Recently I attended–and took part in–a writers’ read-aloud event at a local restaurant. It was awesome to hear a wide variety of writers (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) share a 10 minute reading of their work. A lot of these writers are taking their first plunge into writing seriously and for some of them, this was their first public speaking event. All the writers did really well.
This restaurant focuses on supporting the local fine arts community and has a stage which is usually used by musicians and other performance groups. The restaurant owner thought a read-aloud by writers would be a great idea–often people forget or don’t realize that writing is also an art. The audience included not only writers but lots of regular restaurant patrons and others who were just out for dinner. Though some of the patrons carried on with their own conversations over dinner, others were quickly drawn into listening to the efforts of local writers, and enthusiastically applauded. The entire event was awesome and inspiring.
In fact, I found it so inspiring that in the middle of the night after the event I woke up, my mind brimming over with ideas for other events writers might put on. And after I shared my list with a couple of writers, they added some ideas of their own. So if your writers’ group is looking for ways to support your local authors, and share your talents with your local community, here are some things you might try out:
- While most of the authors involved were somewhat mainstream fiction (novel or short fiction) or non-fiction or poetry writers, writing is a vast field, and when we present to the community, we should be sure to include a wide variety of writers so that the audience realizes that writing really is a “fine art” and that it actually is an important part of other arts such as theatre, bands and singers, and more. Why not include:
- Play writers (they could even do a reader’s theatre type presentation of a scene or act, maybe with costumes, using people from the audience or other writers they practice with ahead of time)
- Stand up comedy writers
- Song lyric writers (and ideally, of course, the songs sung with instrumentation)
- Slam poetry (spoken word poetry)
- Greeting card writers
- Writers who combine different arts (for example, dance combined with slam poetry; painting combined with a poem that goes with it; greeting card writers who also create the art for the cards; people who combine photography and writing…)
- These kinds of events are a perfect opportunity to seek out younger writers to present their writing. Many writers’ groups tend to be composed mainly of seniors; inviting high school or college students to take part in these events could encourage them to take writing more seriously and to join and invigorate your writers’ group.
- People might like to bring along photography slideshows/videos that could run on a screen behind them while they read their parts, or recorded music to run in the background.
- People could present short videos for which they wrote the script.
- People could be encouraged to write short (say 250 words or less) bios—to be read either by the emcee or by themselves. Writers come from many different backgrounds and interests, and audience members who have a stereotypical view of writers might be surprised to learn what a varied and interesting group writers are. They might even think about taking the plunge–and joining your group, too.
I was also thinking about venues and about planning for these kinds of events. It might be nice to have a restaurant/lounge venue where there weren’t so many regular customers/drop-ins who were making background noise. If everyone attending paid an entry fee of some kind and/or paid for food and beverages, it could be worthwhile for the venue to reserve it for the event. A sign could inform people coming in from off the street that they are welcome to come in and eat but to enjoy the entertainment, understanding that it is an event and they need to cooperate by respectfully being quiet during the presentations. Alternatively, of course, it could be in a non-restaurant venue or could be held at a time when the restaurant wasn’t usually open. Advertising would be important.
At the event I attended, there was a microphone but no lectern. The idea was to keep things casual and not put any kind of barrier between the readers and the audience. However, it became evident that it would be helpful to have some kind of reading stand (such as a music stand used by musicians) for readers to put their pieces on, so they don’t have to hold them. It’s easier to make eye contact with the audience when a reader isn’t holding the manuscript in front of his or her face. Also, a stool would be helpful for some people, especially for those who have difficulty standing or who are very nervous.
Presenters should be encouraged to practice and time their pieces ahead of time. To encourage them to stick to the schedule, a fun prop such as a large hourglass or a colourful timer (set where the presenter can see it) might help.
Presenters could be encouraged to bring business cards and/or brochures for those who really liked their performances and would like to follow up by contacting the performers.
Maybe an event could be expanded to an all-day event, drawing in writers from a wider area–similar to a writers’ festival or conference. Some ideas:
- Start with a light brunch (croissants, buns, juice) as people arrive.
- Have a wide variety of presenters do short readings/presentations in the morning so writers can experience the many kinds of writing that are possible.
- Have some of the presenters offer half-hour workshops on how they develop their writing (this would have to be planned ahead of time, naturally). Attendees can choose which workshops (of 2 or 3 half-hour sessions) they want to attend. Their workshop choices would be part of the registration package.
- Provide a light lunch (either bag lunch or light lunch provided by the venue). During lunch, attendees could sign up for the afternoon sessions of their choice, with a limited number of attendees in each group, the number determined by the workshop leader.
- Workshops continue after lunch: Presenters and workshop attendees work together to create the kind of writing they learned about in the morning (for example, a lyric writer could help attendees write a song together, which they could practice singing (and playing if they have instruments); a stand-up comedy writer could help attendees create a short comedy routine; a play writer could help attendees create short skits/play; a story writer could help attendees write flash fiction; a poet could help attendees write a certain kind of poem; and so on. There could be one long session (3-4 hours) or a couple of shorter sessions (1.5 – 2 hours); attendees would have to choose which session(s) they wanted to attend.
- Supper could be at the venue OR people could go out in groups to local restaurants, sit together and chat, then return).
- The evening presentation would be open to the community where the afternoon groups could present their works to a broader audience.
To make an event like this work smoothly, it would be good to have presenters send in information on what they’ll be doing ahead of time—and also have people apply to do workshops. This information could be sent out to registrants, who will sign up for the workshop they are interested in. If the workshops require people to bring materials, that would need to be indicated in the registration package; for example, a lyric writer might ask people to bring paper and pen, and a guitar or other instrument if they wish; a play writer might have a play topic/theme in mind and ask registrants to bring paper, pen, and costumes that would fit the theme; and so on.
Writer and radio broadcaster, Aggie Stevens, provided some great ideas:
- A speed-writing workshop – 15 min. to write slam poetry, then rush to greeting card session, then brain-storming from a writing prompt.
- Play writers & songwriters could do mini-presentations throughout the day/
- Be creative in coming up with venues. A “stage” venue is just one option. For example, at one event Aggie attended, one of Shakespeare’s plays was enacted in an old mansion. The various scenes took place in different rooms, so you could actually listen to the play in reverse order if you wished, as the scenes repeated as people strolled in and out. Nobody sat down.
- All day events would probably need a reasonable spacious venue, such as a church hall or a warehouse. Aggie says the most memorable large arts show she ever attended took place in an unused warehouse and the patrons had to wander around in a warren of old rooms. Everyone loved the cachet of being at something unusual.
So–what kinds of events could your writing group put on to share your talents and passions with other writers and with the wider community? What have you done in the past that worked out well and other groups might like to try? Please do SHARE YOUR IDEAS IN THE COMMENTS. Thanks!