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An Online Open Mic Creates a New Way to Gather

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RyanNicole Austin performing on stage at the 2020 Black Joy Parade in Oakland. (@jmalphotography)

On Sunday evening, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom suggested people of this great state either shelter in place or move with caution in the coming days; that’s coupled with the CDC’s announcement that “social distancing” is suggested for the next eight weeks.

When I heard that, I figured people would turn to the interwebs for connection, culture and creativity, but I didn’t imagine there’d be a whole online open mic session.

DJ and thespian Champagne Hughes will co-host The Quarantine: Virtual Open Mic with RyanNicole, an emcee, event host and, most recently, the understudy for the main character in the American Conservatory Theatre’s run of Toni Stone. The play was canceled the day after it opened (along with every other IRL event) due to the spread of this virus.

What does a virtual open mic even look like?

“People should expect to find a healing environment,” says RyanNicole. It’ll be place where folks can “share the art they’ve been cultivating for events that have since been canceled, and art for the times,” she says, noting that performances aren’t limited to poetry. Songs, monologues, dances and more are welcomed, and expected.


The free event is scheduled to happen on March 18, 6–8pm, “or more if the spirit calls for it,” says RyanNicole. It’ll start with an opening set from DJ Champagne and then they’ll jump right into the show.

When asked about the importance of this kind of event, RyanNicole says she leans on sage wisdom from the late Toni Morrison as a guiding directive to aid her focus when feelings of hopelessness cloud her vision. The excerpt comes from a conversation between the great writer and a friend during the depressive days right after the reelection of George W. Bush.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal,” Morrison wrote.

“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”

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