For years, Chattanooga’s artists and performers have had a special Wide Open Floor showcase just for them. But after the sudden shuttering of the brand for personal reasons in early February, a new show has emerged to take its place.
UnLeashed is a rebirth of what was formerly known as Wide Open Floor. The first showcase—a celebration of local LGBTQ artists—will debut at Barking Legs Theater on Friday. Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets are $10 at the door. All proceeds from the event will benefit Chattanooga Cares.
From its inception, Wide Open Floor was designed to be an all-inclusive program for anyone who expressed an interest in spending eight minutes onstage in front of their peers. There were no rules for performers other than a strict time limit.
Spectators could witness everything from a modern dance performance to a crash course in science from a gifted monologist. Poetry and music would fill the air. But more importantly, there was love. Throughout its several years of existence, Wide Open Floor represented much more than a monthly gathering; it became a community of people who could count on each other for support inside and outside of their art.
But all of that came to a halt when Marcus Ellsworth decided to step down from his role as leader of Wide Open Floor. He gave control back to Angela Sweet, who began the program at Barking Legs initially.
But that’s where things get complicated. Just days after relinquishing control of the program, all evidence of the Wide Open Floor brand was removed. The Facebook page was deleted, and many of the artists involved with what was Wide Open Floor thought their community was lost forever.
Sweet said she was left in a tough position and made a decision to fold the brand.
"What many people forget is that Wide Open Floor represents two things: a brand name and also an idea," Sweet said. "The simple fact of the matter is that the brand name 'Wide Open Floor' was originally given to me by an old friend from Michigan, on the basis of limited license. Legally speaking, apart from this individual, I and I alone have the legal rights to use that brand name."
But Sweet also said she never intended to completely kill the idea of Wide Open Floor or the community that was built.
"There is no reason why another event that follows the exact same format of Wide Open Floor cannot be built," she said. "The only thing that has been ended is the use of the brand name. It is my hope that the community can and will come together to find a new name for what has been created."
And with UnLeashed, the theory behind Wide Open Floor will thrive and grow.
After stepping down from his role with Wide Open Floor, Ellsworth is once again leading the program with the help of several longtime Wide Open Floor veterans. But instead of being the host every month, a series of guests will take turns leading the program.
UnLeashed is a transition show from what was Wide Open Floor. But a new, as-of-yet-unnamed show will debut in April at Barking Legs as a complete replacement.
This month’s hosts are Erika Blackmon, Garrell Woods, Kevin Bartolomucci and Steven Disbrow.
Ellsworth said audiences can expect much of the same from Friday’s show.
"For UnLeashed, the philosophy behind the show is to showcase local artists who truly have something unique to offer, artists whose work is challenging, thought-provoking and mind-blowing," he said. "It allows a space where the artists are brought in to express themselves without restriction and raise the bar for the work they are doing."
Spectators can expect performers that will spark conversation and challenge their preconceived notions about art, politics and identify.
The first show will feature some of Chattanooga’s LGBTQ performers and their supporters. Some of the performances will include dance, slam poetry, drag numbers, comedy and music.
Updated @ 3:04 p.m. on 3/3/15 to add more information.