Speakeasy Co-Host Isabel Oliveres

Her Campus
January 25, 2012

"Poetry, prose, everything goes" is the motto that Isa Oliveres has taken on this semester as a co-host for Penn’s Speakeasy. Helping run this open mic night at the Kelly Writers House means that this lucky lady spends the second Wednesday of each month listening to both Penn and Philadelphia's bravest recite poetry, rap, play music, crack jokes, and even puppeteer. Not only does she get to uncover Penn’s hidden talents, but she also has been known to share some of her own original writing too. Like that wasn’t enough to get people excited about speakeasy, she always makes sure there’s delicious food and awesome raffle prizes at these events. But in a city like Philadelphia, you can’t keep a girl like Isa away from the off-campus art scene. Her Campus UPenn caught up with this College sophomore to talk about the ways she is involved with the arts on and off Penn’s grounds.

What is Speakeasy?
Speakeasy is basically an open mic night at the Kelly Writers House. It started in 1997 so it’s been around for a while, I guess 15 years this year, which is kind of crazy. It’s a space where anyone—both Penn and nonPenn people- can come and share any form of creative expression. People assume it's just poetry and creative writing but it’s not. Our slogan is "Poetry Prose Everything goes" ...we've had stand up comedy and singer songwriters. It's just a space where people can share what they like to do in a non-judgmental supportive environment at the Writers House, which is a great place to be.

What is your role in Speakeasy?
I'm a co-host and co-coordinator. I just started this month-which is exciting-and we're working out the kinks. During the month leading up to the Speakeasy we plan the structure... [of the event]. If there's special food that we want we can ask the Writers House to make that. I also get to go with my co-host to the Second Mile thrift store and just buy a ton of cheap ridiculous presents that we raffle off during Speakeasy.

So you always have food?
Oh yeah. You can come to eat and just watch people. And it’s perfectly acceptable. One of my friends did that last time.

What kind of presents do you raffle off?
So last time we had the Friends soundtrack on CD, a faux porcelain black unicorn, and then some lady apparently gave away all her church hats. We bought two of those.

Is Speakeasy something that everyone can appreciate?
I think so because there really is something for everyone. If you're really into poetry there are definitely some sick poets that go to Penn. What's awesome is that more than a third that go are not students. There are sometimes Penn alumni like 50-year-old guys—who are writers—show up and read an essay. There's definitely something for everyone. It's more like you can appreciate the vibe that's there.

How is it having people not associated with Penn come in?
It's great. I think what makes the Writers House so special is the fact Al Filreis always says that "it’s the one building at Penn that you don't need a Penn card to get in." So it's meant to be more than just the center of writing at Penn, it's a center of writing for Philadelphia at large. So it's great to be able to share that. It's so exciting. People are there because they want to listen to other people and the cool stuff they come up with.

So, what has been your favorite performance?
Puppet Master is this Lady who always gets to Speak Easy a half hour early, she always signs up as the third performer, she has this little Ken doll and she dresses him up like a rockstar with a keytar and she always picks an 80's hair-band rock song and she gets up and makes the puppet dance to the song and kind of mouths the words and sings a little of the backup. But there have been some really good Spoken Word. A lot of kids from the Excelano project come to Speakeasy and when they do its just amazing because they’re Excelano kids and they’re ridiculously talented.

Have you ever performed?
I have. Last semester I performed a couple times. I've done a lot of poetry. Not sure what kind it would be... and also creative long form.

I think since the first time I went I was really amazed by how much creative freedom there was. Just being in a very casual environment surrounded by people who are there either to perform but a lot of people just go to visit, and being exposed to all different types of talent. You can't believe what people have up their sleeve, and they’re so good at it. I feel like what happens a lot to Penn is that there’s so much cool stuff going on that people don’t hear about everything.

Are you involved with art not associated with Penn?
I write art review a lot for Title magazines, which is an online Philly magazine. I write about art exhibits. I really like writing about art and culture.

Are there any good art shows going on now?
Yes, I mean Philly is such an artsy city and people just don’t give it credit.

How is Philadelphia’s art scene?
Philadelphia is a great city to be involved in the arts because it’s very open to new people getting involved and it doesn't have the condescending New York vibe. Here people do what they want to do and there's all these open mics. I love the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project.

What is the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project?
It's this program that commissions artists to develop murals and the artist along with a team go and paint the murals with the help of the community where its being painted. It's done a lot to revamp poorer more inner city areas but it's also just everywhere. I love how you can just be walking around and you look over and there’s this ridiculously awesome mural.

Do you have a favorite mural?
If you take the Market Frankford Line and you take it west there's all these roof top murals and it's called a love letter so it's all these really cute love messages. It's an elevated rail so you can sit on the train and see all of them. Then you can get off at 69th and go get some Don Memos.