Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spark London, 16th January

Upstairs at the Ritzy, and I was beginning to get that slightly uneasy feeling I get when I've insisted on taking someone (namely Stephen) to something that I don't know too much about myself, and am starting to worry it's going to turn out to be a bit shit. There weren’t many people there at all and, knowing it was an open mic night, I hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be embarrassing for everyone involved, if no one was willing to tell a story. At about 8 pm, some sweets were distributed among the table, and someone took the microphone. She introduced herself as Mathy, gave a brief overview of what Spark is about, and welcomed to the stage the first speaker.  This guy had apparently ended up drinking in the Ritzy by chance after being banned for the foreseeable future from his regular drinking establishment around the corner. He was quite amusing as he took us through his last 24 hrs, which included being ‘tricked’ into accompanying his friend on a skiing holiday (but the backing out of it he said was another story) and how he may be up for disciplinary action at work because his boss thinks there are dubious reasons for his laptop being corrupted. This guy seemed quite a character and certainly made for an interesting beginning to the evening. I started to relax.

The audience was then given opportunity to get up on stage. No one volunteered and there was that familiar awkward silence hearkening back to everyone’s school years when the teacher asks if anyone wants to give an answer. Mathy reassured us that this always happened at this stage of the night and not to worry. Each of the hostesses told a story and then we had a break to give people time to be inspired and put their names down, and also to contribute to the tip cup, as the event was free, but not without running costs.

After the break two people had signed up to tell a story. The first was a girl whose resolutions this year were to keep up her running, drink more moderately, and to take it easy with the number of boys in her life. You can probably guess the outcome of these resolutions, especially as she was on stage divulging them to complete strangers. Funnily enough, she broke her drinking resolution at Secret Cinema on January 5th which is the same night I was there!

Next up, a German girl who revealed she really needed to be more punctual and stop being so cavalier when it comes to being on time for flights - it was costing her money and she was missing out on holidays. Then the hostess asked again if anyone else wanted to tell a story, and someone's arm went up. This person was relating a story that was told to them, the resolution being to continue to explore any island that crosses his path, just like his uncle did when he was seven and had to be rescued when his ‘ship’ (cardboard box) was lost at sea.

It was now time for another break. Someone had indicated they might be willing to get up and tell a story but they wanted a bit more dutch courage first. I wasn't drinking myself, but by this time I really wanted to get up and tell a story myself! I didn't though (like I said, I was stone cold sober) and I couldn't think of a well rounded story to tell. When we left Stephen said he would describe the night as inconsistent but I think this is no bad thing. As Mathy stressed at the beginning of the night, the people getting up weren't professionals at speaking in public, they just fancied telling stories in front of a willing audience. And if they can do it, then why not you? They've already proved that no one’s going to laugh at you, unless your attention was to raise a smile and you find yourself starting to picture yourself up there.

But as I said, tempted though I was, my participation only stretched to listening and when we entered the third 'half', another two people were willing to take the stage; one girl at 27 determined to turn into a homebody with her boyfriend and to get out and do more, and a guy who basically said never let your girlfriend join you when you're ' finding yourself' - the relationship won't last. And finally, one last girl got up to say she had come to the last event almost by accident and made friends there, so her resolutions was to do more random things. It was blatant Spark promotion but Mathy said she didn't pay her and I begrudgingly believe her.  I think, honestly, the girl was just a sweet person sharing her appreciation. And then, at the end of the night there were prizes for two of the brave souls who got up there, designated at random. With one of the prizes being a pair of tickets for the Ritzy, that's even more motivation to get up there next time.

I really enjoyed this night. At the first break there were about 30 people there but at least ten more came in later and chairs were scarce. Mathy had said at the beginning that it wasn’t a comedy show but of course, being English there wasn't a single story that didn't have a humorous element to it, even when one lady was in fear for her life, having found herself in a rundown taxi with a gun pointing at her from a glove compartment, potentially ready to go off with every bump in the road.

If you’re interested in going (and I think you should be) here’s when it happens: The open mic night, which we went to, happens monthly at the Ritzy, but they also have one at the Canal Cafe which I will also be attending at some point. That one is a bit more structured, with people signing up in advance and getting the opportunity to work with the Spark team to hone their story. Each event has a theme, published beforehand on their website. I will be thinking hard about a story for the next one.

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.