Strutting one’s stuff

It’s always a surprise to me that many writers won’t read their work in public. I think one of the big kicks of being a writer is getting to see first hand how your audience responds to your work.

Stories in the North puts on Open Mike nights from time to time, mainly as awareness-raising events. We have twenty spots for writers to strut their stuff, and probably about seventy-five seats for people to come and listen. In the beginning it was harder to find people who would come out and read. Quite a few of the spots on the first Open Mike were filled by members of the Stories in the North board (many of us are writers), just to ensure a good show.

Last night, probably four years after our first Open Mike, most of the spots were filled by people who were not on the board. Angie Gallop and I were the only Stories in the North members to perform. Both of us love attention and applause, and we got it in spades last night, as did every other entrant.

I know that performance isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. Some of the people who got up to read last night were nervous about it. Some kept their focus on the page and weren’t able to engage the audience. Never mind – they all got up there and were audible and, may I say, well-received. The quality of the work was excellent; amateur or not, every one of the entrants had obviously taken time to polish and rehearse their pieces.

It’s the audience, however, who makes or breaks an event like this. The one last night, like every other Open Mike audience we’ve had, was attentive, appreciative and generous with applause and praise. More than a few people made a point of telling me how much they enjoyed my pieces, and I made sure to tell others the same about their work.

It’s true that the audience feeds the performers. If people are chatting while you’re reciting your opus, you know you’ve been slighted. If, on the other hand, they listen, and laugh or gasp where you intended, then you get that psychic thrill that tells you you’ve made a real connection, and have touched people’s hearts, or funnybones.

I hadn’t done an Open Mike for over a year. It was incredibly sustaining and a great deal of fun. I think I’m going to have to do this more often.

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5 Responses to Strutting one’s stuff

  1. gimmeethatbook says:

    Dear Elizabeth:

    First of all, I do not want to miss any of your public events again. Our crew had such a good time in Thessalon, and your group of people know how to welcome the out-of-towners so much that I want to go and find a place to live around there. Course when I was teaching in Blind River, I said the same. I’d get out on those back roads at Rydall Mill and all, and felt like I was back home on the farm. One of these days. . .
    I absolutely loved your piece on lambing, sat on the edge of my seat throughout. Then I went to your web site. Now THAT’S a site I could get lost in. I expect I will eat my supper and bedtime snack at the computer tonight as I try to catch up on all Elizabeth has done in her writing life. We have many similarities in our writing lives—I have grown up on a dairy farm , fought all my nursing career to make enough money and have a life partner who wanted to get back to that kind of life as much as I did. Didn’t happen. For a short two years I raised exotic chickens in Murillo Ont while working as a visiting nurse, and wrote Over the Fencepost for a local paper, used the pieces from that and a long running column here in Elliot Lake, As I See It, to put together a couple of volumes of Rural Roots in 2009, a book which is still doing okay. I have written many articles in different mags, some nursing, midwifery, animal review and a few others, always loved to write. So your site has given me a great idea for putting some of my stuff ‘out there’. I don’t want to sound like a copy cat, but your site is the first one I have seen by a writer that fuels the fire in me to get busy online—there is a world of readers out there who would keep the muse active. I don’t have to tell you that! Beautiful and easy-to-navigate site, and so very, very organized.

    Just want you and Angie to know that our little NNG had a meeting today and we are going to be putting on a Writers’ Open Mike sometime near the end of May, on a Thursday evening. We are hoping a busload will attend from Thessalon. Same format, four categories capped at five entrants apiece. Would we be able to pick your brain as we organize? If we can pull it off, it will add to the number of events local writers might participate in.

    Again thank you for the warm welcome. It will not be forgotten.


    • ecreith says:

      Gloria, we were so happy to see everyone from Elliot Lake! Your piece made me laugh out loud, and you were such a good performer up there, obviously enjoying us as much as we were enjoying you.

      I’ll pass the word about your open mike. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I’m sure I’ll hear all about it.

      I’m delighted that you’re enjoying my blog. I want to give people something they can use in their own writing lives, so take whatever you need!

  2. I love this idea! How large is your advertising area? Are you in a large city, to get such a crowd, or surrounded by colleges or something? Or am I in a particularly undeducated stronghold? Ha.

    I do know what you mean about audience kindness. I sing. When I look up and see someone listening with eyes closed and face tilted up in expectation, it’s encouraging. When I see someone distracting a neighbor with conversations. I just want to stop and wait for them to hush or something.

    • ecreith says:

      We are near Sault Ste Marie, which is about 60,000. Almost all of our entrants and our audience are from small towns around Thessalon. We had a group from Elliot Lake, a smallish city in the area, but this time was the first time, I believe, that that had happened.

      One think I noticed about Northern Ontario when I moved up here was the incredible numbers of artists. Most of them describe themselves as hobbyists. Most of them undercharge woefully for their work. But there is an incredible pool of talent all along the NOrth Shore, just ready to be tapped for Open Mikes.

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