I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the point at which writing and performance intersect, and the ways in which prose writers perform their work. I perform a lot (I have an ‘at least one gig a month’ rule which I have kept up with for nearly two years now) and over the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to see a huge rise in the number of prose writers reading and performing their own work. Notice I separated reading and performing. They are, I believe two separate things, although the lines can get blurred and confused when often, the end result is still an audience watching someone on a stage, reading words from a piece of paper.
Instead of giving you a series of top tips, which I won’t do because Dave Hartley did that here, I will instead tell you a few stories about my experience reading and performing at events. I think that performing at events, getting behind a microphone and reading your work out is really important, and really fun too. More writers should do it.
My first gig
I was just out of University, and still living in Derby. I had written a story about a man who finds God in a box and takes it on a world tour. I read it out, nervous, stood next to a box which said ‘Inside this box you can see God’ (a line from the story). I thought it went alright, but afterwards the next reader got up, pointed at me and called me a heretic, then read an extract of his novel which was about the last supper.
I felt that I had begun to get too comfortable on stage, so a friend dared me to do some stand up comedy. Part in an attempt to prove him wrong, and part to completely humiliate myself in front of hundreds of people, I decided to do some. I chose Bright Club, which is a night where academics perform stand up comedy about their chosen subject, like Mastermind, but with jokes. I am not an academic. But I do read comics. Therefore, I chose to do an entire stand up comedy set about Spider-Man continuity circa 2010. I didn’t learn my set particularly well, but people seemed to laugh. A comedian friend of mine was in the audience, and afterwards, when I asked him if I looked nervous he said, “Well, at least your head wasn’t shaking.”
My last reading in Manchester before leaving. Based on the theme of Show and Tell, I decided I wanted to do something a little different, and wound up performing alongside the excellent Dave Hartley on stage, reading stories based on pictures we had sent each other. I’ve never performed alongside someone else, and I’ve always been a fan of the way the Dave performs his work on stage. Maybe its his theatre background, or that he sold his soul to the devil a few years ago or something, but he’s very good. It was also interesting to hear how someone else interpreted pictures I took and turned them into stories. I picked three objects: A typewriter, a Buddhist singing bowl and my grandfather’s war medals, and Dave took those and turned them into strange and bittersweet stories that I didn’t think would come from those objects. I like performing at First Draft too, it’s one of the friendliest nights in the city and you can feel as though you can do anything on stage and genuinely test your limits as a performer.