Feel the fear…

In the last couple of weeks, Mr D and I have made our spoken word debuts; both of us taking part in The Front Room in Alloa, and Speakeasy at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh. In Alloa we gathered in an artist’s studio – one of several in the artist collective based at Marcelle House (part of the Maker’s Village). Around 30 people cosied in, straining the studio at the seams. Confidence skittish, I entered the room holding Mr D’s hand a little too tightly, an extract from my LPoW tucked in my pocket, my fingers returning to it again and again as I sat, summoning up the courage to add my name to the list of readers. Mr D, a seasoned performer in another incarnation, signed up, sat back down and struck up a conversation with two poets sitting in front of us. I decided I’d wait until after the first half before committing to make the transition from voyeur to participant.

A sticky camaraderie bound the room together: poems, short-stories, nerves, laughter. Mr D crested the first half, a wave of applause depositing him back beside me. He’d seemed so confident but when he folded his notes I noticed his hands shaking. Decision made. If he could do it despite the nerves, then I could too. So I did. In the second half. I scanned and read, editing as I went along. I looked at no-one and everybody; shook and smiled, and sometimes I remembered to breathe. At the end I returned to my seat and Mr D stroked my hand. I was glad I’d done it. Surely it would be easier the next time.

Speakeasy posterFast forward a fortnight and I’m standing to the side of the stage, about to be introduced as the first act in the Speakeasy. There’d been a brief sound-check earlier in the evening when, freaked out by the microphone, I’d decided against using it in favour of projecting my voice. I’m considering the wisdom of that decision. Then there’s my name, and I’m on stage. The lights are down, it’s silent, peaceful, welcoming. This time I begin with an extract from my writing, before talking a little about my experience; the latter is the more daunting. There’s a point where I think I might not get the words out – I pause, collect myself and though my voice wavers, I manage it. The dimmed lights make it impossible to see anyone other than the front row of the audience but I know they’re there, my friends, rooting for me, like they’ve always done, lifting me, spurring me on. I finish with another extract. The audience gasps at the end and then, applause. It’s over. I smile, say thank you, and wonder how on earth I’m going to manage to make it back to my seat without my legs buckling under me.

In the break several people come over to talk to me, to tell me they enjoyed it, to ask me more about my transplant. I’m moved and humbled by the response. Friends hug me and one hands me a glass of red wine: wine on an empty stomach! By the time the second half begins, my hands have stopped shaking and I’m basking in alcohol’s warm embrace. Mr D rounds up the evening with stylish ease (only I know how his hands shook before taking to the stage).

Ten minutes on stage but several days of preparation. I am in awe of those that do it on a regular basis. Not only were all the other performers amazing to watch, they were also fun, reassuring and really great people – several confessing to being nervous before every show. It was a fantastic to share the experience with them. Later, in the pub, I was asked if I enjoyed it. On balance, yes. Would I do it again? Buy me another glass of red wine and we’ll see.

For those of you interested, you can read the extract from which I read here – the full extract is about to be published in the Next Review.

To book tickets for next month’s Speakeasy visit the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Time to Speak Out

Last night Mr D and I, along with a couple of friends, had a night out in the Big McSmoke (or Edinburgh as it’s more commonly referred), to listen to a selection of poets, actors, comedians and musicians take part in the Speakeasy event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Unsure what to expect, we grabbed a drink and headed downstairs to the theatre: what a fantastic night! At £7 a ticket, the event far exceeded the more than reasonable price. Compered by comedian Jo Caulfield, there were six acts, all different and all equally as fun, entertaining and interesting as each other.

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At the interval Mr D and I were invited to take part in the next event on the 10th of March, a thought which both excites and terrifies me in equal measure. Add to that one of the other acts being Dave Hook of Stanley Odd and my fear begins to outweigh my excitement. Don’t worry, I’m not doing some kind of pseudo Sonny & Cher duet with Mr D, nor are we acting out our own mini-drama – I’m telling the story of my recent health-related experience through an extract from my Longer Piece of Work (LPoW), and Mr D intends to combine his writing and musical talents in a ‘life on tour’ mash-up (apologies if I’m bastardising the terminology).

Aside from a practice run at university, I’ve never read any of my writing in public, nor have I told my story to strangers. I’ve listened to other writers and storytellers and been in awe of their ability to stand up and put themselves out there. More recently, one of the other members of our MLitt Write-n-Rant Collective, Helen MacKinven, took the plunge, followed by another of my fellow ex-students. Our MLitt tutor, author Paula Morris, often talks at festivals and other events, one of my closest friends is a stand-up comedian, and Mr D and several of his friends perform music in various venues. All these people inspire me. And yet, the thought of doing it myself, seemed beyond my capabilities.

There are various reasons people take to the stage: to promote; to share; for fun (!); for the love of it. I think it’s great that they do so. Nothing beats watching someone talk about the thing they love, nor is anything more moving than someone sharing their life experience. To do it well is a talent not to be under-rated; a joy to behold. To do it badly – yikes!

No-one last night did it badly and that’s what really scares me. What if I go up there and I freeze or worse, I’m boring and no-one is interested? What if I bomb? Wouldn’t that be horrible? Well, no not really. I mean, yes it would be horrible but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I know this because last night I realised that even if someone had forgotten what they were going to say, or been less than inspiring, I would’ve rooted for them anyway just by virtue of them getting up there. The audience at the Speakeasy event weren’t out to get anyone, they weren’t rowdy, they didn’t heckle or boo. For each and every person that spoke, the audience were on their side. What better place to have my performance debut? If I do bomb, Mr D and my amazing friends will be there to pick up the pieces. And hey, there’s always red wine.

For those interested in going to one of the monthly Speakeasy nights, and I strongly recommend it, you can find out more by visiting the Scottish Storytelling Centre website.