On the fourth Friday of every month, a group of artists from across the Oil Region gather in Titusville to share their works. Some sing, some dance, some present poetry and some even give a stand-up comedy routine.
This is the Oil Region Coalition of Artists’ open mic night, an evening of artistic endeavors which has been running since January 2017. In that nearly three-year time span, more and more artists have found themselves drawn to the event, finding an outlet to express themselves before others.
“We want people to step in as a beginner, get comfortable in front of an audience, and then be able to get performances at regular venues,” said Nathan Roggenkamp, a board member on ORCA who acts as the host for the show.
Held in Savory Studios, a local art studio located on West Central Avenue, the event’s call of an open stage to perform on draws all kinds of people, both young and old. According to Roggenkamp, while the event draws a decent number of younger people, many of them college students, local artists in their 30s, 40s and 50s are also regulars to the microphone.
“There’s all kinds of people stepping up,” he said.
In fact, several attendees have discovered their artistic side through the event. Dan Hunter, a member of the Meadville Council on the Arts who regularly attends and collaborates with the open mic night, said a primary purpose of the show is to create an outlet for peoples’ creative minds that they might not have tapped into before.
“A lot of this is still in their note books, and no one’s listening to it,” Hunter said.
Not only can the open mic night get someone to step up to the artistic plate in the first place, it can also lead them into improve themselves, according to Roggenkamp. The ORCA member has seen the artists got from taking the event as a casual experience and laid back to treating it as a serious thing and putting much more of themselves into the art they present.
One such example is Michael Garfinkel, a Titusville resident who writes poetry and short stories to read aloud at the show. Having attended the open mic night for around two and a half years, Garfinkel believes the time limit the show imposes on him has greatly increased his production of art.
“If I don’t have a deadline, chances are I’ll forget the whole thing entirely,” he said, referring to ideas for writings.
Garfinkel primarily focuses his poems and stories on the topic of traumas of various kinds. He initially took up the practice to help work through some hurtful emotions, and has found sharing his feelings with others through the show has led to positive impacts in his life.
“Oh it helps, it seriously helps,” he said.
His attendance at the monthly event has even gotten Garfinkel published. A poem he wrote called “They Called HIM” was printed in ORCA’s annual zine, Distillates.
While there are plenty of up and coming artists who take part in the open mic night, there are also quite a few veterans presenting their craftsmanship. One among them is Dr. Herb Kitson, a retired creative writing professor who worked at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville for 34 years. Kitson only recently found out about the show and already wishes he had known about it sooner.
“It’s a wonderful conglomeration of people — such talent,” he said.
While more than willing to share one of his pieces, Kitson finds great enjoyment out of the songs sung by others at the open mic night. Never a singer himself, he marvels at the music that fills the halls of the studio.
Tyler Logan, president of ORCA, regularly performs on her guitar and ukulele at the show. She described the event as “raw” and “organic,” a chance for people to let loose and share their feelings.
“Open mic gives the opportunity to let people say what they want to say without pressure,” Logan said.
With the event approaching its third year, it is continuing to grow month after month. According to Roggenkamp, the first few iterations of the show gave each artists about 30 minutes to present, with many of them doing encores. Now, an upwards of nearly 20 people come each month, and is considered the longest ongoing open mic event in Titusville. Moving forward, he hopes to use the event to promote some of the artists there and find them larger venues to perform in. He hopes the open mic night can bring more art into the Titusville area, fighting back the idea that only larger cities have an art scene.
“In a small town, people always get the idea that they have to leave to become an artist,” he said. “There’s this idea of brain drain.”
ORCA’s open mic nights are held every fourth Friday each month, though a break is usually taken in December. It is free and open to the public. Savory Studios is located at 111 W. Central Ave.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.