Barking Legs hosts monthly “amped up” variety showcase
Open mic nights can generate a wide range of reactions, from eagerness to be the first to hear a brilliant, undiscovered talent or, “Oh no, it’s open mic night? I just want to eat my burger in peace.” Then there’s the showcase The Floor Is Yours held on the first Friday of every month at Barking Legs Theater.
“The Floor Is Yours is an amped up version of a variety show,” said Erika Blackmon, one of the event’s hosts.
With three rotating sets of hosts, the event stands apart from typical open-mic events by spotlighting a wide assortment of performing arts—including music, dance, comedy, poetry readings and drama—using a format that allows the evening to flow briskly.
“When we host, we try to keep it as professional as we possibly can,” said actor and Pulse contributor Steven Disbrow, who co-hosts with his “non-sexual life-partner” and First Draft Productions collaborator Kevin Bartolomucci. “Keep it light. Keep it funny. Respect the acts, and keep it moving.”
At The Floor Is Yours, each act is limited to eight minutes, and new talent is given preference over regulars, to keep things fresh.
This format upholds the method originally established by Angela Sweet for the series “Wide Open Floor,” under the leadership of Marcus Ellsworth, before that showcase’s name was shelved.
“I made the call to reinstate the tradition of the show under a new brand name when I saw the outcry from the community around the show that it must continue,” said Ellsworth, who is the producer and occasional host of The Floor Is Yours and who hand-picked its roster of hosts.
“Kevin and Steven have drawn in more comedians and run a tight show that packs a punch,” said Ellsworth. “Garrell Woods has definitely opened us up to younger performers, and his shows have a more theatrical flair.”
“Erika Blackmon, who I often co-host with, brings a mellow soulful sensuality to her shows coupled with genuine excitement and has attracted a whole new group of spoken word artists,” said Ellsworth. “Because of them, the shows have even greater variety and possibilities than it ever did before.”
“Before you can perform, you have to attend at least one previous performance of the show,” said Disbrow, about its “semi-curated” format. “Then you have to sign up. After that, anything goes. We don’t censor. We don’t judge. Though, we do put self-identified ‘adult’ acts in the second half of the show.”
“The Floor Is Yours pushes the envelope always,” said Blackmon. “Adult subjects approached in a creative way.”
“This is the one place in Chattanooga where we invite artists to come and perform with so little hindrance,” said Ellsworth. “We have no requirements.”
“Here, it’s okay to try out a new piece or even an entirely new art form,” said Ellsworth. “We invite unfinished works and improvised performance. We cultivate collaboration. We denounce competition. We build community.”
While The Floor Is Yours can cover both the serious—such as political issues or personal struggles—and the absurd, such types of offerings aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
For example, Ellsworth recalled one memorable performance by Bartolomucci and Disbrow, entitled “Ask a White Guy.”
“They invited the audience, which was mostly black folks that night, to ask them any questions they had for white people in general,” said Ellsworth. “It ranged from funny banter about music and art to serious questions about privilege and systemic racism.”
When discussing The Floor Is Yours with its hosts, two things become apparent: Chattanooga has no lack of talent, and people will surprise you if you let them.
“Everyone has something to offer the world,” said Ellsworth. “And when we intentionally open a space for all people to come and express themselves with as few restrictions as possible, people will show you the most wonderful and powerful parts of their souls.”
“The people of this town are crazy talented and ambitious,” said Disbrow.
“I have laughed, cried, been disgusted, stood in awe, faced fears, and found truths I didn’t know I was looking for with a mix of friends and strangers that no other experience could ever offer,” said Ellsworth.
If there is an unspoken theme of The Floor Is Yours, it’s about challenges: being challenged by the unfamiliar, and everybody challenging themselves in some way.
“Ninety percent of the time, we have no idea what we’ll be doing when we hit the stage,” said Disbrow, about the times when he and Bartolomucci are performing.
For Ellsworth, his favorite aspect of The Floor Is Yours is how it carries “the promise of an evening unlike any that have come before or any that shall follow.”
“It’s standing at the cliff’s edge and knowing you’re about to watch people fly,” said Ellsworth.