Story and Photos by Seth Albaum
It’s 7:00pm on a Wednesday at Tatiana’s Restaurant and Lounge on Market Street. There are a few people sitting at the bar and in booths eating their dinners. The game is on the big screen. But in the front of the restaurant, a crowd gathers, as they do every Wednesday night, filling up just about every seat in the front half of the restaurant. They eat their dinners and catch up with one another while Master of Ceremonies Tony Toledo slots in the evening’s performers. They are poets, authors of books, spoken word artists, musicians, or even just people with something on their minds to share.
Toledo says that some people have come from as far as Framingham and Worcester.
Among them is the night’s featured artist, nationally renowned professional storyteller, Judith Black.
But not everyone has to be a professional. “I never thought I’d get up and read things in front of people” says Charlotte Travis of Saugus. “I forced myself.” Travis finds people at Speak Up welcoming and accepting. “You don’t have to be perfect.”
Tony Toledo starts off the evening with a high energy introduction and a few short, humorous manglings of language from the book, Anguished English, by Richard Lederer, which he’ll refer to several more times as a kind of sweeper between the wide variety of acts.
Toledo’s modus operandi is to warmly introduce each performer and follow them with thanks in the form of a coin. But it is no ordinary piece of change. For each one, he tells an anecdote of sorts, giving the coin a back-story connected to the performer’s subject matter.
A slot at Speak Up allows for five minutes of an attentive audience, measured by an old-fashioned sand timer. Featured guests are allowed more time.
“I love this for the creativity. It just keeps your mind open.” says regular attendee Kevin Tsukroff, who in addition to reading his poetry enjoys meeting and listening to other people.
Speak Up regular Leslie Greenberg enjoys the camaraderie in the group, pointing out that if you don’t make it one week, the others notice. “This place sort of wraps its arms around you.”
Spoken word artists, poets, story tellers, singers with guitars, some comedic, some serious, some loud and some soft populate the evening. The ages of participants range from seventeen to probably preferring not to be asked.
Featured guest Judith Black is engaging, funny and sad as she opens up about her childhood and final weeks with her mother.
Meanwhile, there are also Tatiana’s customers playing darts, sitting at the bar, and watching the game. It is the layout of the venue, and perhaps the nature of its customers, that allow these activities at the same time.
Fourth Generation Lynn resident Don White started Speak Up with MC and Story Teller Tony Toledo at Gulu-Gulu Café, when it was located in Lynn’s Central Square. It drew a large crowd, but it was not enough to save the café, now located in Salem. (Turbine is set to open soon in Gulu’s old spot). Tatiana’s Restaurant and Lounge, located at 70 Market Street in Downtown Lynn, is its current home each Wednesday at 7pm.