EAST VILLAGE — A few months ago, longtime performance venue the Nuyorican Poets Cafe had room for only 120 people to attend a reading at the beloved East Third Street arts space.
Now, that figure has skyrocketed to more than 2 billion — the number of Internet users around the world.
Since April the café, which has hosted performances at the space between Avenues B and C since 1981, has been live-streaming its most popular events, including its Friday Night Poetry Slam and Open Mic Monday.
Using a new service from the company Eyes on the Go, the nonprofit arts group is hoping to whet the appetite of those unfamiliar with the energy of live poetry readings while also bolstering the national and global reputation of the Nuyorican Poets Café.
The Nuyorican as a group was founded in an East Village apartment in 1973 by poets including Latino icon and poet-playwright-actor Miguel Piñero. A film, "Piñero," was made about his life in 2001, and the cafe was the subject of numerous award-winning documentaries, including the 1994 short "Nuyorican Poets Café."
"For people that have never seen an event before, watching online has really opened their eyes as to what we do here," said Daniel Gallant, the space's executive director. "There are only a certain number of people you can fit into a venue."
The café now records performances using two stationary cameras that don't require live operators. Those wanting to check in on the nightly happenings of the Nuyorican can view the stream from the website Gander T.V, which is also featured on the café's Facebook page for its 30,000 registered friends.
"It's not just the U.S. — it's another 19 countries," said Eyes on the Go CEO Chris Carey, who listed Italy, India, Australia, Serbia and Morocco as some of the countries viewing the Nuyorican's performances online.
Each week, about 500 users log on to view a performance, watching on average for five-and-a-half minutes, according to Carey. Users can either watch in real time or select from events in the archive that have already taken place.
"The mission of the company is to find and broadcast unique and interesting content," he explained.
Currently, Eyes on the Go is working with 25 other nightlife venues throughout the city, such as Brooklyn’s salsa and reggae nightclub SRB, Susan Sarandon’s ping-pong venue SPiN and improv venue The Pit.
At the Nuyorican, Gallant said he is using live-streaming to create a deeper connection with the café's growing online community, which also includes 4,000 followers on Twitter.
"The most effective means of growing our outreach has been with social media,” he noted, "and our fans are particularly excited when we post visual rich content — images, videos."
Interaction between performers and the audience is an important element of the café's most popular event, the Friday Night Poetry Slam, which is the only live-stream requiring payment, at 99 cents per visit. For that performance, patrons at the café judge the acts themselves.
"Interactivity is appealing to a younger audience," said Gallant, who estimates the average age of café patrons is 25.
He is hoping create an avenue for interaction between online viewers and performers by allowing Internet users to vote for poets on Twitter and Facebook, instantly effecting the outcome of who wins the performance.
Even while pushing to make content readily available online, Gallant is careful to point out that nothing can replace being at a live performance in the flesh.
"It is notoriously difficult to replicate sitting in a spoken-word venue from when you are a couple of rows back with a poet on the stage," said Gallant, who believes that mostly free online streaming will lead to more — not less — paying customers at the venue.
"We want to show people how welcoming and accessible the café is, and how exciting these art forms are."