Verbal Assault

Verbal Assault open mike at the Soundry in Vienna

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Friday. At 5 p.m. The work week -- and all the stress that comes with deadlines, bosses and co-workers -- ends for at least 64 hours. What better way to ease into the weekend than by venting your spleen or sharing your creative side with 40 of your closest friends -- whom you've never met?

That's what Verbal Assault at the Soundry in Vienna is.

"We always call it an 'anything goes' open mike," co-owner Jennifer Crawford-Berglie says. "We clap at everything."

Which is why every Friday night about 40 people, ranging in age from teens to 30-somethings, gather at the Soundry for Verbal Assault, a unique open-mike night. Some come simply to listen to the diverse offerings, but most come to get their 10 minutes of fame. The basic premise is this: Those who want to be onstage get no more than 10 minutes to do whatever they want. With such openness, the acts range from poetry to stand-up to music, with plenty of drama and political odes with the occasional rant thrown in.

The Soundry, which opened in December, has a vibe that welcomes all genres. The inside of the former auto body shop has been painted bright colors and transformed into an artists' playground with a coffee shop, rehearsal room, studio and performing area. Its location -- tucked amid other shops along an industrial road -- is perfect for after-business-hours noise-making.

On a recent Friday night, Fort Washington's Michael Smith took the stage to try out his comedy routine. A trolley tour guide by day, Smith has been working on his jokes at open-mike nights for more than five years.

"You know who gives me hope?" Smith begins. "Cartoon super villains."

Smith values villains' never-give-up attitude in spite of repeated failures. It goes without saying that this attitude is vital to surviving life as a tour guide -- or an office worker -- and earns an easy laugh from the audience.

Although Smith kept his act PG, the anything-goes attitude opens up the evening to cursing and some R-rated jokes and poetry. Still, the atmosphere is comfortable.

"If you excise the vulgarity, it was like a church talent show," said comedian Graham Currin, who also performed.

For novice performers the Soundry is an ideal place to polish an act or simply have some fun in front of an audience. By day Eve Speer is a professor, but on Friday nights she travels from Springfield to read her creative writings. On a recent Friday night she performed an ode to Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused."

For Speer, being surrounded by other novices is the best part of the evening: "People aren't ashamed to say 'I have a day job. . . . I do this because I love it.' "

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