An open mic night ends, and an audience braces for change

By Raquel Hecker

The art stars lined up on the small stage upstairs at Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction this Sunday to sign up for their six minutes on stage one last time. After 678 performances over 13 years, Faceboyz Open Mic Night is closing, because Mo Pitkin’s, home for many downtown artists for the past two years, is shutting its doors due to financial hardship. There are mixed feelings among the regulars: poets, comedians, performance artists, and musicians who call themselves art stars, a term co-opted from Andy Warhol by performance artist Reverend Jen Miller, whose weekly Anti-Slam at Mo’s is also ending. Although some are sad to lose the night where, in Reverend Jen’s words, “it’s okay to be boring, it’s okay to be psychotic, it’s okay to get naked and not look that great, it’s okay to do so many things and not do them well,” others are ready to move on, especially Faceboy and Reverend Jen.

Sporting her trademark elf ears and holding her Chihuahua, Reverend Jen sat on a stool at the final Faceboyz Open Mic. “I had bad allergies all day — I think it’s because I want to cry, but I’m not.” She started her six minutes recalling her post-art school days as an aspiring painter working in an art gallery. Too broke to buy paint and disillusioned by the “boringness” of the art scene, she stumbled upon Faceboyz Open Mic. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, this is where art went!’ ” She then started the Anti-Slam and after 12 years of moving from venue to venue, she finally settled down at Mo’s. But now that it’s closing, she has no plans of continuing her weekly show. “I’ve always been eccentric,” she said, “but this has been my first year dealing with a mental disorder. I knew one was coming!” After a week of feeling too terrified to get out of bed, she came to the realization, “I came here to be a painter, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Francis “Faceboy” Hall, a poet, performer, and Greenwich Village native, is also ready for the change. His moniker started as a childhood taunt from his older brother, John S. Hall, now the lead singer of the avant-garde band King Missile. Faceboy started his open mic as a tribute to Quahah, an artist from the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico who saved his father’s life when he had spinal meningitis. In honor of her traditions, he adopted the Native American talking stick ritual and welcomed all artists at his open mic to freely express themselves, as long as they held the stick/microphone.

For the past nine weeks, however, Faceboy has also been producing spoken word poet Polly Pollack’s open mic night at the East Village’s Karma Lounge. “I’m happy to do it as a producer without the pressures of hosting,” he said, dressed in a t-shirt that said “Ass” and a rhinestone Faceboy belt. He is also ready for someone else to pick up where he left off. “It would make me happy to see it as a continuation. I don’t see it as the beginning of an end.”

Spectators Francis James and a man who calls himself O’Ryan 0.62, two fans in their 50’s who have both been coming to Faceboyz and Reverend Jen’s shows for the past two years, kept a running commentary on the night. When the young, lovely Lady C came on stage to paint small canvases with her vagina, their conversation grew heated.

“She should take her work to an art gallery,” said James, standing on his seat for a better view.

“I wouldn’t pay a cent for it!” rebuffed O’Ryan 0.62.

“There’s a long tradition of women who did this in the ’70s like Judy Chicago. It’s post-feminist!” said James.

“Whoever gives a fuck about this, I spit on their culture,” said O’Ryan 0.62.

Both will attend Pollack’s open mic at Karma, and they seemed excited when comedienne Stephanie Sabelli announced that she too will start an open mic night. She is still negotiating a contract, but it’s likely to take place on Sunday nights at Under St. Marks theater in the East Village.

Other regular performers came to grips with their loss during their act. After an energetic rap, a bewigged Bert Napkins held a PBR in one hand and threw Viagra into the audience with the other, imploring them not to stop performing even though the Faceboyz show was ending. “Don’t stop because you have no choice. You aren’t going to be a lawyer, you aren’t going to sell carpet.”

Afterward, Janice Erlbaum, author of “Girlbomb,” recalled when she first walked into Faceboyz Open Mic in 1999. She had just had her second abortion and lost her job. Lonely and longing for an accepting family, she finally found one — along with a new direction in life. “I’ve always been a writer, but Faceboy launched my career as an honest person.” Now that it’s ending, “it fucking sucks,” said Erlbaum. “I hope it’s great for them [Jen and Faceboy] because we’ll definitely be losing something.”

Faceboyz producer Robert Pritchard takes a practical view. “It’s ultimately a real estate issue,” said Pritchard. “Manhattan is pricing its artists out of home and venue. Twenty years from now,” he predicts, “People are going to look around and say, ‘Why is this boring?’ Manhattan is a playground for yuppies, tourists and college students. Do they care about the art stars?”

Pritchard obviously still does. While the open mics cease in Manhattan, he plans to open Queensbridge, a community center by day and performance venue by night, in Long Island City next year to carry on the tradition of the art stars. As Faceboy said in his final show, “Each art star is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.”

Mo Pitkins will host a closing night party Oct. 21 at 8 pm, 34 Ave. A, 212-777-5660, mopitkins.com.