by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
ORONO — What do a guitar soloist, a stand-up comic, a clarinet soloist have in common? Well, for one thing, they entertained the audience, causing them to tap their toes, clap their hands and indulge in plenty of laughter.
The performers were among a half-dozen or so who volunteered to share their talents at the Orono Arts Cafe on Sept. 13 to support arts education in Orono schools.
The rules for performing at the Arts Cafe are simple: keep your act to no more than 10 minutes in length, and make sure that the act is appropriate for a family audience.
The Cafe is organized by the Orono Schools Coalition for the Arts, a group of parents and volunteers who work to support arts education in Orono schools, said Mary Bird, a coalition member. Last year proceeds from the Arts Cafe provided arts scholarships to 17 Orono students in grades three through 12.
Each week the lineup at the Arts Cafe provides a different mix of acts, Bird said, which may include jazz, folk, pop and classical music, comedy, dramatic spoken pieces and visual arts.
“The audience, sometimes small like tonight, sometimes [standing room only], is always warm and friendly, and loves spoken word pieces. For example, a college kid came in during the summer and did a Tennessee-Williams-ish dramatic monologue — you could have heard a pin drop during it, and by the end, almost everyone had been brought to tears. Or the very young girl who, with her jazzy upright bass, will one day knock Esperanza Spaulding off the charts. It’s always fascinating and full of surprises.”
Sept. 13, a very rainy night, was one of those times when participation and attendance was low, but the warmth of the audience and the enthusiastic attitude of the performers more than compensated for what was lacked in numbers.
OK, full disclosure: I was one of the performers that night. I volunteered to read a short story I had written. As a performer I signed in on the whiteboard when I arrived. Since the No. 1 spot was open, I grabbed that. By going first, I had less time to experience that dark nemesis of many performers, stage fright.
As people arrived, some filled plates with sandwiches, snacks and desserts provided by coalition members. Beverages also were available for purchase.
A group of teenagers claimed one of the tables, which were covered by white tablecloths, at the rear of the room. Others took seats with friends and family. The hall filled with the hum of voices.
Then, suddenly, it was showtime. Bird served as emcee, pulling notes about each act from her blues jeans pocket and displaying an enviable on-stage ease.
As soon as I was seated on stage in front of the microphone, my stage fright dissolved. I read my story, exited the stage and settled down at a table to enjoy the work of the other performers: Will St. Peter, jazz guitarist who used a looping device that, he said, enabled him to have a musical conversation with himself; The Agents of Whimsy, Emma Hennessy and her dad, Jack Hennessy, folk music; Curtis Voelker, scottish dance music on the mandolin; Natalie Smith, clarinet classical music; Eric Voelker and Jack Hennessy, retro hits, including “Under the Boardwalk,” which had the audience singing along; and Chris Pierce, stand-up comic, who launched into his act by pretending to bash himself in the head with the microphone when he removed it from its stand.
The Orono Arts Cafe takes place the second Friday of each month at the Keith Anderson Community House on Bennoch Road. The next session is set for Oct. 11. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $3. A plate of food costs $2. Performers do not have to be residents of Orono. For information, go to oronoarts.wordpress.com or call 866-2578.