While this post touches on some of the points from Tips for authors: Giving good readings, I wanted to devote a little extra time to the art of reading aloud, especially given the wonderful tips I received last fall from Jack Straw Productions and Elizabeth Austen.
As part of the preparation for our joint book tour, Wendy Call and I visited Seattle’s Jack Straw Productions, the Northwest’s only non-profit multidisciplinary audio arts center, to record excerpts from our books.
Producer Moe Provencher had wonderful advice for me as I stumbled through a practice reading — an excerpt I’d never rehearsed until that afternoon — and I found her tips as relevant and useful for live readings as they are for audio recordings:
- Mark up the text from which you’re reading so that you’ll know when to pause, what to emphasize, etc.
- Develop a facial expression that reflects a character’s voice and/or mood; when you use your face to express something, this mood and tone will come through in your voice.
- Read far more slowly than you think you need to — to the point at which you feel ridiculous — and this will likely be the perfect pace.
- Practice. Aloud. Many times.
The good news for those of you who are Seattle-area writers is that Jack Straw offers a Writers Program (Wendy, pictured above, was a 2008 Jack Straw Writer) in which writers spend several months developing a project while learning tips for readings, doing interviews, and more.
I learned a few more invaluable tips when I attended Elizabeth Austen‘s workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference: “Beyond the Page: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive” (excellent for prose writers as well). Elizabeth, with her background in theater, has a gift for the spoken word, and she reminded us first and foremost that language is physical, that we need to remember this when we read aloud, and that we need to feel every word. She offered a few examples — words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them we could hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness. (Give it a try, right now. It’s pretty cool.) Elizabeth gave us tips on everything from rehearsing (avoid mirrors or recordings; ask a friend to listen and offer feedback instead) to what to wear to a reading (whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident; also, avoid high heels, and rehearse in the shoes you’ll be wearing at the event).
Among Elizabeth’s wisest tips was this: “The performance requires you, but it’s not about you.” As readers, she explains, we are conduits for getting the words out into the room and to the audience. I love this eye-opening tip, not only because it takes the edge off the self-consciousness most of us feel when we read, but because it reminds us that our words need to speak for themselves — that, now that we’ve written them, it’s time to let them shine on their own.