Sunday, January 22, 2012

How Not to Give a Reading: Thoughts After My Bar 82 Reading

OK, so I did my Bar 82 reading. Thanks to my friends who came out to hear me read! Thanks to We Three Productions, who asked me to read! (A little snippet of the story below, in case you're interested, using an incidental character from a novel I'm working on.)

Anyway, I don't give many public readings, maybe once a year, and I really thought I was ready for this one. Spent the entire day before, writing, rewriting, practicing out loud, editing, re-reading out loud, reading to my husband, reading to myself, reading to myself in the mirror, which Dave suggested and was horrible, because I felt self-conscious already, and seeing myself only made it worse, which I guess was Dave's point, that I should confront my fears and not back down, maybe even practice naked....

So I get up the next day on the Bar 82 stage to read, feeling super-prepared, but then...seeing the glaring spotlights and dim faces in the dark crowd and having to talk into a microphone and realizing that I wasn't just expected to read but would have to perform, holy mother of god it suddenly became an out-of-body experience, and as I floated above the reading, I saw down there on the stage a woman who looked a whole lot like me, but couldn't possibly be me, because she didn't have a personality, only she was very formal and serious, and just looked like a stiff stick up there on the stage, with words coming out of her mouth, and that couldn't have been me, because I do have a personality and like to have fun besides!

Photo: Phillip Giambri
Oh, I suppose I did the right things--I read clearly, didn't stumble over my words, spoke with expression, remembered to look up at my audience every now and then, But that woman up there on that stage clearly wasn't having any fun, was she?

So my advice, if you're planning on giving a reading, is to get super-drunk and watch a bunch of Three Stooges movies ahead of time, and not do any preparation at all, and make the guy who reads before you do a really lousy job of it. In his underpants.

The problem, I later realized, was that I read not just one but two linear stories with a beginning, a middle and an end in the space of just 12 minutes, with lots of multi-syllable words, when what I should have done was stay on the stage for five minutes and just tell Tommy Cooper jokes. Example: A woman tells her doctor, 'I've got a bad back.' The doctor says, 'It's old age.' The woman says, 'I want a second opinion.' The doctor says: 'Okay - you're ugly as well.'

Tommy Cooper was such a brilliant performer that he died of a heart attack while on stage doing a funny bit, and kept the audience laughing the whole time.

And now, for a snippet from my reading, from a story called "The Marquis de Morès:"

Antoine de Vallambrosa, the Marquis de Morès, dragged his wife off to the northern Dakota territory in 1883, just after she had given birth to their first child.

A retired French cavalryman with a taste for adventure, he dreamed of starting up a meat-packing plant. By going straight to the source of cattle production, where the Northern Pacific Railroad came through, he could cut out the middlemen who ran the Chicago stockyards and process his meat right there on the Great Plains.

New York banker Louis von Hoffman, who financed the plan, spared no expense because the Marquis de Morès was his son-in-law.

So although he was a successful businessman with a sharp eye for a bad deal, Von Hoffman decided anyway to spend vast sums on the purchase of 26,000 acres and the construction of a meat-packing plant in the middle of nowhere. The banker also shelled out money to build a 26-room château so his daughter and grandchild could live a life of comfort in the godforsaken Badlands.

“You won’t regret this!” Antoine bellowed to his father-in-law on the day they signed their deal. “My plan will completely change the meat-packing industry! I am inventing the way forward into the 20th century!”

“We’ll see,” said the banker.

See? The words aren't so bad. It's my delivery that sucked.

For more advice on giving a reading, check out:

Nine Ways to Give a Better Book Reading
(Your audience can read your book themselves. Little is more monotonous than hearing someone else reading words aloud. Great authors elevate the text by using a compelling vocal delivery to emphasize key phrases, increasing the tempo to build suspense, and modulating their volume to match the content. )

How to Give a Good Reading Despite Your Myriad Neuroses
(Some people lack the confidence to give a reading because they lack confidence in themselves as a writer.  They are plagued by feelings of being an impostor.  These folks think, “How can I be sure I’m even a real writer?  What make me think I have the right to get up and read?”)

How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms
(Arrive early and talk to Rita and her friends, unsure if they’re all also on mushrooms (as they’d previously agreed) because Rita giggles nonsequiturly even when sober, until an unsmiling woman in her 40s—the event organizer—approaches saying something about “housekeeping.” Follow her into the backroom and learn it’s important you speak clearly tonight, “into the microphone,” as the reading and Q&A are going to be “livestreamed” onto the internet.)


Underemployed said...

See? This is my thing about readings. I am not the least bit funny in person. It takes at least 6 hours of fine-tooth editing (sp?) for me to be funny.

But doing it drunk? Now that's an idea...

Joyce Hanson said...

Yes, drunk is an idea. I looked up the 'How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms' guy and think I found a video of him giving that reading while high. He was a shy, inward-focused writer and to see him you would have no idea of the turmoil going on inside his brain. This is why we write, I suppose. His words describing the experience are much more exciting than watching him read them. Not everybody can read well in front of an audience. This is why people learn how to perform, I suppose. For example, I recently saw the movie 'Howl,' where James Franco plays the role of the poet Allen Ginsberg. Then I watched a snippet of the actual Ginsberg reading his own poem. Guess who did the more convincing job? The actor, of course.

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