‘How To Give A Reading’
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.
First off: turn your cellphone off, wear comfortable shoes, avoid noisy jewelry. Cold drinks can effect the throat & make projecting more difficult – even if you have a mic you have to be heard. Holding anything in front of your mouth makes you hard to hear.
A glass of wine or a beer to loosen up is fine – more than that can lead to the need to go potty more than you might want – remember you want to meet people not be ducking into the can very five minutes. Fans following you to the washroom is just creepy.
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 & save the planet). Plus his mouth was covered.
Reading from your published book might seem a natural thing but if the font is too small for you to read from it may be too small for me to bother buying to read – have a copy of the book to show, and use something easy for you to read from. For the Kindle I bump the font size up to 24 and convert to PDF)
Have things the order you are going to read it. When readers are shuffling through loose leaf pages, jumping from notebook, to a printed text or flipping around their book(s) to find the passage(s) they planned to read I lose interest as they lose focus on what they want to read next. It makes me wonder if their book is as disorganized as they are.
I like reader 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 get what they get without me pre-directing their understanding. If your section(s) take longer to set up with back story than they do to read pick something simpler.
An action scene with two characters – one location if possible – too many of either loses the reader. Conversation you can follow of the page. without ‘tags,’ may need more ‘tags’ when presented aloud unless you can do other voices well.
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. I try to keep in mind my audience – what I’d read at Erotic Writers is not the same as what I’d read for, say, Crime Writers Of Canada.
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 humor, the serious, the short and the long. Early pieces aren’t as sexually direct as later ones.
Try to end with incomplete action: i.e. ‘A shot rang out’ not ‘A shot rang out and missed them.’
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 🙂