For many students, Thursday nights in Montreal are usually reserved for one of the city’s many cheap drinking options (dollar beer night anyone?). But, for the sake of branching out, the open mic night at L’Escalier proposes you try something different. L’Escalier is an unassuming cafe and bar conveniently located at 522 St-Catherine St. Est – 30 seconds away from the Berri UQAM metro. The venue is a cute conglomeration of several rooms – a couple with low tables and large throw pillows, and another with a bar and a smattering of wooden tables and chairs surrounding a small stage.
The night’s proceedings began around 9p.m., with the announcement of the event, “Dim Lights and Open Mics,” and the passing around of a notebook that became the set list for the evening. Organizationally, the evening is kind of haphazard and casual – which is probably the best aspect of the event. Anyone and everyone can speak – the guidelines are simple: “Share your artistic light,” be it in English or French, in the form of a poem, speech, or song.
Given that L’Escalier is in the Latin quarter near a French-speaking university, one might assume that the demographic would be primarily Francophone. However, the performances on September 29 proved that the patrons were about half and half. In addition, one performer (an obvious regular) gave a particularly moving performance, in both English and French, about acting upon your ideals as oppose to just preaching them. Not all of the performances touched on such issues of self-betterment, but they spanned a wide range of subject matters, from religion to feminism, from local and global politics to pop-culture.
On this particular evening, the performances were mostly spoken word – although the MC mentioned that there is often a musical component. One of the more interesting pieces included a series of poems referring to what the artist, Shayne aka “avec i grec”, called the “Anthropocalypse.” Mainly, the “Anthropocalypse” was a pop-culture satire of society’s infatuation with, and simultaneous inability to accept, the idea of dying and the concept of revelation. Kudos to the artist for the Gil Scott Heron reference – “the revelation will not be televangelized.” Indicating a sense of the spectrum of performers, another inspiring piece was a lecture given by a visual artist and musician on the importance of the arts in the Montreal school system, and the key role they play in keeping young students from dropping out of school.
At the beginning of the night, the MC made a point to present himself in both English and French, and invited everyone not only to participate, but also to appreciate one another. During performances people in the crowds snapped their fingers and clapped. Often, following a performance, artists further discussed the topic of their performance with other performers or people in the crowd. The wonderful thing about this kind of environment is not only its diversity, but also its celebration of this diversity.
In Montreal, we are so often bombarded with a variety of differing languages and opinions. It’s rare to find a space to enjoyably experience this variety while simultaneously focusing on the importance of having different opinions. The importance of events like open mic night in this city’s cultural geography should not be undercut. When people talk about language debates and cultural issues in Montreal, there is usually an undertone of discomfort, or a bitter reference to a past referendum or language law. At L’Escalier, however, no bitterness exists, only open discussion. One can only hope that through events like open mic Thursdays at L’Escalier, discussions will only grow broader, and acceptance of linguistic and cultural differences become more widespread.