amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rant: Peformers' Drone

Attention all writers who are performing your work for an audience: please avoid the performance drone. The drone is characterized by work that is unfit for the stage and read in a monotone voice without engaging with your audience in any way, never making eye contact, not taking breaths except when you’re dying from lack of oxygen and reading long passages about nature a la Thomas Hardy.

Here are some tips to make my experience (and others) as audience members more interesting:

1. Just read in a conversational style, like you were talking to your best friend or your grandma, not like you’re lecturing to students. Even if there’s a podium, don’t make a speech. Vary your pitch and volume.

2. Reread your work ahead of time and choose work that will capture the audience’s attention; this means variation in rhythm, good punchy sentences, lots of concrete action and dialogue rather than abstract narrative.

3. Prepare beforehand: read your work aloud; change words you stumble over, edit out the boring bits. If you find the work isn’t compelling when you are reading it aloud to yourself, guess what? Neither will the audience.

4. Don’t get melodramatic on stage; you are not an actor; don’t scream, honk, cry etc unless you’re a sound poet.

5. Don’t read one long monolithic block of text. Divide your reading material up into chunks of about three minutes. Read little bits from different sections of your novel or short story, excerpt from a long poem, a few short poems. The rule of three works for some reason. 3 pieces, 3 paragraphs, 3 poems. Audiences like threes.

6. Don’t read anything that requires a long introduction. Rule of thumb, especially addressed to poets: if the intro is longer than the poem, choose something different. If a poem requires that much explanation, it’s not going to grab your audience.

7. I know you’re scared to death up there, but try to enjoy yourself. Smile. We love you. You know we do. We’re just waiting for the chance to become your groupies. Savour the moment of this performance; you’ll never have it again.

If anyone has any other tips on performance, please share them. Writers need help with this big time. And we audience members will thank you.


Pearl said...

bravo, Amanda. Great tips.

6 b. If the intro really makes you feel animated, write that. It might be better than the poem you're.preambling

8. You know what's coming next but hopefully no one else does. Small dramatic pauses allow an audience a chance to anticipate. Silences inserted sound much longer to the reader than audience.

Amanda said...

thanks, Pearl. and for the additions too.

Ruthanne Edward said...

I would add to be familiar enough with the text you are reading that you don't need to have your eyes glued to the page during the reading. It doesn't have to be memorized, but you should know it well enough that you can look up and make eye contact with the audience as you go. Head buried in the page makes for boring watching.

Amanda said...

true enough, Ruthanne. i always find that one particularly difficult.

gary barwin said...

I always like to think of a reading as a musical performance, so I'd suggest that writers think of their stage-time as a set and think about what overall effect the set has. So writers should think about the beginning piece and the ending piece, should try to create an overall musical structure (as you said, Amanda) varying the pieces, shaping the set for maximum effect. Also, my pet peeve, is the "and this next poem is called." I'd prefer a greater variety of intros. Sometimes no introduction, sometimes a short perhaps oblique set-up, one that doesn't necessarily explain away the poem or take away from the surprise. One can also say something about the piece that one has just read. Also, proper microphone technique. Writers should learn how to use microphones and not be shy to be close up to them.....Just a bit of rant from me!

Amanda said...

thanks, Gary. i love the idea of thinking of a reading as a musical performance. and varying the intros & adding extros too. i hadn't thought about that at all. thanks for the great tips, Gary!

Sterling Lynch said...

Great performance tips, Amanda. The key insight, of course, is to think about it from the perspective of the audience member.

And for that reason, it wouldn't take too much squinting to regard these as good tips about publicizing arts events as well.

Shannon Rayne said...

I just stumbled on your blog. Love it.
And I love this post.

Here are a few other ideas:
* think of the reading as a blind date, your audience does not know whether they should like you yet, so begin with something light, fun, get them to like and trust you so that you can have more choices in what you read later
* the first poem and the last poem is usually what the audience remembers, make it memorable
* do whatever makes you, you, if you giggle, giggle, if you smile alot, do that more, if you are known for your wierd knock knock jokes at parties throw a few of them in, anything that helps you connect with the audience and makes us WANT to listen to you because we like you now, will go a long way!
* and most importantly enjoy yourself, really it is just a one sided convesation, but we are listening :)

Amanda said...

thanks, Shannon. :)