By Kassidy Veraska
It’s Saturday night and a group of students are beginning to gather in a dimly lit theater with the aroma of coffee and baked goods settling around them. They are all welcoming the opportunity to escape from the pressures of the school week. “The Venue gives me an opportunity to perform other talents that not everyone sees on a daily basis,” said Caden Crawford, the Venue MC. “It takes away the daily stress of school throughout the week. You just get to hang out with friends and perform.”
The Venue is a college-based coffeehouse event that is inspired by the coffee houses of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s a place where people can go and perform original work and get onstage experience. People are also encouraged just to come and hang out. Performing is not required. The Venue takes place in the Jean Browne Theater in the Wise Cultural Arts building.
Opportunities like this are limited in Tyler. Most places that allow amateur performers to play often have to pre-approve the material before the performers are allowed to step into the spotlight.
The Venue started in 2005 when Green Acres College Ministry gave Dr. David Crawford, TJC Theater Professor, and the Theater Department the opportunity to start something new on campus. The idea behind this was to give the students who were bound to their dorm room during the weekend some entertainment.
“For a number of years, I had wanted to do something different for a late night, weekend activity for college kids who were stuck on campus,” said Dr. Crawford. “I was one of those kids stuck on campus when I was in college. I had no money whatsoever, no transportation, I was miles and miles away from home and there was nothing to do….those were the worst times.”
So finally, after some brainstorming, The Venue was born.
The idea was to have a coffee house that any student could attend that featured free entertainment, free baked goods and free coffee. “Free” being the key word in all of this. Green Acres picks up the bill for all the food at The Venue, leaving the students free to enjoy themselves without worrying about money.
The very first Venue was on Sept. 10, 2005. It is nearing its sixth year and the numbers are growing. The largest Venue to date had around 115 people in attendance this past Christmas.
The main attraction of the event is that everyone is welcome. For new students arriving on campus, sometimes it is difficult to merge with a new crowd. The Venue gives students an opportunity to meet and connect with new people with similar interests.
“There’s somewhere on campus that you can go where people are warm and friendly and they’re eager to be your friend. Nobody expects anything in return,” said Dr. Crawford.
The Venue is mainly college-based but other young adults are encouraged to come as well. It is a laid-back environment with only a few rules including: no drinking or eating in the theater, no set lasting longer than five minutes, no vulgarity or profanity on stage, no feet on the seats and no offensive comments. Also, all musical performances must be unplugged for time purposes.
Each student is encouraged to feature their talents whether it be singing, playing an instrument, performing a monologue, reading poetry, dancing, performing stand-up or any other talent.
“It honestly really is an outlet for people who may or may not have talent but want the experience of performing in front of others,” said Matt Craft, a TJC sophomore.
Experience is what many of these young students are craving. Even just five minutes on stage in front of their peers gives them a chance to see if performing is right for them.
“The audience is so responsive in a positive way, whether it was good or bad,” Craft said. “It helps the performer realize if that’s what they want to do or not in the future.”
Coffeehouses are actually where many famous entertainers learned and polished their craft. Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens both played at coffeehouses at the beginning of their careers. Bob Dylan got a lot of his early onstage experience at the 10 O’clock Scholar coffeehouse which was located a couple of blocks away from the University of Minnesota. This environment allows performers to test new material in front of an accepting crowd and use this time to experiment with their talents.
“I want the spirit of The Venue to celebrate originality, original thought and original work,” said Dr. Crawford. “I don’t want to hear just other people’s stuff. I want to hear original work….There’s no competition here. Just get up there and share your stuff.”
The upcoming dates of The Venue are Oct. 16, Oct. 30 and Dec. 4. They are held in the Jean Browne Theater in the Wise Culture Arts building from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. The students can sign up on Dr. Crawford’s door the week before the event or online via the facebook page for the TJC Venue. There are generally about 20 spots per Venue, so students are encouraged to sign up.