Two microphones waited in a back corner of the restaurant. The crowd trickled in slowly, but soon filled most of the tables in a side room at Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana.
The emcee thanked them for coming out to the open mic night, the newly-formed Casper Writer’s Guild’s first event. It’s a group for any writers who want to join, he told them.
“We would like to get as much community participation as physically possible,” Nick McDill said from the mic in the corner of the room.
He started off the evening with a short poem that he wrote with the guild in mind.
“And some put it to paper/ And only some of those/ Share their coveted corruption/ And some of those still/ Maybe find that/ They are/ not so alone/ After all/ They just needed/ The voice to speak/ And the quiet/ To hear,” it ended.
He started calling participants’ names from the sign-up sheet. Participants read poems or stories and others performed music. Even the server took a break from carrying plates and filling glasses to lay down his own rap about a relationship gone bad.
Mary Uttmark and Calvin Martinez started the Casper Writer’s Guild last month to build a community of like-minded people with more opportunities for writers to share their ideas and work. It’s open to all writers of all mediums, from comedy to music lyrics, Martinez said.
Anyone who’s interested can become involved through the guild’s Facebook group and by attending events and monthly meetings. Martinez also plans to live-stream the meetings for people who can’t make it.
“Connecting people was a huge, immediate part of it,” he said. “There’s a need for it, there’s a need for sharing that in the community that people typically don’t always have.”
Writers read from cell phones or notebooks. Some, like Matt Schroer, delivered from memory. He was nervous about his first time sharing his writing in public and he stumbled over some words, he said afterward.
But the crowd applauded. He walked back to his seat smiling.
He enjoyed the immediate response from others and hearing their work, he said.
“I think it’s a really good way to bounce ideas off of people and get new inspiration,” Schroer said. “I think it’s a good way to meet people and have a good time.”
Uttmark said those kind of opportunities are why the guild exists: “The growth of people coming to the events, growing in their confidence, growing in their writing and getting feedback.”
The Casper Writer’s Guild itself has been growing much more quickly than expected, McDill said. The Facebook group has drawn more than 50 members, and about two dozen showed up to the first event.
The two founders of the Casper Writer’s Guild enjoy Metro’s poetry slams, where Uttmark is a regular participant. The idea for the guild emerged when she and Martinez started talking about additional ways for writers to connect, Uttmark said. The guild wants to expand the variety of venues to cater to a wider range of ages.
The monthly Metro poetry slams will continue, and the leaders also plan to make the Racca’s Royale open mic session for ages 18 and up a monthly fixture as well. The next event is Wednesday’s Poetry Slam X open mic for ages 21 and older at Fly Vybes Hookah Lounge in the basement of Butch’s Bar.
“You’re really getting different contributions of a different crowd by adding a venue,” Uttmark said.
The recent events also blend traditional poetry slam fare with other arts like music and theater.
“Writing has a place everywhere, that’s my favorite part about it,” Martinez said. “Most things come down to writing, and a lot of people are huge fans of it one way or another. Some people love writing [in TV and comedy], and some people like it in books. Some people enjoy it in plays. A lot of people love writing in music and don’t realize it.”
The guild organizers also hope to eventually host writing workshops and events for children, Uttmark said. The group is in its beginning stages, and the leaders encourage others to bring their ideas to the table, she said. They’re also seeking more venues interested in hosting events.
The guild leaders look forward to connecting with writers of all ages and perspectives, genres and styles. Everyone is is welcome, whether they’ve been writing for decades or just starting.
“Nobody operates in a vacuum,” McDill said. “All of my favorite authors had colleagues and friends to bounce things off of. I know that there are a lot of talented people in Casper and Wyoming, and I’m tired of people saying there’s nothing here. I’ve seen enough talented people to blow my mind; we just need to get them talking to each other. And I would love to be able to foster that community.”