Public Reading Primer
by Anita Mae Draper
I live on a Saskatchewan farm 15 minutes from a small community of 500, and to get anywhere important – like the nearest fast food joint – is an hour’s drive to the city of Regina, with a population of 200,000, 1 huge central/main library and 8 smaller community libraries.
So I was very excited last year when my writing group, the Saskatchewan Romance Writers (SRW), was invited to participate in a public reading at the main branch of the Regina Public Library (RPL). The reading would be entitled, Romancing the Word: An Evening with Saskatchewan Romance Writers and the SRW was looking for volunteers to read.
Safety in Numbers
Four of us volunteered to read and yet only Annette Bower had experience reading. I don’t think I would have agreed to do it on my own, but being part of a group, especially with women I deeply respect, took a lot of the pressure off. And since Annette had experience with the RPL and lived in Regina, she volunteered to be our liaison, or contact person. Not only did she do a terrific job keeping us informed by email, she arranged a meeting at a coffee shop where we got together to discuss the finer details such as promotion, timing, order of read, arrangement, décor and refreshments.
The RPL created posters and gave us some to take back to our own communities. Annette encouraged us to bring as many friends and family as we could to the reading. It was very strange to see my name on posters hanging in city bookstore windows and on bulletin boards, but conscious of my unpublished state, I was too shy to give them to my local librarian, Lillian, until the day before the event (at which time I received an earful).
Practice and Timing
Since we would each read for 15 mins – which I understand is normal for the industry – we agreed to meet an hour and a half prior to the posted time to practice. This gave us a chance to stand at the podium and actually read. We could fiddle with the microphone placement, see how our papers would sit and just get used to the idea of standing there.
When it was my turn to practice reading from the beginning of Emma's Outlaw, I looked up at the imagined crowd every so often, and I decided to quietly slide my paper to the left as I finished each page instead of flipping it over. This smooth action allowed me to read without pausing and without the audience being distracted by the crackling and rustling of paper. Another benefit of practicing was that in one paragraph of introspection, I noticed the girls getting this dazed look on their faces. When they asked me to try it again at a slower pace, I skipped that paragraph. They didn't notice the difference and they didn't seem to lose interest. And because I was speaking slower, I would've gone over the time limit except it worked out by eliminating the one paragraph.
|Anita Mae Draper, Feb 2010|
Arrangement and Decor
The venue was a small theatre with a 3’ high stage and about 8’ of floor space in front of it. Annette told us some readers use the podium on the floor instead of on the stage. We agreed to do the same to make it more cozy.
The weather in February on the prairies is very unpredictable and that night, the drive was horrid with blowing snow creating whiteouts on the highway. I arrived 15 mins later than our agreed upon time and the others had already set up the room with the podium on the floor. Beside it were two tables, each with two chairs and a microphone. I thought we were only going to sit there for the question period afterwards but we sat at the front throughout the reading. Karyn brought white tablecloths for the tables and even added a small bowl of roses to set the romance ambiance.
|Karyn Good and Susan Easton, Feb 2010|
Order of Read
Since the audience would need to differentiate between the 4 romance stories, we arranged it so there would be a good mix of genres. Susan lead off with her contemporary, Karyn followed with her contemporary suspense, I read from my historical inspirational and Annette ended with her women’s fiction. And although the first two were contemporary, there was no mistaking the flowing romance of Susan’s, to the edge-of- the-seat suspense of Karyn’s. (Karyn has since signed a publishing contract with The Wild Rose Press for the novel she read that night. Yay, Karyn!)
|Annette, Susan, Anita Mae, Karyn, Feb 2010|
The RPL provided refreshments of coffee, juice and water on a table by the door, but it was Annette’s tray of heart-shaped sugar cookies with pale pink icing that helped set the mood as soon as you entered the room.
At 7 pm the RPL staff introduced the SRW and we began. Because we’d practiced, our timing was perfect. I had brought my son, JJ who took the photos of the evening. As well, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law showed up for support. They know I'm a writer, but it was the first time they heard what I write. From their comments, they liked my story. What I remember most about reading my portion is that the room was very quiet and everyone was looking at me with interest. What I mean by that is I didn't see any bored faces, no one dozed off, and they chuckled and gasped in the appropriate places.
After allowing a few minutes for the audience to grab refreshments, the question period began. It’s been rumored that some of the initial questions were ‘planted friendlies’ to get the ball rolling. If indeed they were, it worked, because once those initial questions were out of the way, they kept coming.
At 8:30, a staff member approached the front and thanked everyone for attending. A couple ladies lined up to speak to me after (which really impressed my family). And by 9 pm, the room had cleared. The official count was 40 attendees.
The roads were still bad on the drive home, but we pulled into the yard around 11 pm.
What made this reading enjoyable was the RPL staff, our (mostly Annette’s) planning, and the support of my fellow writers. Would I read again? Yes.
Have you ever read or attended a public reading? How many readers? What would you read? Would you host one if you didn’t have to read?
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Photo Credits: JJ Draper