The annual Kaleidoscope Festival celebrates diversity, inclusion and unique abilities. Musician Simon Scott tells us more about the popular monthly Open Mic Night which exemplifies that ethos.
Founded in 2017, Kaleidoscope Festival sees a host of activities and events – including a parade – taking place over an extended festival week, predominately organised to appeal to people with a disability but open to all.
Communities manager Nicola Haigh created the first open mic in 2018, and then approached Simon Scott – a musician and activity leader with Chester’s Special Needs Care – to co-host it with Dark Arc, a band formed by service users at the Abbey Square-based organisation.
That first session quickly turned into a monthly event which takes place on the third Thursday of each month in the Garret theatre. “It started as an opportunity to perform music, although we never tagged it as that,” Simon explains.
“I’ve run open mic nights in the past, and always used to start the night by saying ‘this is your safe space to perform on a platform and do whatever you want – poetry, some juggling, anything you want’.”
So, have they had any juggling? “Not yet!” he laughs. “That could be good actually. We’ve had saxophonists, and we’ve had a lot of really successful poetry. We had a girl expressing how she feels about being unique and it was very moving.
“We have really joyous moments and then we have reflective moments where people can support each other and listen.” While the open mic was started as a place people could get up to showcase and celebrate their talent, it has also become a very important social event for the 60 to 70 people, many of them regulars, who tend to turn up at each busy evening.
“Performance is so important, but the audience is just as important – getting involved, singing along, listening,” Simon smiles. “The greatest moments for me are when I’m hosting it, I’ve just announced the acts, and someone is singing Abba – I turn away and look and everyone is dancing and is completely in the moment and you see how free they are. It’s wonderful to see.”
Like many other community events at Storyhouse, the in-person open mic nights were halted at the start of the first Coronavirus lockdown in March 2020.
And although Simon, who also works in residential settings, found he was able to continue to create music with individuals or small groups, it proved more difficult to sustain the open mic itself. He says: “I did toy with the idea of doing an open mic, but I think 30 Zoom participants would have been pretty difficult.”
The night finally restarted at Storyhouse last September after an 18-month gap, and has proved so successful that a second afternoon open mic event has been added. Simon also has ambitions to broaden the initiative to include songwriting and recording, and he would love to offer the same opportunities to younger people too – both through a Kaleidoscope children’s open mic and a separate children’s open mic night.
“It’s diverse and it enriches lives,” he says of the Kaleidoscope event. “That’s what I believe these sessions should be about – somewhere you can express yourself in a free environment, where you can interact with each other, and it doesn’t depend on your background or ability.
“And I believe everyone has so many unique abilities.”
Kaleidoscope Open Mic Night takes place on the third Thursday of the month.
The Daytime Edition is held on the last Wednesday of each month.
Tickets are free.