Revamped Wide Open Floor format challenges and supports
Marcus Ellsworth commands attention the moment he walks into a room. He is not bombastic or over-the-top, but when he steps forward and speaks, you listen. It’s a talent that has become his passion, sharing his thoughts through spoken word poetry.
He has a wonderful softness and ease of character that often works in direct opposition to the material he presents in his art form, making him both him enigmatic and memorable. His delivery is confident, clear and direct, and has a warmth that instantly draws his audience to him.
“Off the stage, I am so shy,” Ellsworth says with a chuckle. This seems strange coming from a person who so often stands in front of audiences, including the monthly Wide Open Floor event at Barking Legs Theater, which he hosts. Created in 2011 by Angela Sweet, Wide Open Floor has played host to any and all artists looking for a home to share their art with a willing and receptive audience.
“I loved it so much,” says Ellsworth, “I loved the feel of it, the freedom of it, because it was an uncensored show.” He says that, as a spoken-word artist, he found that he was often asked by other venues to shy away from topics that were too political or controversial, which strangled his performance, or was not able to secure gigs at all. But at Wide Open Floor, Ellsworth says, “it was this feeling of ‘You can say and do whatever,’ and in a supportive atmosphere. If you have something to express, express it.”
He says that Wide Open Floor felt like a safe space to open up and share art, “because you knew you weren’t going to be criticized for it. And if you got feedback, you were getting feedback from mostly other artists, so it’s also really helpful.” Ellsworth believes that this is one of the great draws of Wide Open Floor: a chance to connect with other artists, both in similar and alternative mediums.
Wide Open Floor returned in November, after a hiatus due to the remodeling of Barking Legs, during which time Ellsworth, Sweet and Derek Williams began discussing new directions for Wide Open Floor, and decided that continuing to grow the sense of community would be an important part. The revamped show is shorter, with only 10 performances, the theme of each month’s show creating minor challenges for the artists to work around, such as bare bones technology or a single, unmoving spotlight. The idea has always been to offer a space for artists to take risks and showcase their work and, Ellsworth says, “We still want that sense of openness; anything can come through the door; anything can happen, but we want to focus in this iteration more on challenging the artists.” In creating these small obstacles, the artists are challenged to “Be creative! It’s the nature of what we all do,” he says, “and if some of those elements pose a challenge for you and you feel like you don’t have a skill set of your own, reach out to one of the other artists who are floating around the show.”
In the spirit of that collaboration and sense of community, the shortened time frame also allows for a “talk-back” with the audience at the end of the show. This is a time for artists to answer questions about their art and inspirations, as well as an opportunity for more people to connect. “One of the things that’s been happening sort of unintentionally and what we want to happen, is that we have artists meeting each other and talking about the work and collaborating. So, now we can provide a space and a time for people to actively do that,” he says.
Ellsworth is proud of the community that Wide Open Floor has built and says they are like family, but they are always excited to welcome new faces into the fold, whether as performers or audience members. “We are a collective,” he says, and now that Barking Legs has reopened and Wide Open Floor is back, “It’s so good to be home.”
Wide Open Floor is the first Friday of every month at 8 p.m. at Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave. Admission is $5 and there are concessions at the venue.
The next Wide Open Floor event is Dec. 5. barkinglegs.org