Maker in Focus: Taking the Mic
Taking the Mic is an open-access spoken word event held monthly at Exeter Phoenix. Providing a meeting point for the spoken word community, it has strong links with similar events across the South West. We spoke to its organiser and host, poet Tim King.
What do you do?
Taking the Mic (TTM) offers performance opportunities, an attentive audience and a warm welcome to anyone who wants to spend five minutes talking into a microphone in public. In practice this usually means poetry although we do have the odd musician, comedian, ventriloquist, monologist or stand-up philosopher.
And what keeps you doing it?
The opportunity that we offer for new voices to be heard. For me, the best thing is being there at the beginning of someone's career and seeing them go on to bigger and better things. Jasmine Gardosi, Aishling Fahey, Malaika Kegode and Amani Saeed all gave their debut public performances at TTM.
What’s Taking the Mic’s story?
TTM was started in 2009 by Liv Torc. When Liv moved to Frome in 2011, she asked me and fellow poet Morwenna Griffiths to take it on. Morwenna has moved on but I'm still here, and still absolutely loving it. TTM was originally conceived as a launch pad for people just starting out in spoken word and I'm determined to retain its open-access and peer-learning ethos.
Who do you work with?
The event attracts some prominent local spoken word artists: Robert Garnham (who runs Big Poetry and Stanza Extravaganza in Torbay), Ross Bryant (The Mic Shack, Taunton), Alexander Rhodes (Pucker Poets, Plymouth) and Julie Mullen (Word Café, Dartington) are all frequent visitors. It's a real community. We all attend each other’s shows and steal each other’s performers.
Describe a typical show.
TTM is a fast-moving open mic that attracts a wide range of performers but also a loyal audience – so there are typically 40-50 people filling Exeter Phoenix Workshop. Up to 16 performers are each allocated a five-minute slot, and we also have a headline act who performs for 15 minutes. The headliner is usually fairly well-established and always someone with a unique voice. Their primary role is to inspire; to demonstrate another aspect of the possible. Performers sign up in advance and, before the event, I put together a running order to ensure a varied and entertaining mix. It's quite intense, very enjoyable and, as far as content goes, completely unpredictable.
What’s TTM’s best moment of 2018?
The annual Exeter Poetry Slam is always a highlight. Many TTM regulars compete for a cash prize alongside poets from as far away as Swindon, Bristol and Cornwall. The 2018 winner was Chris White, a local poet and performer, who has toured the UK with three full-length spoken word shows and is currently working on his fourth.
And looking forward?
I'm planning to organise a regional swapping scheme, where poets from Exeter could go to perform in other parts of the country and we could have their poets come to entertain us. A similar exchange is already happening between Swindon and Birmingham, so I'll sound them out.
In what ways are you helping to put Exeter on the cultural map?
The Newcastle poet Scott Tyrell has recently completed a wonderful project: an illustrated map of Spoken Word Artists of the United Kingdom and Ireland. I'm honoured to find my face there – partly as a result of my appearances at WOMAD and the Cheltenham Literature Festival but also due to the reputation of Taking the Mic. There are around a dozen other people dotted around the map who have headlined our event. So, in answer to your question – Exeter spoken word is already on the map.
One thing that would make your life easier?
The night has always been entirely free to enter. The Exeter Phoenix donates the room and also pays a small fee, which is passed on to guest headliners. I am hoping to attract additional funding so we can afford to pay guests a little more.
…we had better public transport in and out of Exeter in the evenings? It would make the event much more accessible to folk living outside of the city.
How do we find out more?
Or simply come to the Phoenix Workshop at 8pm on the third Wednesday of any month.