Capitalist Mind: ATL Post #3

28 Jun

This is kind of a dense post. I think some organizers and poets might find it helpful, but if you’re not really concerned with the way shows are run, you might want to skip it. I’ve been putting off writing it for that reason and a few others, so no hard feelings. Next post will be a bunch of Ven’s photos from the trip, so that should be sweet.

I try to live by the credo that business is a realm unto itself. For the most part, personal grievances shouldn’t affect money or career decisions (get that paper). Take this advice with a grain of salt, of course, from a woman who’s had a lot of sustainable success in poetry lately, and plenty of instability in her personal relationships…

There were some issues with the Femme Fatale show long before the night of the competition. As someone explained the situation to me, Sheba was attempting to put together a much more ambitious event than those she’d undertaken in the past. She invited at least 14 poets, coming to Atlanta from all over the US, as far away as Alaska. She coordinated about a dozen of musical acts and partnered with different artists and arts organizations around Atlanta. She asked all the participating poets to submit letters of recommendation (mine was by the Mighty Mike McGee). She also asked that all the poets participate in some kind of community service, a stipulation that really excited me.

Sheba’s an excellent promoter. Anyone who’s ever signed up for her updates knows that the woman is a master of the email blast. However, coming from the professional end, when you’re coming into a show, receiving three or four emails a day, some of them tremendously long, many of which have a confusing mix of personal and business information, makes parsing all that information really overwhelming.

Sheba’s also a master hustler. She’s one of the poets in our community who’s worked with sponsors of all kinds. Coming into Femme Fatale, she got cool schwag donated from area businesses, she got gas card donations from one of her connections, and she even pointed me towards the Poets & Writers events funding application (all of you who host or perform at shows need to check this out; my friend Nicole Sealey works with these folks and they’re very eager to give you money).

I also really appreciated the concept of the show. Outside of the Women of the World Slam, how often do you see fifteen female performance poets of the highest caliber get to throw down? Ocean, Mekkah, T. Miller, and Chauncey were among my competitors that night, and if that doesn’t make for a ridiculously sexy, badass bunch, nothing does.

Unfortunately, as dope as the concept was, the follow-through was inelegant at best, and it really messed with my experience as a whole. The event itself was very beautiful, the crowd and the poets were stunning, the venue was amazing, but the business side was riddled with bad surprises from the moment I tried to walk in the door.

*

The Short List

When I’m dealing with an organizer I haven’t worked with before, I prefer to have all of the following information up front:

*Expectations. What exactly does the organizer or organization expect from me? A thirty-minute set? For me to set up a Facebook event and invite my friends? To bring x number of people in the door? Where do you want me and when? If I’m in an unfamiliar city, how do I get where I need to be?

*Rules. This is one front where many slam organizers seriously falter. If I’m participating in an invitational, I want to know exactly what the rules of the game are: time limits, number of judges, number of rounds, number of competitors, cuts, and penalties of all kinds. This is called being fair. Generally I assume PSI standard rules for most shows, but knowing all of this information up front is essential for those of us who like to consider the strategic element.

*Compensation. If an organizer gives me a verbal guarantee of, say, $100, I’m going to the show expecting at least that. If the organizer, for some reason, doesn’t make as much as expected, I still expect to get paid. Even if that means he’s coming out of pocket (that sounds dirty, huh). If I’m told I’m getting $100, that means $100 flat – not $100 minus a door charge or a hidden registration fee. This is nonnegotiable. If I don’t get paid what I was told, I will probably never collaborate with that organizer again. This can be seriously detrimental to the work the organizer has attempted to do, and to the community at large. Big Sur’s West Coast Regionals, a yearly favorite event of Californian poets, was eventually ruined for just this reason.

*

To plainly say all the stuff that fucked with me: I wasn’t allowed into the venue at first because the woman at the door wanted to charge me, my friend Ven who’d driven me all the way from DC and my friend Karen who was housing me couldn’t get in at all, I never saw a dime to cover travel expenses (except for the door charge, which Sheba agreed to take out of my “travel stipend” after I threatened to leave), although I slammed first in a group of 14 and still had high enough scores to qualify for the second round, I found out after watching the whole hour-long (or was it longer) first round that I’d been disqualified outright for a time penalty.

I was exhausted, y’all. Deeply. Even more broke than I’d been coming in, and totally exhausted. The slam hadn’t started until eleven or twelve, and this was less than a week after the madness WoW. I laughed, said goodnight to Chauncey and T., and walked out.

The evening was mostly salvaged by hanging out afterward with Ven and Karen, my sweetie pies who came back for me, but I was very clear on the fact that I’d been burned, and I wanted nothing to do with this particular way of doing business again.

Zounds! I've been had!

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