open mic entries and shortlisting them is quite a task. “As a country, India has so many things and issues happening at the same time – politics, sports, Bollywood, festivals; there’s a lot of fodder there,” Heble says.

Registrations for the show on August 11 are open. Submit your details here: www.canvaslaughclub. com/open-mic

From HT Brunch, August 17
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First Published: Aug 14, 2014 18:19 IST