Thank you so much to subscriber/performers ALI BACON, VERONA BASS, AMA BOLTON, CLAIRE COLEMAN, EILEEN CAMERON, ANN CULLIS, ANN PRESTON, PETER REASON and GRAEME RYAN, to PAUL BROWNE of the BRLSI for doing our set-up, and to all our lovely guests.
If only we could spend more time working so happily together, as nine of us did yesterday morning, on ways to improve our performance of our work. Using a set of short ‘audition’ pieces sent in by the group – most of them due to be presented in the afternoon – we were able to work first on the basic essentials of any performance – audibility and use of the microphone – and then move into the range of more subjective questions which can only arise when an audience can actually hear what a reader has to say.
- What kind of piece reads well?
- Is there a too rich density of detail, or a too speedy turnover of shifting ideas and images which will ask too much of an audience unfamiliar with the written text?
- Do some pieces of writing need to be shortened for performance to prevent audience overload and fatigue?
- The speed of a reading mustn’t make the audience ‘switch off’ with the effort of comprehension, but is there such a thing as a reading that is too slow?
- Are authors the best readers of their own work?
- Are ambitious typographical devices ( irregular indentation of lines, for example) helpful in performance, or should they really be kept back for the printed page?
- How and how far should a reader honour the line breaks when performing someone else’s work?
Some of the morning pieces simply sang themselves off the page. These tended to be pieces with a strong and straightforward trajectory – ‘narrative’ in the sense of working their way clearly through their subject, starting with an arresting moment, maintaining their energy, then closing well. Pieces whose development was episodic and unpredictable, pieces whose centre of interest was ill-defined, pieces whose core of energy waxed and waned tended, in performance, to work less well.
The same of course was true of the outstanding sets we heard from some of our subscribers in the afternoon. The fifteen minute performance ‘window’ is both a huge privilege, and, of course, a trap. A privilege because so few of us get many opportunities to present our work at this length. A trap, because longer sets need such tight intelligent structuring and such an unflagging sense of conviction to hold an audience’s interest throughout.
If only Bath Writers & Artists could find a rehearsal/performance space we could more easily and more frequently afford! Those of us lucky enough to be in the Elwin Room yesterday will look back on this meetup, I think as one of our golden days.