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Wednesday June 29th

Open mic brings emotional catharsis to Chapel Hill community

Henry Cutting, a senior at UNC, and Victoria Tyson, a junior, are baristas at the UNC student started, managed, and run coffee shop out of the campus Y, the Meantime.
Buy Photos Henry Cutting, a senior at UNC, and Victoria Tyson, a junior, are baristas at the UNC student started, managed, and run coffee shop out of the campus Y, the Meantime.

This Friday, October 4 from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., the UNC Wordsmiths will perform at the Meantime Coffee Co.’s first open mic night of the year. Whether it’s music, spoken word, stand-up or prose, everyone is welcome to share.

Lydia Weinberger is the secretary and head of management of UNC Wordsmiths, a student-led spoken word and slam poetry group on campus. The group both hosts and performs in open mic nights and slams every month which are open to the public.

Open mics are an opportunity for people to come and see something different, said Dhvani Bhatia, the chief marketing officer of the Meantime Coffee Co. 

“See your peers in a different light, see different types of art forms and then have a cup of coffee or virgin sangria while doing it,” Bhatia said.

Bhatia said the open mic night is part of a larger effort to make The Meantime not just a coffee shop, but a community. 

The Meantime is a student-run coffee shop and every penny of its profits goes to support The Campus Y. Bhatia and fellow marketing team member Isabel Perry said The Meantime wants to make sure they give just as much attention to the ones that make it happen — the customers.

Both Bhatia and Perry were loyal customers before they began working at The Meantime.  

“Last year I heard about The Meantime and came in as a customer pretty frequently to get coffee and work upstairs," Perry said. "It served as a meeting spot for me and my friends, so I spent a lot of time here, which led me to want to apply to work here. I just see The Meantime as a really good opportunity to engage with students on campus, specifically because we are a student-run non-profit."

The name of the coffee shop reflects The Meantime's initiative to make the most of opportunities. “The Meantime” came from the sentiment that college is not only about what can be accomplished in five or ten years in students' established careers, but what can be accomplished now as well — in the meantime.

“I think part of being here now is appreciating everything around you and open mic, for me at least, is an opportunity to see different types of art and performances that I wouldn't have otherwise seen, and I hope that same experience translates with other people coming in,” Bhatia said.

Perry thinks an open mic night was a good choice because it's rare to find a casual atmosphere for people to enjoy sharing their art, but this would be a low pressure opportunity for them.

UNC Wordsmiths treasurer Lauranna Masters said that sharing your art can be anxiety-inducing, but the call and response nature of slam poetry makes it easier. 

“It’s a conversation between the audience and the performer,” Masters said.

Masters also said that doubting your work is a common struggle for any artist, but having a group of people that comes together to create art is helpful.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve just been like ‘I wrote a poem, I don’t like it, can someone help me?’ and it’s like ‘Hey, if you don’t like your work let's find a way to make it better,'” Masters said.

Weinberger seconded the encouraging atmosphere of the spoken word community, explaining that she never gets too stressed about performing because of it.

“There’s even a hand signal where if somebody’s starting to choke, you rub your hands together, because the idea is you’re giving them energy and warmth,” Weinberger said.

The UNC Wordsmiths also pick judges from the audience at random for their slams.

“I think a lot of slam is about being egalitarian, like there’s nobody who’s an expert or better than one another,” Weinberger said.

Weinberger said that with spoken word, people often talk about unpleasant or uncomfortable topics that others may relate to, but that aren’t always considered appropriate or easy to talk about. 

“I came into poetry through mental health issues, and writing it out was one of the few ways that I could express it," Weinberger said. "It’s always hard to talk about, and I think that a lot of people, if you talked to them, would have similar stories. There's some kind of catalyst, or event, or maybe just because of how institutionally screwed up America is, their whole life has just been a catalyst. So I think it’s not only cathartic, but it’s a way to make art, and make art in community, and make art in conversation, and I think that's always important."

Weinberger said she was afraid to talk about personal topics in her poetry, but actively expressing herself through art has brought her closer to peace. 

“Sometimes we’re driven by the want for people to witness what we’re going through,” Weinberger said. 

The UNC Wordsmiths plan to host a workshop each month where anyone can come to learn new skills, get their work critiqued, go through writing exercises, and be part of a group focused on writing.

UNC students can sign up to perform at the open mic night on The Meantime Coffee Co.’s Facebook page.

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