The gist of my last blog entry was that people who run spoken word nights usually work harder than the artists who perform in their feature slots and that the principle that you shouldn’t have to work for free should be as true for them as for the people they book. I still stand by that – people who run spoken word nights are unsung heroes who don’t get enough love (apart from when people are insincerely sucking up to them to try to get a slot) or money. In the interests of balance, however, here are some of my pet peeves about spoken word promoters:
Promoters who give wildly inaccurate finishing times on their publicity. We all know that in poetry and spoken word the published starting time is a work of fiction and accept that an open mic advertised as starting at 7 probably won’t really get going until 9, but if it says it ends at 10.30 and it doesn’t actually end until 12, I’ve missed my last bus.
Promoters not saying if the venue offers food or not. This may seem trivial, but, as someone who frequently goes straight from work to venue, half the time, I end up performing on a dinner of a packet of crisps and a pint of cider; the other half of the time, I stuff down a horrid supermarket sandwich en route, only to discover the venue serves mouthwatering food when I get there.
Promoters who try to emotionally blackmail you into coming to their night, by implying you’re a bad friend or (even worse) aren’t doing enough to support poetry if you don’t attend. Oddly enough, all the worst offenders amongst my circle of acquaintances run nights that I cannot physically get to, as I don’t drive and their venue is inaccessible on public transport.
Promoters who expect you to bring lots of your family and personal friends with you as audience when they offer you a slot.
Promoters who aren’t honest with you. I once sent my CV to a guy setting up a new night who immediately started raising all sorts of bizarre concerns about why I might find the venue difficult to get to. It was obvious he just didn’t want to book me, maybe because he didn’t like my poetry (which is fine – chacun a son gout, and all that), maybe because of my age (which is also fine in some circumstances – if I were starting a night aimed at 19-year-olds, I wouldn’t book me, either), but I wish he’d said so, rather than making obviously fake excuses.
Promoters who assume that if you don’t live in a city, you must be amateurish and crap. I’ve encountered this one a couple of times lately (and it may also have been the problem with the guy above – but, obviously, I don’t know, as he wouldn’t tell me). Oddly, it’s always provincial promoters who have this bias. I’ve never known an urban promoter give a shit where you live, but promoters in small towns sometimes have this starry-eyed view that anyone with a London, Bristol or Manchester postcode must be exciting and cutting edge and anyone without one must be the bastard child of William McGonagall and Patience Strong.
Promoters who offer me a slot at the bottom of the bill below some kid who’s only been doing spoken word a few weeks. And, yes, I know that the fact I care about this makes me only one step away from demanding baskets of kittens in my dressing room and squawking “Don’t you know who I am?” at waiters, but it’s really started to bug me.
Promoters who seem to be operating a policy of booking every other spoken word artist within a 100-mile radius for a feature slot except me. Especially when they insist on telling me they’ve booked a mutual friend every time they see me. (This sounds like it’s a passive-aggressive comment aimed at one person, but, sadly, it isn’t).
But most promoters are not like this (apart from the food thing – they all do that). Most spoken word promoters are lovely. And compared to the grief that they often get from artists, these complaints are very small.