If it were any other Saturday night, 146 Cross St. would be filled with multi-talented musicians, passionate poets, and those who appreciate all kinds of creative expression. Clara Babbott-Ward ’20 would be hosting another open mic night, known as “Acoustic Bedroom,” in their own Wesleyan bedroom. This month, rather than having more than 40 undergraduate students crammed into Babbott-Ward’s room—furnished with bean bags, old audition posters, and a fake owl—a talented and supportive group of students gathered in a new virtual space, courtesy of Zoom, for a few hours of celebrating their peers’ creativity.
“I came into senior year with a big smile on my face and high hopes in my chest…but I still was feeling a pit in my stomach,” Babbott-Ward told The Argus. “I realized it was because I was experiencing a staggering lack of connection. I knew there were so many wonderful people on this campus, but I realized that we generally exist in relation to each other in more performative ways than we’d like to admit.”
This newfound realization inspired Babbott-Ward to start Acoustic Bedroom, or what has now become Acoustic Zoom, a unique space that is for sharing, being, and existing, not performing. In fact, this focus on simply existing is rooted in the event’s very name.
“I chose that it was acoustic because the word acoustic means without amplification, in other words a natural sound, just existing as we are,” Babbott-Ward explained. “There are many places to showcase ourselves on campus, but often there is a hulking ‘performer’ vs. ‘audience’ barrier. I realized my mission: to break this silly barrier by creating a space that has as little judgment as possible, a place where you can connect with people, and a place where you can just be as you are.”
Acoustic Bedroom provides a safe, diverse, and collaborative environment where members of the Wesleyan community can share whatever skill they have. It can be singing, reciting a favorite poem, or even, like this month’s installment showcased, reading the Wikipedia-given description of toast and having audience members take a drink every time the word toast was mentioned.
Since its inception, it hasn’t been hard to get involved in the event. According to Babbott-Ward, there are five easy steps that lay the foundation for putting on this monthly event.
“I post an event in the Wes Facebook groups, I eagerly count down the days, I rearrange my bedroom, people sign up on the sheet on the porch—I have kept every single sign up sheet—I dim the lights, we sometimes play a counting game to get everyone on the same page, and we get rolling!” Babbott-Ward said.
What follows next? Well, that is where the beauty of Acoustic Bedroom lies. At the last event, Anna Tjeltveit ’23 offered a wonderfully original rendition of The Sound of Music’s “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” complete with coronavirus-inspired lyrics in this month’s showcase.
“I’ve found playing music super therapeutic right now and it’s so wonderful to have a space to showcase what I’ve been enjoying singing and to hear the gift of other people’s music,” Tjeltveit said. “It creates such a strong feeling of community and connection.”
The possibility of an Acoustic Bedroom existing outside of the walls of Babbott-Ward’s bedroom was initially unclear.
“Honestly, I was really apprehensive of bringing a space that thrived on warm in-person connection to a cold, distant, virtual space,” Babbott-Ward said. “I thought it would dehumanize it.”
But Babbott-Ward knew that something was needed to fill the void left after having their final semester at college abruptly cut short.
“I was feeling incredibly empty and was really craving the goofy vibes of Acoustic Bedroom, and figured it was worth a shot to try to be as together as possible again,” Babbott-Ward said. “The energy of everyone, at least for me, was totally flowing through the screen.”
In the space of a few hours, students shared incredibly powerful spoken word and slam poetry, stand up comedy brought a smile to all the faces on laptop screens, and talented musicians captivated virtual audiences with distinctively crafted original songs. And it all happened over at least three different time zones, two continents, and many miles apart from one another.
Among the performers was singer-songwriter Lily Gitlitz ’23, who has regularly appeared at Acoustic Bedroom since she came to Wesleyan.
“Acoustic Bedroom instantly created a community of artists, friends, supporters, and collaborators,” Gitlitz said. “It was one of the highlights of each month at Wes. I am so grateful that Clara has continued it over Zoom, as it has retained its same beauty, humanity, and silliness despite being on the screen.”
While most campus activities have come to a sudden end amidst the coronavirus outbreak, not even a global pandemic was going to stop Wesleyan’s eclectic artistic community from coming together as a positive force in a variety of innovative ways.
“Something I love about Acoustic Bedroom or Acoustic Zoom Room is that people bring variability to it,” Babbott-Ward explained. “It is so unpredictable. One moment, someone could sing a lovely Taylor Swift cover, then someone is demonstrating dog tricks, then someone is telling a childhood story, then someone is acting out various mating habits in the animal kingdom with volunteers, and then someone is crushing some soul-bending slam poetry. Recently, someone shared a pole dancing video…everyone freaking rocks.”
At a time where almost nothing is certain and everything is unknown, where each day brings with it a new headline that tells a story of suffering or death, and where the very essence of normalcy has become a distant memory, this is also the time to pause and unite under a common love of whatever it means to be a creative.
“I realized it is not necessarily about where we are, but just about how we are,” Babbott-Ward said. “I never thought I’d say it, but it turns out you can be present with each other thousands of miles away.”
Tiah Shepherd can be reached at email@example.com.