Last night I read at Tuesday Funk, I reading series that takes place in the upstairs room of a bar in Chicago. I’ve read there before and so I knew going in what to expect: a great crowd, some really great stories, and a good meal afterwards. Add a little bit of Kahlua in my glass and I was all set.
I started off the evening by reading Vanessa McAvoy’s Statement, which appeared in the anthology Beast Within 2: Predator and Prey. Then I got to do the listen-and-eating portion of the evening.
I love giving readings. My skills still need work, I think, but I’ve definitely improved over the past five years. Before my very first reading I was very nervous, and it was all I could do to get the words out without stumbling over them too much. Now I don’t concentrate on the “oh shit I’m reading my words” as much as “I have to entertain these people,” so that helps with the nerves. Shifting my focus from me to the audience really helps. Now I try to see it as more of a performance, and with each reading I try to become a better verbal storyteller. Because that’s what it’s all about. Sure, it’s promotional and all that, and it’s a chance to hang out with friends, but it all boils down to story.
Funny how that works out, huh?
So I’ve attended a few storytelling nights held at Chicago pubs in the past few weeks. It’s a continuation of a grand tradition–verbally telling a story to an audience. These aren’t like readings I’ve attended and participated in, though, where the stories being read have been fiction written by the author.
These stories are from real life.
I’ve heard some good ones and not-so-good ones, ones that brought tears to my eyes and ones that meandered, ones told by professional actors and ones uttered by complete rookies. Just like the written word, there’s an art and a craft to a spoken story. There are pacing and cadence and beats to worry about.
As I listen I find myself critiquing the speaker. Not the performance as much as the words. The story. The emotions the teller should have hit, events they should have glossed over, the order in which the story is told.
I also find myself wanting to entertain a small crowd with a story of my own. This will happen sooner rather than later, I think.