Not all theater experiences are about assigned seating and quiet waits at intermission.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival invites poets, rappers, musicians, dancers and all other talented folk to "get down like Shakespeare, flip language and be a rhyme master." The festival's monthly, hip-hop open mic will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, May 7, at the Black Swan Theatre.
Claudia Alick hosts the open-mic sessions that were designed to involve a broader cross section of the community and offer audiences something fresh and unexpected, she says.
"I think of our open mic as a dialogical experience," Alick says. "It's a conversation between artists and audience. Here, we can clap our hands, wave our arms in the air, get up and dance."
April's featured guest was Ben Baden, a 19-year-old hip-hop artist who wowed the crowed with thoughtful rhymes.
"This is a great place," Baden said in April. "I like the atmosphere here. It's open and kind. There are no limitations."
May's session will feature former Oregon poet laureate Lawson Inada. It is a rare event that has rappers and teenage songwriters sharing the stage with a lauded poet. However, Inada is known to be pretty darn hip, with an attitude and the goods to back it up.
Anyone who is interested may participate at no charge. Sign up between 6:30 and 7 p.m. It's free for spectators.
There will be brave, new performers as well as regulars. Aletha Nowitzky performs every chance she gets. The petite, gray-haired women surprises audiences with her singing, dancing and mastery of a loop machine.
"I love coming here," she said at the last session. "It's great to see what other artists are doing. It's inspiring."
Last month's open mic also featured company members from OSF's "Romeo and Juliet" and "Seagull." Shayne Hanson and Josh Simpson, of a troupe they call 4 Lazy Dudes, showcased raps — a talent not often called for in traditional theater.
Alick warms up the audience with humor and reassurance that the open-mic sessions are a safe place.
In April, a young college student named Caesar recited a heartfelt poem about a breakup that left him devastated. It was a story that nearly everyone in the audience could lean into, and Caesar's misery was palpable. When he finished, the riotous applause that followed was therapy for his wounded heart.
"I've read poetry before," Caesar said. "But this felt really good."
At the end of the show, Alick, who is a good poet in her own right, called for a "freestyle" in which everyone could get back onstage and perform improvisationally and all at once.
Anything goes, from didgeridoo to prose.
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