In January 2014, about 25 people met on the terrace of Shaun D’Souza’s house in Bengaluru. Shaun and Tim Lo Surdo, an Australian citizen, had teamed up for a poetry slam which got cancelled. Deciding not to let their practice go in vain, they called their friends together with Shaun’s terrace as the venue. Two years later, that gathering of friends and friends of friends has mushroomed into a pan-India open-mic platform: Open Sky.
Shaun's first performance at the first Open Sky event held at his terrace.
Open Sky is a platform where slam poets, musicians, comedians and dancers register and assemble once a month to perform for an appreciative audience.
Shruthi Mohan, a 22-year-old journalist in Bengaluru, says that for a long time, Open Sky was just a group of friends meeting every month to showcase their creativity. “I noticed how the group had so much potential and convinced them to use social media to make this platform more consolidated and popular. And it did work!” she says. A classical dancer and musician who became a part of the Open Sky community at the third event in Bengaluru.
Since those baby steps, Open Sky has found home at cafes and co-working spaces in Chennai, Mumbai, Calicut, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad and even Australia. Different chapters have their own rules on registration fee and can depend on specific events. Shruthi head the India chapter as a whole, while Shaun heads it in Australia.
Most performers are slam poets and budding musicians in their late teens or working professionals in their early 20s. “But we’ve had a few older persons performing too. At one event, a 59-year-old woman approached us right at the end and said she wanted to perform. She read out some mesmerizing Tamil poetry,” says 19-year-old Prem Sylvester, who coordinates the Chennai chapter.
A teacher perfromed at one of Open Sky's events in Calicut.
This happens often at their events. “Many people are shy or nervous the first time, even if they’ve registered. But once they’ve watched the first event, they often come back more confident.”
Things are a little different at the Australian chapter. Shaun, who’s studying Masters in Criminology at a Bond University in Queensland, says that Australian performers touch more upon romance and politics than their Indian counterparts, but a chunk of their concerns remain the same. “Like drugs, sex and teenage mental health. But they are more diverse in terms of style and writing, maybe because in English is a first language here and poetry is more 'explored' as an art form in Australia,” he says.
Prem says they use social media to attract both performers and audience. Two weeks before the event, they create an event page inviting performers.
A glimpse of the events Open Sky organises
For this event held through in September and October, performers will be charged a fee of Rs 100 and proceeds will go to their partner NGO LonePack, which works on spreading awareness about mental health issues.
At the heart of Open Sky is “letting people express themselves in an environment that’s conducive and an audience that’s appreciative,” Prem says.
“Our first event on Shaun’s terrace was right under the open sky, with no boundaries for who could perform and how. Since then that name sort of stuck and now stands for what we want to do,” smiles Shruti.