If it were any other Saturday night, 146 Cross St. would be filled people. Multi-talented musicians, passionate poets, and daring comedians would squeeze into the house’s ground floor bedroom, ready to perform in front a small and intimate audience. Otherwise known as “Acoustic Bedroom,” Clara Babbott-Ward ’s ’20 open mic night was like no other, offering a unique opportunity for anyone and everyone to take to the stage. This month however, and in light of a global pandemic, the stage looked a little different. Rather than having more than 40 undergraduate students cram into their Wesleyan bedroom, Babbott-Ward welcomed a group of students and artists into a new and virtual performance space for what has now become “Acoustic Zoom.”
“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.”
It was this realization that inspired Babbott-Ward to start Acoustic Bedroom as they set about creating a space that was for sharing, being, and existing— not performing.
“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. Since its inception, it hasn’t been hard for interested students to get involved in the 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.
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.
“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.”
Yet, whether or not Acoustic Bedroom would exist outside of the walls of Babbott-Ward’s bedroom wasn’t always clear.
“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.”
However, the gaping hole that COVID-19 had left in Babbott-Ward’s final semester, pushed them to take the event online.
“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.
In the space of a few hours, students had shared powerful spoken word and slam poetry, stand up comedy had brought a smile to the faces on laptop screens, and talented musicians had captivated an online audience. And it all happened over at least three different time zones, two continents, and many miles apart from one another.
“The energy of everyone, at least for me, was totally flowing through the screen,” Babbott-Ward said.
Among the performers was singer-songwriter Lily Gitlitz ’23, who has regularly appeared at Acoustic Bedroom since she first began her time at 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.
“Something I love about Acoustic Bedroom or Acoustic Zoom 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, and where the very essence of normalcy has become a distant memory, Acoustic Bedroom is a true testimony to what it means to be part of a community like Wesleyan’s.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.