Set Building

or Putting Together a Spoken-Word Feature

after the rain

After doing and seeing many features at various venues – at cafes where it was two-for-one expresso night (the sound of grinding and steaming add nothing to hearing or doing a set), to outdoors where it was ‘let’s put the spoken-word tent next to the drum workshop tent’ , to perfect theatre setting – I’ve come to some conclusions as to what make a set work beyond the obvious of being able to hear the performer.

One thing is flow. I’ve seen too many features where the pieces were an unrelated jumble – not that the set has be all related pieces but I like some sense of connection that takes me along with the performer. So as a result my features have been much more thematically structured. When I decide on a theme picking the pieces becomes easier – all pieces about sex, about relationships, about crazed people, about growing up – my Go Bump set will be all scary stuff.

I only left for a minute

Another thing is pacing. Have you ever got a cd that started out with some great stuff then turned to mush. I always love a cd that starts strong and ends strong, even if there is some mush in between. With my sets I start with a piece I love & make sure I have a great piece to end. I know if the opening piece is too strong there is no where to go from there – more of same only weakens not strengthens things. I pace the humour, the serious, the short and the long. Early pieces aren’t as sexually direct as later ones.

Also being organized is crucial. When I was using paper I’d print out a fresh copy of the set, in a font large enough to be read, (learned from one reader who had to hold his pages so close to his face only his eyebrows were occasionally seen – his font was tiny to save paper), and in the order I was going to read it (for the Kindle I bump the font size up to 24 and convert to PDF). I find when readers are shuffling through loose leaf pages, jumping from notebook, to printed text I lose interest as they lose focus on what they want  to read next.

I like performers who don’t feel the need to explain, or over-explain every piece. I say little allowing the pieces to speak for themselves, this lets the hearer to get what they get without me pre-directing their understanding.

fresh off the vine

I also enjoy a little animation on the part of the performer – not that they have to act out every line but I want a sense that they enjoy being there, presenting their work to us. Listening to Dylan Thomas I can tell he relishes the words he is saying.

When I have my set line up together I run though it several times to makes sure its paced right, that it has flow, and that it has going to fit into time limits.  Now that I’ve been using my Kindle to read on stage I no longer worry about big white pages blocking site lines 🙂

Finally: turn your cellphone off, wear comfortable shoes, avoid noisy jewelry.

writing sample
writing sample

here’s one of the pieces I considered for Go Bump but cut in favor of something less comic:

Love Spell

I cut my finger nails on Valentine’s Day

the day was mere coincidence

it’s not as if I saw anything symbolic

that cutting the nails

on that day would be a sign

I was letting my defenses down

making myself vulnerable

more approachable

my nails are never long enough

that anyone is in any danger

besides who notices men’s fingernails

who gets that close to the hand

our eyes are drawn to the the eyes

the hair   the smile   beards

but rarely to man’s fingernails

unless we’re looking for special service

once I cut my nails I had this flash

bury them under a crossroads oak tree

turn the casual into magic

build an expectation on this body sacrifice

to please the fates

I’m not sure I’d know an oak if I saw one

the street lights at the corner

probably don’t qualify as oak

the intersection is a crossroads of sorts

but the sidewalk is too hard to dig

so I head home with my fingernails

in a tiny red silk bag

left over from some stupid gift

and flush them down the toilet

where all my dreams of romance end up anyway



One thought on “Set Building

  1. I find myself realizing that thought it all looks easy the way you present your work, including the newsletter, it isn’t. So much thought goes into it and set up. Living with a professional musician who dotes on how his work is presented and sounds, I have a good idea on how important the set is and the preparation of the artist. You both make it look so easy.

    Duncan, again, thanks for the pictures. I just can’t wait to read your posts with brilliant commercial breaks of laughing. Shoes, I don’t usually laugh at them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.