or Putting Together a Spoken-Word Feature
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.
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.
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 🙂
here’s one of the pieces I considered for Go Bump but cut in favor of something less comic:
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
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