Open Mic tradition brings performers together


By: Jake Plumley

From comedy to magic tricks to music, there are a variety of acts people can enjoy at open mic nights in the Maintenance Shop on Tuesday nights.

Emily Benda

Open Mic has been a tradition at Iowa State for over five years. Twice a month, students come to the Maintenance Shop and show their talents to the audience, whether they are music majors or chemical engineers.

On Open Mic nights, groups and individuals wait outside the M-Shop until the doors open at 7:30 p.m. From there, people sign up for one of the 12 time slots to perform from 8-10 p.m.

In the time between the sign-up frenzy and arrival of the audience, performers mingle and chat amongst themselves.

“There’s constant talk about ‘What are you going to perform?’ or ‘What do you do?’” said Shawn Robinson, freshman in English. He is a poet and Open Mic regular. “Everyone is little nervous, no matter how much they’ve done it before, so talking it through with someone else definitely helps ease everybody’s nerves.”

Robinson has been coming to Open Mic regularly since January. Before performing at Open Mic, Robinson had little experience reading his poetry to others. His Open Mic acts consist of poetry readings with a satirical twist. Though he likes to switch it up, Robinson said he often tries to appear awkward as a joke.

“I like to start every poetry reading with something out of the box just to show I don’t take myself seriously and [the audience] shouldn’t either,” Robinson said.

Robinson plans schemes to throw the audience off-guard from a typical poetry reading. From striking up a fake argument with crowd members to poetry battles, he shares his art through various methods.

Robinson said the crowd is receptive as long as the performers are putting their all into their act.

“The majority of the people who go to the shows still have no idea who I am,” Robinson said. “But as long as you’re not making fun of other performers, [the crowd is] going to be supportive of you.”

Although the crowd tends to fill the M-Shop at Open Mic, 10 out of 10 Iowa State students surveyed have not been to an open mic show. Of the 10 respondents, 8 had heard of Open Mic but had not attended before due to limited time.    

“I like music, I’m just not that into it to make the time [to attend Open Mic],” said Lauren Bennett, one of the respondents and a junior in construction engineering.

Maggie Fischer, co-director of performing arts for Student Union Board, said most of the Open Mic audience members are friends of performers. Crowd members will come and go during the two-hour show, but Fischer said the 60 seats in the M-Shop are consistently filled. From comedy to magic tricks to music, there are a variety of acts people can enjoy.

“We have a really good community,” Fischer said. “The audience is very involved and engaged and supportive.”

Though Robinson said he enjoys listening to the other music and comedy acts at Open Mic, he keeps coming back to share his work and connect with the audience.

“It definitely gave me a diversion from stress of academics sometimes to just do something that’s completely silly and completely selfish,” Robinson said.

“It gives me a sense that I’m not wasting my time when I write things by myself and there isn’t an audience. If I can write something and get an audience’s feedback on whether they connected with it or not, it gives me a touchstone to go on if I’m going in the right direction with this hobby.”