Sunday, November 20, 2005

... and I'll break out in hives if I want to!

That's right. It's my party. So, regardless of how cool I may look or how organized things may appear ... I'm having travel-sized panic attacks for at least a week leading up to a major event. My sixth annual Verbatim show was no different. (Friday, Nov. 18, 2005)

I was mostly worried about butts in chairs; I knew the show itself would be great b/c all of the performers on the lineup were fire. However, a hot lineup does not guarantee butts in chairs. I've mistakenly leaned on that lesson before.

So marketing is it, right? My bread and butter. My goal from Show 5 to this one was to elevate my marketing efforts from "the underground" to the mainstream. The accurate phrasing of this goal, truthfully, should be "My goal is to have a mainstream marketing budget." Let's face it; we do the underground because we gotta make the most of the resources we have, yeah? Do you think McDonald's or Nike or would opt for squads of college kids cramming flyers under wiper blades instead of advertising? Uuhh ... no. The answer is no, they would not.

And I didn't want to rely on that either. Use it, yes. Rely? If-y. So, of course, I secured even fewer sponsors this year. Of ... course. Money where the mouth is, right? Yeah, well ... whoever coined that little phrase wasn't staring down the barrell of a stack of bounced checks and cycles of phone calls that rotate quickly enough from friendly to firm to furious to fuck you and don't you ever call me about another show again.

Butts in chairs.

Sponsors or no, I have to set in motion everything I promised myself that I would for this year's event: more headline talent, advertising, ticket agents, street promotions. I've done them all for past shows, but with varying degrees of both effort and success. This year, I had to turn on all the jets. Taalam told me that someone told him the best way to promote a show is to start months in advance, then drop off. When you start back, the public will think "hey, i thought i missed this ..." or "hmmm ... i've heard this somewhere before ..."

Made sense to me. So I tried it. Kendall told me that I needed more people selling tickets ... and sooner. Made sense too. So I tried that. I used the six dollars I had left to advertise on the radio, and in the paper. I cross-marketed. I emailed people incessantly. I did my PR thing. I bartered with another PR pro to help me do the PR thing. I point blank asked-slash-pleaded with my friends and family to buy tickets, especially the folks who always wish me luck and never support my shows! I passed out fliers to the girls in drive through, guys in Walgreen's, everywhere. AND enlisted a pair of folks to focus on nothing but getting flyers out.

I can say, with a straight face and free heart, that I did everything I could do to make this show successful. The day before, I told my mother that I was proud of myself.

That made her smile, in that way only a mother can beam.

Butts in chairs would've been gravy, at that point.

Gravy, I say: the show was amazing! Truly the best Verbatim production yet. Plenty of butts in chairs and an unbelievable showing by the performers [Death from Below, Al Letson, '05 Milwaukee Slam Team, La'Ketta Caldwell (actor), Mike Bonner (comic), Tana Reed (music) & Carlton Thompson (music)]. The host was pretty good, too (me! me!)

So, the moral of this story is that the Superwoman cape is much more effective now when I join with other superpowers. I have a lot of people to appreciate between Show 1 and this Show 6. I'm sure I'll double the number of souls I'll be indebted to even by the time Show 7 rolls around next year.

And, yes, even when Verbatim explodes into a national tour and everything is being paid for by Virgin Records and Dannon Yogurt, best believe there will still be a tiny rash of hives on my hand as evidence of a week of tiny panic attacks.

Hey ... it's my party.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Lonestar Shoutouts

Corpus Christi
Tito picked me up from the airport in his immaculately clean car. I was instantly guilty about the dust-draped buggy waiting for me at home. We drove directly to a restaurant; I knew Tito and I would get along famously. And we did. He told me about the lives he's changed through his work as a ... life coach. That's not his actual title, but when you show grown folks how to manage their anger and guide young folks to explore their own celebrity, nothing else should really fit. We talked about career climbing and confidence and love and fair fighting and forgiveness and tolerance and introspection and nurturing children and, of course, poetry. He also told me about this "revolution" that's coming ... but you'll have to wait for that wave to keep rising.

Stefan is a piece of work. No other way to say it. He was all at once intriguing and ridiculous, profound and eccentric. Over everything, though, he was thoughtful, protective, engaging and honest. Despite what most of us claim, not many of us are wholly at ease in our own skin. Stefan is. Long, graying ponytail. Heavy Polish accent. No chairs or bed frames in his apartment. Floor to ceiling collections of classic jazz. A brass bowl and one of those little Zen sand/pebble trays for meditation. He loves both the Detoit Pistons and being smitten. I can just imagine, too, the joy he derives from being mistaken for a lifelong student instead of the professor (he holds a PhD in philosophy and teaches all levels at Texas A&M, though the freshman intro course is his favorite). What impressed me most about Stefan was his uniquely-precise conversation. He would accurately discern the most subtle of nuances. I found myself thinking, "That's it ... exactly!" or "Ohhh ... she felt that way ..." The only way to describe our exchanges without trying transcribe the hours is to compare his perception to a color wheel. It's easy to start chatting about the color green. If you're diligently honest, however, you will eventually distinguish emerald green from jade green and celery green from sea foam green. There's a difference. And Stefan likes to talk about. Write about it. Move in clockwise circles around it. Oooohhm about it. See? He's a great piece of work. I can't wait to see him again at SMasters in April.

San Antonio
Phil is battling overachiever-itis and sleep deprivation; two conditions with which I am all too familiar. I appreciate the slot at the all-famous puro slam and for his coming through in arranging a ride Austin and crashpad. I'm also glad that I had a chance to witness the spot's legendary Heckling. I thought it would have been, like "revolution? revolution?! we don't wanna hear about no stinkin' revolution!" Puro's "heckling" puts me more in the mind of the Green Mill, where the host isn't shushing the crowd all night or chastising them to "respect the mic." The poet's gotta bring it right and make --convince--the audience that their cell phone conversations can wait. Gott love that. Unfortunately, this night's main heckler was just a drunken boob garbling insults toward the stage. I'm happy to report that he got fired in the mouth by another poet before the night closed out. Yes, boys and girls , there are still heroes in the world.

Not that anyone is keeping score, but Ego's was -hands down- my favorite stop. The energy was thick; Andy was an amazing and agile host (if I had to host and keep time and tally scores and banter with the deejay, our set would be in t-r-o-u-bb-l-e); Big Poppa E/aka DJ Hot Wings was like precision on virtual ones-and-twos (spinning from his laptop, y'all); and the audience was all about good, engaging poetry. Not a single dud on the list.

Speaking of crashpads earlier, I was honored to be a guest in Mike and Lynn's new house! Very smart two-story, open space, lofty joint. The cat was a bit demanding and the fleet of Hellraiser figurines made me ... well ... make sure that my people knew how to get a hold of me. But, of course, Mike was an absolute hero, driving me from San An (check me out, using the local lingo!) to Austin in the middle of the night, putting me up in their guest room, letting me have all the oatmeal I wanted, escorting me to Ego's and to the last portion of a set called NeoSoul. He got me to the bus station on time and sent ahead e-flares to the hosts in my next city stops. Enough about his grand hospitality, already. Mike is funny as hell! What's best is that you'd never suspect it: he's all polite and quiet and small-voiced at first. And then he has me chatting away (like that's hard, right?) and cracking up by being all polite and quiet and small-voiced. I love a man with wry, smart humor. We chatted and chuckled easily about heckling etiquette, the science of buoyancy, rap freestyles, eye-hand coordination, the hierarchy in Halloween candies, rush hour driving games, strategies for getting fired from bad relationships and acceptable timelines for deciding to stay in love for eternity. We bonded, as you can see. Not a lot of genuine people left on this sphere; I'm glad I had a chance to enjoy one of the really good ones.

Well, I gotta be honest. Things were not looking good for Houston. I tried for months --literally-- to set up a feature ... find out about an open mic ... anything. No one from the Houston returned my messages and the other city hosts didn't seem to know what was going on over there. As an 11th hour try, both Stefan and Mike try to patch me resources. No luck. So I board a bus to Dallas, prepared to spend the the night and following day holed up with my laptop. As it turns out, I get a call from Michael Guinn from Ft. Worth. This cat offers to rearrange his work and travel schedule to meet me in Dallas, drive to Houston, share a feature he had scheduled at a new venue there, feed me, and get us back to Dallas by 9 am. Then that damn Mike Guinn started giving away items off of his product line (yes, product line) to everyone who bought a book and CD. "I know how it is ... I want to make sure I can help you move product." Selfless. I've known Mike for a few years now and have always found him to be generous of spirit. He's the type of guy you can't help but want the best of everything for. He's passionate and sincere about everything he does --his work with youth, commitment to slam, pursuit of absolute and true love. Big ol' bald chocolate teddy bear is what he is. I'm really glad that we had a chance to have a continuous conversation (as opposed to years that have been segmented into five minute chats and brief email posts).

Many thanks and much love to my newly-adopted little sisters Authentyc and Trinity. We chatted late into the night (way too late, really, considering the 4 drive in front of us ... in front of me) about perserverance, karma and dreams. I told them to stand firm on their vision, regardless of the support they get or don't get from other local organizers. From experience, I know it's about defining your path and building a home for a whole new family of poets. It was inspiring to see their excitement and kinda cool to feel like wise old guru.

I'm pretty sure that I did some poetry in Dallas and had a chance to hang out with an old friend of mine, but what rattles the loudest in my memory is much I liked the city! I could soooooo live in Dallas ... in about 15 years. See, there's too much to do and my girls are too young. It's hard enough for me to find pockets of "unbusy" here in slow lane Milwaukee. If I had all of that playground ...? Sheesh!

But I did do poetry in Dallas. RockBaby and Militant X did an impressive job with their advance promotion and Mili had even pulled a quote from my website for my intro. It was cool to see Twain in action, too. Y'know putting a poem to the face? He reminded me that he'll be traveling next year, so I look forward to showing him off to my folks.

The funniest thing came in hanging out with my girl, Dawn. She's a Milwaukee transplant who's hot stepping toward stardom (national theater tours, national movie screenings, music demo ... she's literally one degree of separation from Diddy, Tyler Perry& Jerry Buckheimer). I say all that not just to give her cheap props but to frame a poignant observation: We were exiting the expressway toward Rock Baby's venue and she tells me I should call ahead and to make sure they've blocked off a parking space out front fo me. Yes, she was serious. Yes, I laughed out loud. We were both laughing once I explained that poetry doesn't quite work like that, not yet anyway. A drink tab --maybe-- is presently the extent of our VIP perks. One day, us poets will have celebrity status and all of the lucrative contracts, televised award shows, endorsement deals, sexually liberal groupies (oh ... check!) and a stronghold on pop culture. Just not this past Friday.

In All
Texas was smooth. Thanks to everyone who helped make it fun and important. Yee.Ha!

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Truth about the Benjamins

I'm nearing the end of my first week-long stretch. Just like any other feature, the "show bag" is stuffed with books and CDs. Don't even bother with the zipper. In fact, being able to draw the gaping seam together at the end of each night would mark a success.

Counting the number of CDs and books I'll be taking with me back to Milwaukee, however, I'm reminded that I'm not that poet who can measure their success or impact in CD sales. Sure, the Taalam's and Sheba's and Nam's of the world count their sales by 5s and 10s (Bless 'em!); but not me. And, to be clear, this is not a revelation to me, just a reminder. I know I'm an ackward and underachieving salesperson ... I've got deep-seeded issues in that Asking Folks for Stuff department that go waaaaayy beyond poetry.

Still, I usually do okay (by my standards, anyway). Just a little short on hustle this trip. But I left my heart swinging from every microphone, like I always aim to do at my features. So, the after show rewards came to me in somewhat foreign currency: an angel in Corpus Christi (it was Halloween, after all) told me that every word I'd said rang like truth for her. Truth? Cool. In Austin, I was told that my work was pitch perfect. Me? Honor. A barfly-bystander in Houston claimed to have been bitten by the spoken word bug after listening to my feature. A conversion? Sweet.

And in San Antonio, a woman announced that she wanted to become an organ donor and was going to insist that her entire family to do the same. Mission? Accomplished.

I like to think I connect with audiences at every show; that's what they tell me and what I feel, anyway. This trip has felt ... richer, somehow. I guess the Council of Gods mean for me to tuck away a different nugget every time I hit the road. Ohio was a plain ol' ego boost; Chicago 1 and 2 was about extending partnerships; and Vegas was my show-and-tell slam dunk for my husband. Texas, I've surmised, has been a reminder that my purpose is to serve as a messenger as well as raise funds for Chase's memorial fund. This is not like the kids in my neighborhood peddling pizzas and tins of peanut brittle for a school trip.

Could I be a better/more assertive salesperson? Well, that's a nother post ... but possibly. Did I need a kick in the pocketbook to remember that there are many dimensions to my mission? Obviously. Whether they take my product home with them or not, people are listening when I speak. That is an honor all on its own. That they keep my words with them in tiny, zippered compartments as a result of this mini-crusade affords me the grace to cradle my son again.

That, in my mind, is the definition of redemption. And, dollar for dollar, an empty show bag could never compare.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Fire, The Wheel, Airplanes and Blogging

You have to wonder if there were nay-sayers when the whole fire thing first came about. You know, the ruthless militia that reassembles itself through the ages to riddle "never gonna happen" bullets into others' dreams and big ideas? What do you think the CaveLady who poo-pooed all over that wheel contraption would say now?

Ugh-ugh. Grunt. Scratch?

Yeah, I think so too. In fact, I know so b/c I am that CaveLady. Well, more like her distant cousin. I don't denounce new inventions, I just don't always get it. Don't get IM. Not compelled to iPod. Intrigued by Tivo, but not enough. Yeah, I know we had this technology conversation before, but this time I'm announcing my full conversion to live journaling and blogging.

Whoopee, right?

I opened this 'spot reluctantly, cuz I just didn't think many people would ... care. I haven't been convinced otherwise (not seeing a lot traffic, I tell ya), but I did discover that I've been approaching it all wrong. My new play cousins are Stefan and Emily in Corpus Christi, where I featured on Monday and got schooled on the live journal thing. Yeah, yeah,yeah, tool to keep up with my friends and loved ones. Cool. A daily writing exercise that I would likely keep up with? Sign me up! I need more pen discipline in my life.

So I'm committing my self --totally- to learning how to use this damn thing. Any tips would be appreciated, btw. I told Emily that it was like having a cell phone with 8,000 features and only knowing how to use 3 of them.

So, be warned, I'll be burning up the e-waves soon enough with mind numbing accounts of my life.

Watch out, world.