May 08

Show Business for Writers, Tips #1, #2, #3

May is Mental Health Month. It’s also Better Speech and Hearing Month. May 4-10 is “Reading is Fun” Week. So let’s talk about reading your work to an audience. I’ll assume you want to do it well.

A google for “show business for writers” turned up nothing. Ditto for “stage etiquette for authors” and related searches. But I did find advice from some great entertainers. So here are the first three tips from an ongoing list.

#1. At public readings people aren’t there to admire your looks or talent. All audiences hope above all to be entertained. That doesn’t mean “make them laugh.” To “entertain” originally meant “to hold together.” Your job is to hold the audience’s collective attention and give them a complete and satisfying experience.

#2. Read your best work. There is no substitute for good material (says Liza Minnelli). When you’re planning what to read, variety is nice, but if you must choose between variety or quality, choose quality.

#3. Nervous about it? We all are. So plan, rehearse, and time your program well before the performance date. This bestows confidence. All entertainers prepare with rehearsals. Select your work, put it in some sort of order, and get comfortable with your chosen program by reading it aloud several times. Some writers say, “I get there and check out the crowd and then decide what to read.” That isn’t as cool as it sounds. I’ve seen it result in self-conscious, muddled ("uh, I dunno if I should read you this one. . .”) and overlong performances. “Overlong” means longer than you’ve been asked to read. Every audience hates a stage hog. I once saw a local poet introduce a nationally famous poet by reading his own 20-minute ode to her. Everyone wanted to murder this guy.