By Kathleen Morris
Take a minute and imagine American Idol, but instead of there being three celebrities there’s a room of people. Would that be scary? Well, imagine still that no one is judging you. In fact, everyone is rooting for you to do your best. Does a place like that exist?
There just so happens to be a place right here in Springfield where that really does happen. Every last Wednesday of the month up until April, students from all over can take the stage to share their art and speak their minds, whether it be through music, dancing, poetry or even stand up comedy. Whether you feel a pull to go on stage and perform, or would rather sit back and cheer, Ign!te the M!c offers the chance for you to have a great night. It’s an event that has roots reaching back more than a decade, and you have the opportunity to join in on the action.
This event is a partnership between the Bing Art Center, Teatro V!da, and Springfield College’s Multicultural Affairs office. Teatro V!da is an organization that was founded with the intent to build up young people. True to its name, Teatro V!da (whose tag line is “The Other TV”) gives young people an alternative space where they can create their own reality. This self-directed atmosphere can be seen during Ign!te the M!c, where young people are the ones taking the lead. Magdalena Gómez, a renowned poet and co-founder of Teatro V!da started Ign!te the M!c back in 2006. She credited her own first open mic experience as being her source of inspiration, saying that the audience had given her so much encouragement that she became hooked. Gómez asserts that from it she “learned to understand the power of the arts for social change and self-determination.”
How did Springfield College get involved? Felicia Lundquist, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, played a large part in orchestrating the partnership. According to Lundquist, when she joined the Springfield College community in January of last year she “began to build genuine relationships with these organizations.” She already was in contact with Gómez, who is also a board member of the Bing Arts Center, and it blossomed from there.
Lundquist said, “I enjoy working with students, including underrepresented students and emerging leaders to make intentional decisions about their involvement, both in and out of the classroom.”
She considers this to be some of the most important work that she’s done because they are then able to shed light on issues that impact them and the community as a whole. And with all that’s going on in the world, it seems that being able to voice one’s opinions is more important than ever. Where better to do that than at Ign!te the M!c?
As previously mentioned, a large emphasis is put on making sure that this event is run by the students. For example, the people who have hosted this open mic event have been actual students, such as Francheska Morales, a student at UMass and alumni member, Andrew Torres, a UMass doctoral student, and Susan Suy, a sophomore here at Springfield College. Many other students have also taken part in other roles as well.
According to Gómez, these students have all worked hard to make sure that it remains a “non-competitive, loving and encouraging space, where all young people, all languages and all performance genres are welcomed.”
The importance of Ign!te the M!c being a space for students to freely express themselves cannot be stressed enough. Suy, who has been hosting the event since this past September, touched on this point when giving her own thoughts on the event. She said she enjoys getting to “see everyone express themselves and grow,” and she added that she hopes people can know that “this is a safe space for them to share their art.”
Angela Haynes, a freshman here at Springfield College, has seen this firsthand. Although describing herself as being very shy, she decided to join Ign!te the M!c to express herself and show off her creative side. From doing so she says she has learned that her voice matters, as shown by all the support and positive feedback she’s given whenever she takes to the stage.
When asked about the most memorable performance she ever witnessed on stage, she told an amazing story of a friend of hers who got the chance to sing. Although she was scared to do so, as Haynes put it, “the whole audience encouraged her up to the stage, and she had a friend hold her hand while she sung her song.” Haynes continued to describe it as one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen, saying, “the support she received not only from the girl who held her hand while she sang, but just how the whole audience encouraged her and made her feel special. Of course she killed it.”
That experience is not some fluke or one time thing. Ign!te the M!c is always full of stellar performances and touching moments. It’s a talent show where everyone wins, and every voice matters. If that sounds like a good way to pass a Wednesday night, there’s a van at the college that picks up students at Abbey Circle at 6:15 p.m. to bring them. Why not make it a point to go? Once there you can grab a seat, enjoy tasty snacks, and watch your fellow classmates and friends perform. And maybe that just might move you to go on stage and share some of your own talent. Sign ups to perform start at 6:45 p.m. and you can sign up at any point during the show. As it’s been shown, you don’t have to be a seasoned pro to perform. Anyone and everyone is welcomed to share their work! So why not shake up your Wednesday and ignite the mic?