Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Absolute Beginners

...okay, I have about 15 things I should be doing besides this journal, and projects are piling up madly--the next three months are going to be very busy, with another issue to bang out, a proposal for graduate work to flesh out, a street theatre project to get into shape by August, and continuing work on any number of fronts...I'm starting to seriously think that there is no way in hell I'm going to get everything written that I want to get written in this life. BUT, I did want to take enough time to come here and say that last night's open mic was stupendous...I opened with the usual general rules, plus a little piece of doggerel that was generated for the very first of these shows (for anyone who is reading this and NOT in the know on this matter, I've been organizing an open mic for ex-pats--not strictly, but aimed toward them--here in Munich for the last year)...the piece basically compares my muse to a fat whore, which might seem bad politics, but I think my muse gets off on things like that. At least I hope so. Or maybe I just need to have a harpy for a muse in order to do anything, so I have to feed into that cycle...last night's show was, of course, the 1st anniversary celebration for the show, called Absolute Beginners, and with the week I've had, I was more than ready to party. Anyway, lots of new faces last night, and lots of old friends as well...the very first of these shows we held in a pub that had no stage, so the pub put a couple of pieces of plyboard on a pool table and let us use that as the stage! Now, if you just take a minute to imagine 3 musicians crowded up onto the stage, you should get the general idea of the air around those first few shows...and some of the logistical problems faced. One of the acts, at the first show, was my daughter standing up with Erika, her best adult friend (and one who shares both her Zodiac sign and Chinese zodiac animal...they're amazing together), and telling knock-knock jokes, in exchange for which she got a bag of lollies. It has taken a somewhat more adult turn since then--we're on our second venue, and that may not be in place for next month, which has nothing to do with the show, more problems with the venues. Anyway, when I started out on this project (and I'll skip the details right now as to how it got started...maybe another day...), I made a goal to myself of maintaining the show for one year, so last night was a big deal to me, and apparently about 45-60 other people thought it big enough to come out and celebrate with us.

So...the format is such: Anyone can perform, but they have to sign up on the list. We've never had a night when we've had too many acts, but of course, 12 would be a cut-off number if that happened. Each act has a maximum of 10 minutes in which to get done what they're going to get done. Before the acts begin, I field the audience, finding 3 judges. Judges (usually) have to apply for the job (unless it's a slow night--some nights have consisted of 8 of us sitting around a table getting drunk and doing verrrry bad acts...but getting ideas while we do it...) by writing 1 sentence explaining why they are qualified to be a judge. Funny sentences usually win the honor, and there is no compensation for being a judge, save for the fact that I generally actively encourage bribery while onstage. Each judge rates each act on a scale of 10 (being the highest) to...well, there is no lowest number, because negative points are allowed. The person who gets the most points gets (depending on our mood) either one free drink, or a chance at 250,000 euros, in the form of a lottery ticket. This is basically slam poetry in a nutshell, though the details differ from venue to venue, and, given the paucity of English speaking poets in Munich, our venue is open to musical acts, martial arts demonstrations...anything, basically, short of public masturbation (at least in its literal form...). Acts included have ranged from a 10-second impersonation of Sigourney Weaver in 'Alien' to professional opera arias, from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the always fun.

Last night's acts included:
Opening act (warming up) by Christoph (a guitarist who generally gravitates towards blues) and Giam Pierro (on drums).
My spiel, patterned on the above paragraph, followed by the poem 'We're only in it for the money.'
Then 'Hermann the German' who played a couple of traditional Bavarian songs on the guitar
Then Ralph (the one and only) (self-described) on sax, with 3 songs, including 'The Pink Panther'
John doing his Irish/Rastafarian freestyle poetry
Dory, doing her best to reciprocate for my stand-up comedy with an 'attempt' at poetry (which can be seen here) then spending the rest of the act on stand-up
Tania, riot grrl/punk poet with brand new poetry that she was literally throwing at the wall to see what would stick
Then...ah, poo, I've forgotten his name, think it starts with a P, but he was good, and has promised to come out again...poetry in German, surprised us all with his hip-hop style (cuz he looked anything but hip-hop), followed by a brief comic monologue centered around a book entitled 'Simplify your life.' This fellow was good because it was all auf Deutsch, and my understanding was limited, but his basic thrust was coming through loud and clear
And finally, Eruin, the opera singer/cook who works at the Turkenhof and has graced our stage since the inception of the show--good tenor voice, he comes in wearing dress jacket and dress shirt, and leather pants, and belts 3 arias out for us...bringing the house down...then tells me that the judges are not allowed to give his act points at all. Eruin shared our birthday, because luck had it that our celebration landed on his 37th, so I baked a cake for him, and immediately after the applause for his 3rd song, the ENTIRE crowd burst out into 'Happy Birthday to you' for him, and I rushed to the kitchen and pulled out the cake, which Eruin then cut and served to the audience.

There was one other performer, but not on stage. His name, though I don't think I have the spelling right, sounded like Vienna. He asked me to put him on the list, but immediately, after I started introducing the show, he started yelling over me--'What do you think about Martin Heidegger? What do you think about Robert De Niro'--with not even enough space between the questions to allow for an answer if you felt like giving one. This continued on and off all night--Tania delivered a poem about mother earth, taking a different tack from her frostiness for losing her daughter to the underworld, started burning things, to which Vienna shouted 'Come on baby, light my fire!' Dory, the pro stand-up, took that in hand, though, by offering up her entire free time to the audience, who was invited to shout a subject or question to her, upon which she would improvise. Vienna was remarkably short on questions at that point...but the fact is, one of the other regulars, Asher, who has significant martial arts training (and is a trainer himself) took the man in hand, very gently, made Vienna sit by him, and basically engaged him enough in conversation to keep him from disrupting the show thoroughly. During Eruin's performance, he kept shouting 'Rock & Roll!' --to which shouts Eruin's responses were just fucking classic, and very much to the audience's liking (typical exchange, V. 'Rock & Roll! Mick Jagger.' E. 'No. Puccini.') At the end of the night, Dory suggested I ask the judges what their scores for Vienna were, and, when Eruin refused to let his songs be included, I got Eruin his only boos for the night, by announcing the fact, then saying 'but, we do have one more act to judge.' The judges then awarded Vienna a combined score of negative infinity and two food stamps--possibly our lowest, the only one that might be lower being the negative infinity minus 6 that Alfonso earned when he decided, one night, that he knew how to play the cello, and then proceeded to grace us with his new composition, 'Sympathy for God.' But I think the food stamps might beat that. Even then, Vienna didn't stop...because while everyone else was done with the competition part of the show, he kept jockeying for mic time (the proprietor had told me NOT to let him on during a break...even had I been predisposed to doing...he really was kind of a crazy, though mostly harmless). At one point he came up to me and said, 'You give me power.' Which I thought an odd compliment, but shrugged and said I was happy for him, only for him to come out with a second sentence that totally changed his meaning: 'Two minutes. Only two minutes.' (prompting me, of course, to go into deep thought about the 'power' of the microphone...)

It was a crazy, hilarious night. And when the show ended, there was a room full of very happy people, people who then stayed with each other long into the night, getting to know each other, or getting to know each other better than they already did. Not to moralize, but this, I think, is the whole of the purpose of any such expression--to cause joy. To make people think through joy, of course, but primarily, to inspire that precious happiness that makes one moment in a person's life worth remembering...and, if you can make them bring that moment about for themselves...even better.

Okay...debrief...but, if you'd like to follow the locals on the matter, you can always check out the busiest forum for expats in Munich, where we do most of our online promotion of the show

The 'Food for Thought' flyer features yours truly, hovering over a of the smelliest fruits known to humankind.

I'm going to stop glowing any week now, I'm certain. Til then, breathe in contentment...because it's only offered me on a very irregular basis, and it would seem a pity to miss it.

bis bald--tchitch

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