Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Shakespeare and Company Open Mic

October 30, 2010

Yes, believe it or not, Shakespeare and Company hosted an open mic last night, its first ever. This bookstore across from the Notre Dame Cathedral in the middle of Paris, this bookstore that has the famous name known around the world, sent out a Facebook event invitation the other day that I just could not resist taking up: “WORD – Open Mic / Slam / Improvisation,” it read.

“WORD the first open mic/slam/improvisation night upstairs in the library at Shakespeare and Company. Featuring musician extraordinaire Thos Henley & poet Rufo Quintavalle [Note from Brad: Rufo had to pull out and was replaced by someone else I will mention below]. Everyone welcome to watch or participate!,” said the announcement. “Chaired by Adam Biles,who is editor of Gulper Eel, Paris musician extraordinaire Thos Henley and poet Rufo Quintavalle will kick of the evening.”

So I could not resist. A very interesting and excellent idea was that each “performer” was limited to just five minutes per slot. And the rule was administered with an iron fist. In fact, before the show proper began, Adam told the audience that they could applaud, express delight, anything they wanted during the presentations, but to not heckle. He then added that there was one instance in which they were allowed to heckle: If the performer received the ring of the timer and went over five minutes and refused to stop….

I’ve never seen that in an open mic. And it is welcome, until, of course, it is YOUR turn behind the mic.

In any case, the evening was so fantastic I barely know where to start. The most obvious place, in fact, is to say that the whole first floor of the bookstore was just crammed with people. There was no moving room, and I spent the whole time out in the stairwell, looking into the performance room. (That is the vantage point of the videos I took.) It was just PACKED; in fact, I heard one person apparently close to the bookstore say afterwards that she thought it must be the most successful event they have ever had.

As it turned out, there were only three musical interludes and the rest was prose and poetry. It also turned out that there was to be a judging for the best “performance” of the evening. I’m not sure who all the judges were, but they included Thos Henley and the man who made a special last-minute arrival as a judge and special guest (to replace Rufo the poet), the Australian writer Luke Davies.

Thos Henley started off the show with a couple of songs. As it turned out, he and I had played last year at a special musical evening at the Disquaires bar near Bastille. Then began the real slam “competition.” I managed to make a few videos, but I think I was tuning my guitar when the person who ended up winning the competition did her number. It’s too bad, as not only would I have liked to have done a video of her, but she also gave me a nice compliment on my song – “Since You Left Me” – before we learned she won.

I was not happy about the way I sang the song, as I was overly nervous about the fact of singing only one, and having no good mic or sound system, and an audience I felt was mostly there for the literary aspect of the evening. All sorts of reasons, but none good.

Anyway, this winner was Jenny Zhang, and the judges gave her top marks, as you can see from the video I did of their speech announcing who won and why.

In any case, it was a fabulous evening and I felt that they wanted to do it again – and I hope so. I’ve decided to simply throw all the videos down below one after the other (my apologies for the shaky camera movement, but I was standing on a staircase a lot and had to move to let people pass, and that kind of thing):


  1. Great journalism thanks for the news, i learned of the event through you.
    see ya ’round.


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