Folks, let me begin with a confession. I am in the middle of an extended mid-life crisis. I say this because I’ve noticed that the older I get the more I seem to scare the living daylights out of myself. For example, when I turned 30 I went tandem skydiving 'coz nothing says you’re getting old and stupid quite like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet with a swarthy guy wearing the actual parachute strapped to your back. I took up scuba diving again after a long absence from the water at 35; and by the time I turn 40 I hope to fulfill my life-long fantasy to give myself a massive coronary by cage diving to see a great white shark.
Getting up close and personal with JAWS though seems a lot less terrifying to me than standing in front of a crowd to read my own work. It’s not like I’ve never made a complete ass of myself in public. I grew up being the class clown. I did some theatre in college and I’ve even been known to occasionally dress in fishnets and a gold top hat for midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal (ah those were the days!) But that was a million years ago and I haven’t donned my sequined bustier in quite sometime.
Sharing your own limited thoughts in public however is truly horrifying and ultimately vulnerable. I thought I was brave when I started writing again and posted the odd story or poem online but I’ve since discovered that it’s quite easy to hide anonymously behind a keyboard when you write under a pseudonym like Nat le Gros Monstre. A mountain of courage I am not.
So why in the name of Mark Twain’s smelly cigars would I willingly go to an open mike for writers? Mid-life crisis aside, I’m still trying to figure that out. Perhaps deep down I needed to justify the amount of time I spend at a keyboard; or maybe it’s the little bit of “Columbia” still left in me that’s yearning to get the gold top hat out of the closet. Whatever the urge, it was with enormous trepidation that I walked into the 316 Lounge in Hamilton, Ontario on a recent Thursday night.
Open Mike Write was hosted by Hamilton native son, Jaimz Woolvett. As an actor, Jaimz has already accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments. He has appeared in episodes of seemingly everything from E.N.G., La Femme Nikita to Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. He has played such diverse roles as Dominic Grace in 1997’s Sanctuary, Deputy Earl in Rosewood and Nathan in 2004’s The Lazarus Child.
He is probably best known for his fantastic portrayal of would-be gunslinger, the Scholfield Kid, opposite Clint Eastwood in 1992’s Unforgiven. (Which, let's face it people, is by far the best, coolest, most absolutely amazing western movie of all time, bar none… for ever and ever, halleluiah and amen!) But I digress.
Having returned from California to the steel town where his heart is for a while, Jaimz decided to host an open mike for writers because he felt that while there is enormous creativity in the Hammer, there are few opportunities for writers. So with the help of Reg Beaudry, friend and owner of the 316 Lounge, the intimate bar opened its doors to an eclectic evening of poetry, story-telling, and comedy.
I walked into the intimate room by myself and briefly debated weather or not I would stay. It’s a small chic kind place with a sleek metallic bar, a few tables and a couple of rounded couches beneath a life sized black lacquered nude female mannequin on the wall. (Didn’t I feel self conscious sitting beneath a Nubian goddess all night.)
The crowd was a mixed bowl of martini-drinking, Blackberry-punching, Bay Street types and oh-so-cool, artsy, coffee-drinking, finger-snapping, 20-somethings. Needless to say I felt incredibly out of place and I stayed for what was supposed to be just one drink and one set because hell, I have kids and I don’t get out much.
I’m glad I chose to stay because I was treated to an evening of esoteric poetry, a raunchy comedienne, a clever blogger poet, a heart wrenching tale of loss and even a little music to round out the night. In spite of my nerves I was really beginning to enjoy myself once I’d struck up a conversation with a group my own age in town for a high school reunion.
A couple of stiff vodkas later though I was still clutching my notes tightly and was more determined than ever to NOT stand up in front of this crowd. I have no confidence in my skills as a writer and was not about to expose myself to ridicule. But escaping unnoticed was not an option.
Jaimz Woolvett as a host was friendly, very funny, and incredibly persuasive. I didn’t put my name on the list but he saw my notes and wasn’t about to let me dodge the proverbial bullet. “Just put your name on the list,” he persisted, “you don’t have to go up, but just take this first step”… which by the second set turned into “and let’s welcome Nat to the mike.”
So there I was, standing in front of a mike, my hands shaking, my heart racing, and momentarily deprived of the power of speech. I felt like a complete git. Blankly staring at my notes I read my shortest poem as fast as my tied tongue would let me. I’d like to say I was brilliant but truth be told, Margaret Atwood’s reign as most famed Canadian Writer is still quite safe. (It’s okay, Maggie, you can rest easy. I know I had you worried there for a minute!)
I practically ran back to my seat without looking up, but to my amazement, I didn’t hear any snickering or jeers. I heard applause and kind words of encouragement. The audience was extremely forgiving and I survived my first public reading.
If it accomplished nothing else, my personal admiration and esteem for all performers has increased tenfold. I am humbled by all artists who have the courage to bare their souls to the criticisms and whims of the audience. It’s also with the deepest gratitude that I offer a heart-felt shout out to Willow who writes on Absinthe, Kevin the clever blogger poet, Patricia the story teller, Lake Ontario John and the Sir Winston Churchill boys, and all the other writers and listeners who made me feel so comfortable in my creative skin that night. They helped me shed a few layers of inhibition.
As for Jaimz Woolvett, I thank him sincerely for kicking my terrified behind out of the plane without a parachute. It was an inspiring night of creativity and overcoming personal challenges. There are no other open mikes immediately scheduled but he’s open to the idea of making it a regular event.
I for one truly hope that it was the first of many nights for Open Mike Write. I hope the word gets out and that writers and artists come in droves. My little inner Columbia is suddenly feeling the urge to dust off the old gold top hat. Next time, I might even be brave enough perform a piece of spoken word I’ve been working on….but I’m still not jumping first!
Open Mike Write was hosted by Jaimz Woolvett on Thursday August 23, 2007 at the 316 Lounge in Hamilton Ontario. You can find out more about Jaimz Woolvett on his website at and a full filmography is available on IMDb.