Reading Aloud workshop
In the olden days, literature was nearly always oral: Minstrels, Preachers and
Storytellers would entertain the masses. Even in Victorian times it
wasn't uncommon for friends and families to have
evenings where they'd read to each other at the fireside.
Technology (first the Gramophone,
then Television) has been blamed for loss of the spoken word, though
of course, the spoken word hasn't entirely disappeared. A visit to any
Public Library will show you the popularity of Audio Books, and poets
in particular have found readings an important (even necessary)
spur to their careers.
New Technology (pod-casts and the WWW) is now fueling a
recital-revival. Joggers download stories, and motorists drive to CDs
of Harry Potter. So whether you want to start a recording career (like Ian Holm and
Stephen Fry have done in the UK), win a Poetry Slam or whether you just
want more people to like your work when you read it out,
you can benefit from improving your performance skills. I think reading
out a piece also helps you understand it better, and may even improve your
Technology's moving ahead so fast that audio is becoming a viable alternative
to paper. You can produce a CD for a few pennies, or put audio files online.
There's even a chance that printed versions of poems will no longer be considered the "master" version of a poem.
You and your voice
How would you describe your voice? Have you ever heard your voice?
How do you think others would describe it?
Criticism of your voice can feel like criticism of your whole
being. What is a "Good Voice"? Here are 3 opinions from people who should know
- "there is no such thing as a correct voice. There
is no right way - there are only a million wrong ways" - Peter Brook
- "I'm regularly asked,
'What's a good voice?' I often answer, 'One that I don't notice'. I
would also add, one which makes me notice things about a spoken text"
- Patsy Rodenburg (RSC and NT voice trainer)
- "first the relaxation, then the breathing, and then the voice"
- Judi Dench
The more you
can relax and be yourself, the better. Volume and projection won't be
issues - you'll be talking to microphones or small audiences. If in doubt,
Listening is hard. You can't listen at your own pace, go back to
parts you don't understand, or benefit from the visual layout. So as a
performer be careful what you choose to read, and think hard about
what you might tell the audience.
On the plus side, a performer can help the audience by using various
BUT don't overdo it - (newscasters)
- Jim hates you
- Jim hates you
- Jim hates you
- speed, volume, and pauses - can be used to make a reading more dramatic
- intonation - The way something is said affects the
(football results - you can guess the away team's score by the way the
classified results are read) Portsmouth 1 Arsenal ...
- facial expression and gestures - Speaking is never just
the neck up. But don't overdo gestures - again, watch reporters on TV. Some
jerk their hands like robots, some seem to have facial tics, surprised
by every sixth word.
- Know your material.
- Read out aloud at home - to someone, or make a recording
- Mark the text (you can even add reminders like LOOK UP!)
- Prepare your program. Time it!
- Think about how you're going to introduce each piece. Short introductions!
- Read the meaning, not only the words
- Don't over-accentuate the meter or line-breaks (follow punctuation). Read
the following to a metronome to see how bad meter-driven reading sounds
To be or not to be that is the question
- It's useful to indicate the length of a poem in advance - if people are expecting a
long poem and you deliver a haiku, they'll be unprepared.
- You're not performing a drama, so you don't need to use a wide range of
voices, but try to distinguish the characters. Men - don't use falsetto for
female direct speech.
On the day
- Dress appropriately (poets can be scruffy, novelists can't)
- Keep your shoulders back (so you can throw those words out
farther) and don't put your hands in your pockets - it makes your
shoulders slouch and ruins your vocal projection. Don't look down
at your text. Don't hold the text up between you and the audience.
- Look into eyes
- Don't qualify or apologize.
- Bring the text with you even if you think you've memorised the piece
- Slow Down - Most people read too fast when they get nervous. You'll know you've slowed down
enough when you think you're reciting too slowly.
Things to avoid
- flowing seamlessly from intro into work, so that the audience doesn't
realise that the work has begun
- stopping during a piece to explain something
- long, irrelevant intro
- fumbling through papers. Dropping papers. Changing mind about what to read
- Going "Um"
- Fading away the ends of words or sentences.
- Did your performance go as planned?
- Did the audience enjoy it?
- If you had the opportunity to perform again, what would you do differently?