At the beginning of There Will Be Words (May 2011), there wasn’t anything like it. There were prose readings happening either on local college campuses that weren’t well advertised or occurring amongst insular writing groups but prose didn’t really have a public perception in Orlando. Prior to this, I ran a poetry slam from January 2001 to April 2011. In 2001, there was an open mic or two that was dedicated to poetry/spoken word, or events that happened on local college campuses, but most of the open mics were dedicated to music of the singer/songwriter variety. Over the ten years of running a slam, spoken word/poetry emerged and there was a spoken word/poetry show almost every night of the week in Orlando. Towards the end of the poetry slam, less people became interested in it, and I felt there were two factors behind it:
- Frequency: the slam was weekly and that’s a high demand from your audience to keep coming week in and week out. Some slams are able to do this based on their location and fanbase. There were some weeks that we had a very lean turnout and other weeks that we had a good turnout. I was stubborn and thought that the show needed to happen every week, too, not knowing any better.
- Saturation: the slam started out being something special early on, something new, and it attracted attention. We hit our initial peak when we sent our first team to the National Poetry Slam and then people lost interest because the team didn’t do well. We worked our way back up to getting a dedicated base that stuck around for awhile. As the years went on, more spoken word/poetry shows emerged, and they provided an alternative venue for performers who didn’t want to compete in slam, who felt more comfortable in the safety of an open mic, and they didn’t need the slam. We also hit our second peak from 2009-2010 when the 2009 team went to the semifinals for the first time at the National Poetry Slam. When the 2010 team didn’t match the previous team’s progress, people lost interest again. I tried switching the show from weekly to monthly and it struggled with attendance. I should have known when hardly anyone came to the tenth anniversary show that the slam was officially dead. Two months later, when no one came to the monthly slam (partially because it took place on St. Patrick’s Day), I decided it was time to end it and move on.
I embraced these lessons learned when I started There Will Be Words, doing a monthly show, curating the readings, making it something special. But even with the monthly frequency, saturation came back. More reading series and pop-up literary events have happened over the last six years and There Will Be Words has been struggling with attendance for awhile. It’s a great problem that Orlando has evolved from a literary perspective where we have a wide array of literary events that are actually known by the general public.
I’ve been revitalized as of late running the occasional poetry slam, partially because of the audience-as-judges element, partially because I’m not sending teams or individuals to national competitions. I’ve made it fun by introducing a title belt component and taking a three-ring circus approach. I’m moving There Will Be Words towards a direction that integrates the poetry and the prose into it, and where I do it three or four times a year, rather than doing this show monthly. I need to make this event special again so I can get people to come out, to support it.
Here’s what I’ve had come out as of late