On Performance & Professionalism

Being a professional writer invariably leads to public performances. I actually never thought this through when I started writing and only realized, in horror, that I’d have to read my words aloud in front of people I both knew and didn’t know…. I grew up as an introvert child…. Performing in front of people was something that I never aspired to do nor fantasized about. I thought being a writer meant I could be by myself a lot to write…. <weak grin>

Happily, after many years of reading in public, I’ve come to  enjoy the performative nature of the engagement. It still makes me feel very nervous and I have a kind of tizzy when I have to perform new things, but I can often leave the stage feeling satisfied. It may never come easily to you, but developing a professional modality of performance can greatly affect how often you are invited to engagements. Remember, every time you read in a public space you are introducing your work to a potential fan who will go on to buy your books. Performing well can affect sales. If you’re trying to get by on your writing EVERY GIG COUNTS.

Some Tips on Performance:

1) Never go longer than your allotted time.

2) Never go longer than your allotted time.

3) NEVER GO LONGER THAN YOUR ALLOTTED TIME! (Clearly I cannot say this enough. Whenever I’m invited to a group reading there will always be someone, maybe several people, who go over time. Really, people. Get over yourself. Some people say they will just go a couple minutes over time because their story is a little longer than the time allotted. No. You should have chosen something that fit the allotted time. That’s all. Be respectful to the organizers of the event, your peers and your audience. If you use up more than your allotted time it may mean that people performing later in the line-up may not have their share of time/space/audience patience-energy. Audiences grow tired. Don’t be a space hog. If you want people to hear you for longer set up a salon at home and invite your friends who love you to bits and won’t get mad if you go on and on.

4) Select an excerpt or story that performs well on the stage. Some things that work well on paper don’t perform well. If you’re not sure if it performs well ask a writing friend to act as your audience and provide feedback.

5) Be sure you’re not going to go over time because you’ve practiced your reading, as well as the preamble/introduction, aloud, at home, several times, as you timed it against the clock. If it goes over time pare it down so it doesn’t. Easy!

6) A public reading is a performance. Try to inflect some feeling into the reading. A reading is more than just words read aloud; it seeps into a grey area closer to dramatic performance. Bring life to your performance. Imagine that you’re reading a bed-time story to your children. Or, imagine that you’re bringing a film into life through the invocation of your words. You are performing a magic act. Transport them.

7) Thank your hosts. Acknowledge the audience.

8) FOR THE RECORD: I think it’s perfectly acceptable to go over time as an act of political intervention. I.e. you’ve been invited to perform at an event that claims to be inclusive, but you’re the only woman and of colour person in the line-up. I think it’d be totally politically acceptable to HOG UP TIME by reading selectively critical things, etc.

My policy has been to read a little less than allotted time. I kinda feel that it’s better to quit while people still want to hear a little more, rather than hit the point where people are starting to tune you out.  

Go knock their socks off!