Naked City Atlanta: Pleasuring the ear holes of friends and strangers alike

To attend a Naked City evening is to behold a platform marked by the likes of minds speeding from all directions towards a common point. Pieces presented during the evenings are ricochets if you will, rippling out from the month's theme and taking form in a slew of ways particular to each contributor. BANG! nabbed a two for one deal this month, and got to pluck the noggins of both Berny Clark and Gina Rickicki, hosts and founders of the "circus literati".

BANG! Would you say Naked City is maximizing on a reemphasis of literary appreciation or an effort to foster said appreciation?

Gina Rickicki I don’t see the two ideas as mutually exclusive, but as echoing and reinforcing each other.  We’re very lucky here (in Atlanta)  that we have people, old and young, hip and square, that are rediscovering or initially exploring the written word.  I think the desire to gather, to listen, to shout and be heard...this is very basic, primal stuff.  A lot of it has been lost in the shuffle the more we isolate ourselves with our gadgets and millions of ways to consume entertainment.  I think we’re a rowdy return to form, in a way, allowing people the space to explore and polish and rub elbows with other humans.  We’re building a space from the ground up that we want people to feel they own and can blast words into.

Berny Clark First off, let me say that you certainly pulled out a lot of Fifty dollar words for that question. Well done. Secondly, I don't think that “literary appreciation” has exactly been underground or anything. I think the proliferation of Literary events over the last couple of years is a reaction to the desire for stuff like this. Let's face it, the Literati-Poetica Set has always been sexy. People want to hear stories. They want to hear words being flung at them. Especially good ones. It makes them hot. What this rash of “Litertainment” events (I just made up that word. If anybody uses it I want credit) has really done is give the Atlanta writers and poets somewhere to be recognized. This has sort of galvanized into a community of sorts what is usually a fairly solitary and somewhat anti-social pursuit. We're just trying to exploit that for our own aggrandizement.

BANG! What kind of platform does Naked City provide that other literary hubs/event modules do not?

Berny Clark Well, we like to think of ourselves as opening the door for folks who otherwise haven't established themselves within the community, although we're kinda developing our own cult following of hardcore regulars. I suppose that makes us a community unto ourselves. What you'd call a clique. Yes, we're a clique, except we can't actually refuse to put you on stage if you sign up. So really, we're more like the YMCA. Yeah, we're the YMCA of Literary events.

Gina Rickicki We will throw candy at your heads. I say that with a smile, which you can’t see because I’m typing.  We want people to break down their ideas of what a literary event can be...and we jokingly do that with a bit of bribery an shucking/jiving.  We have themed prize bags, chances to play odd games, and we do throw candy.  There is space for the loud and the quiet.  No one is the audience is safe from spinning the wheel.   But that’s the raucous sugar on top of the written pieces or storytelling that people are bringing.  Ideally, we’ll have people doing whatever they like with their 5 minutes.  Have fun.  Own the stage.  Break our hearts or make us laugh; we want you to.

Here is a delightful example from writer/performer Chris Alonzo:


BANG! So, The Wheel of Consequences. How did that come about? Where did the consequences come from?

Berny Clark After we had decided to do a show but before we had decided what kind of show to do, we had a brainstorming session at a bar with a bunch of WriteClub alumni... Me, Gina, Nick Tecosky, Myke Johns, Topher Payne, Emily Philp, some other people whose identities I cannot remember because I was most likely drunk. Somebody pointed out that since we weren't doing a competitive format like WriteClub there were no consequences for failure and thusly no dramatic tension inherent to the show and somebody else said “What if we get a big, spinny wheel like in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and we write in a bunch of punishments on it and make people do them. We can call it The Wheel Of Consequences.” and everybody went “Ooooooooo, that's hilarious!” and we all laughed a bunch because we were drunk and we spent the rest of the evening making up horrible things to make people do if they had to spin the wheel which wasn't the MOST productive use of our time and we had to schedule a whole other meeting a week later to cover the stuff that we forgot to address. Also, we had our friend Charles Dillman at Oz Design Studios build it cuz he is to wood and PVC what most of us dream about being to words one day.

BANG! Writers and poets are a peculiar breed. How does the chemistry or contrast between contributors play out on a usual evening? Is there such a thing?

Gina Rickicki I think one of the wonderful things we’ve experienced is that we have some people who have become regular contributors, people who have never read in public previously (even though a couple of them have books out!).  We have people the run the gamut of experience, but we strive to create a place where they feel welcome and that their words are important. There is a lot of fun, but no real shit-talking. Everyone’s there for the same topic, and people have been terrifically kind and supportive to each other.  I feel incredibly protective of the people who choose to read with us, because it’s like laying your guts out to read your words in front of a room. We have personal essays, fiction, prose, poetry...however people find their voice.  I mean, we’re all pretty odd. Might as well have a party.

BANG! How did Naked City come into fruition?

Gina Rickicki It came out of talks with Write Club Atlanta’s Nick Tekosky, and his desire to bring to life some literary events that were truly Atlanta-based.  (WCA is from Chicago and licensed by overlord Ian Belknap). Nick, Berny, Myke Johns, Emily Philps, Topher Payne, and I all got together and threw around ideas over drinks.  This is when we were all housed at the old PushPush building, and running a series of Wednesday nights. There was WCA, Topher’s Syllabus, and Naked City.  It’s hard to believe, but we’ll be celebrating our one-year anniversary in July.

BANG! How do the themes for the gatherings get decided upon? They seem to be very open-ended, is that intentional?

Berny Clark Whim, mostly. Yes, it is intentional. But no, really, Gina and I handle all of our decision making pretty much the same way... consensus achieved through shouting.

BANG! Have you ever had to literally shut someone up for going way over the specified 5 minute interval?

Berny Clark It's 6 minutes. At 5 we make you spin the Wheel. At 6, we boo you off the stage. No. Every piece that has ever gone over time has been either sad or deeply personal and I'm a big softy. Also, since I control the timer and the audience can't see what it says, I cheat. No one has ever gone over 6 minutes by more than 5 seconds however, so don't test me. Fuck with me and I will break you!

BANG! Is there content that is a flat-out “no no” for this kind of literary event?

Gina Rickicki Well, it needs to be on topic. We welcome dark and light, and have had some pretty challenging stuff come across the mic.  However, if I see something akin to hate speech or someone manipulating the platform we offer for distinctly nefarious purposes, I will not fucking tolerate that. We have not had that issue, thankfully, but we have discussed it.  The line can be tough, but it’s also like porn: you know it when you see it.

BANG! What effects has Naked City had on the community?

Gina Rickicki We make people smile and get them high on candy.  Hopefully people are learning that we are a good time and that we want to meet them.

BANG! What demographic of participants would you like to see in future shows?

Berny Clark All of them. No, really. I would be ecstatic if our roster looked like a friggin' Benetton ad. We already run the age spectrum. We're starting to see more “Not White People” show up and do pieces. That's pretty awesome. We have been pretty male-centric, historically. I'd like to see that shift the other way too. The bottom line is that everybody has words in 'em. We want to hear 'em. Bring us your words. We are the place for everybody to having their words be thrusting into joyous earholes! Also, I'd like to see more homeless people show up and drop some poetry. It would give us street cred.

Ahh, sarcasm is alive and well. While Berny and Gina offer a grand account of Naked City and the roots of it's creation, true understanding can only be achieved in attending and perhaps participating in a show. Keep in touch with the wit and wonder at their facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/#!/NCAtlanta?fref=ts or the website :http://www.nakedcityatlanta.com/. You can also listen to their interveiw with AM1690 here.

-Miles Jenson