Saturday, September 16, 2006

Writers reading

Since writers are so often called on to read their work out loud, it's worth learning to do this well. It shouldn't matter, but it does: a reading can sometimes have quite the opposite effect to that intended by the publisher. I have nodded off in many a Waterstone's reading by an acclaimed writer, and been unfairly put off their book.

The Bitch-Lit publishers are sparing nothing to help us out in this respect, and we had another rehearsal yesterday afternoon with Contact Theatre's Cheryl Martin. Actually, everyone taking part in the tour reads really well, but Cheryl helped us finesse things, pointing out when people were swaying on the spot (and likely to make the audience sea-sick), or where we could leave a longer beat for effect, or where certain passages might benefit from a subtle change of pace.

It's a completely new experience for me: I'm accustomed to practising in private and with no idea of what other contributing writers will be reading or how my piece will play out against theirs, and without knowing beforehand the running order or even often the basic format. Yet yesterday we were able to discuss and plan everything: how we'll introduce the sessions, the order we'll run in, even - since we're performing in character (in the characters of our narrators) - what we'll wear. And Char March, who reads her story, two intercut dramatic monologues, in a quite brilliant Russian accent, was able to ask people's opinions on a matter that was bothering her: how far she needed to vary the accent between her two characters.

Since my narrator is most definitely not blonde (but takes revenge on a blonde), I took myself off to Paul's Hair World on Oldham Road to buy a dark wig. Well, I have never had a wig before, and this was some experience. Walls draped from floor to ceiling in wigs and hairpieces, rows and rows of wig-topped plastic model heads. And half of them real hair! Where had it come from? I have had long hair cut very short now and then in my life, and never, ever, was it all cut off in one hank, but snipped away in fussy little hairdressery bits and let drop on the floor all higgledy-giggedly and hacked about, for the junior to sweep away. So there in Paul's Hair World I got a bit of the same creepy feeling I had when I went to the Bodyworks Exhibition in Brick Lane, and had images of poverty-stricken women in Eastern Europe or the East forced to sell their hair whether they liked it or not...

But my wig was for the stage, so I could happily get nylon. I would never have guessed, though, how hard it might be to find a wig which on the model had the vampish, wicked look of my character but didn't make me look like either a pea-head or a lion with a mane. 'This one,' I said finally, to the youth who was serving me and whose eyes had long gone glassy either from boredom or from trying not to laugh: black with bitch-red artificial-looking streaks. John seemed quite nervous when I tried it on at home...

Each of our gigs is tied in with a festival. I'm doing one at the Ilkley Festival on 3oth September and another in October for the Off the Page Festival in Sheffield. At the Manchester event, which will take place at Waterstone's Deansgate and be part of the October Manchester Literature Festival, the readers/performers will be Maya Chowdry, Mary Sharratt, Chris Scholes, Sherry Ashworth and Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen.

No comments: