MCC Gives Artists a Platform for Self-Expression at Fall Open Mic Event

Photo by Dominick Ojeda | Multimedia Beat

Raveen Sivashanker

The UCSB MultiCultural Center (MCC) held its quarterly open mic event in Isla Vista last Thursday, Nov. 29, at Biko House. Hosted by William Bissic (aka MC Prototype), aspiring artist and teacher of literature and business, “Speak Your Truths” was a night for open self-expression for anyone wanting to participate.

Inherently improvisational and imperfect, the event avoided becoming what it easily could have been, a disjointed, incoherent circus, and instead successfully presented a harmonious set of performances.

The imperfections, which in any other context would seem extraneous or inelegant — and perhaps inspired puzzled, quizzical looks, or searches for escape routes — made perfect sense in service of a larger goal. If this sounds almost religiously sincere, that’s because it was.

MC Prototype emphasized his desire for the audience to form a community and encouraged anyone to come up to do anything — sing, dance, talk. “If you wanna come up and breathe real hard, you can do that.” From the audience of about 30 (a balanced mix of community members and students), about 10 people signed up to perform.  

Oscillating between jovial, joking host and spoken-word poet in between performances, MC Prototype’s obvious investment in creating a spontaneous community from this group was perhaps his most significant contribution to the event.

The garage of Biko House (a housing co-op aiming to “maintain a safe space for people of color in a predominantly white community”) perfectly fit the vibe of the event — personal and expressive, even in the case of slight to moderate discomfort. It was a tight fit for the group, and a decent number were forced to stand at the back, outside and looking in.

The stage was in fact a modified table; too close to the ceiling for the tall, too far below the community-mic for the short, and too narrow for the guitarist’s chair. The stumbling and adjusting that preceded each performance eventually began to seem entirely ordinary, even necessary, on a spiritual level, something one would expect to find in a nature documentary.

The walls of the garage were themselves evocative, decorated with a collection of miniature announcements, from a to-the-point “Fuck Da Cheeto Tyrant” scrawled in chalk to some slightly more cryptic words, “a beautiful donkey,” written above a delicately drawn donkey head with gentle, blinking eyes. Absurdist art filled most of the gaps.

The performances were similarly wide-ranging. Novices nervously prefaced their acts with “I’ve never done this before,” while more seasoned artists, who had already spewed out their thoughts to the wider world, had more polished (and sometimes self-promoting) introductions.

The night’s artistic expression spanned self-written music, prose monologues, and phone-inscribed poetry. The topics ranged from the political to the deeply personal. Somewhere in between lied an enigmatic mathematical proof/poem hybrid that no one understood, and an ode to bread, which everyone did.

Inevitably, different members of the audience had different reactions to the performers. Some declarations of identity garnered almost universal approval, while other statements and clumsy stanzas may have inspired invisible eye-rolling.

But the “safeness” of this particular space entailed an audience that would at least try to be unconditionally supportive, even in the case of disinterest, disagreement, or disapproval. This show was not meant to be a traditional stage reserved for professional artists, but an opening up of the collective discourse to people who otherwise remain disproportionately unheard.

By the end of the night people were volunteering to go up to the stage to perform a second time, where earlier some who had signed up were reticent when called by the host. The MCC, along with MC Prototype, succeeded in creating a sort of cult, that would smile and snap in communion in response to anything that it sensed was meant to be especially poignant.

Such behavior is perhaps unfashionably earnest, but this event provides a unique opportunity to learn a lot about other people. Even if one plans not to perform, watching others choose to be so vulnerable can be a special, meaningful experience.

This open mic night was the MCC’s last event for fall quarter, but in winter, nearly every day they will host events thematically similar to this gathering — in exposing unheard voices — as well as a “Speak Your Truths” open mic night again at the end.