On Friday night I read from my novel for the first time in public.
I think it went well. There were about 50 people in the room, all there to celebrate our friend Alan’s recent Ph.D. I was one of a number of (mainly musical) performers taking to the stage.
I was extremely nervous. My reading was mid-way through the line-up and I could feel my anxiety grow as the room filled up. Had I chosen the right excerpt? What should I first say to put the scene into context? Would they like it?
I don’t know how actors do it: perform in front of a crowd. Many of the ones I know are quite shy and soft-spoken people. However, they’re effortlessly able to turn all of their nervous energy into a compelling performance. I wish I could do that.
Whenever I have to speak in public, I go a little blind. I may jump right into it, but I am also not sure at the end what I did or how I came across.
I chose to read a scene from the book’s third chapter, where Angie and Will go to the strip club for Izo’s birthday. It was the perfect length and I thought it might be a fun story for a queer audience. Largely, I think it went over well. No one spoke while I was talking. Everyone paid attention. I was hoping for the occasional chuckle at the funny bits, but those never came.
I learned several things that night. I learned that I need to add emphasis to a sentence if I want a laugh. I learned that reading scenes with dialogue is problematic. No one can see the quotation marks so not everyone knows who is saying what (I had to add a few extra “he said” “she said” while I read). I learned that it’s important to “act” some of the dialogue to help the audience along.
I couldn’t see anything while I was on stage, the lights shining on me, but I wish I still had looked up more. Attempted eye contact with the crowd. Also, a couple of times I felt like rushing through a line or a paragraph. Thankfully, I quickly recognized what I was doing and ignored the voice and took time with each sentence.