Life Is But A Performance

Once in a while, literary societies will organise “open microphone” performances, where people read out or even perform their written works in front of an audience. It’s really a simple concept. If you’ve written a poem or a short story (not really for novels, naturally), you’ll step up on stage to the microphone and read it out. It’s a great way to link a writer with his work. Except I totally abhor literary performances. Why?

Well firstly, authors tend to be pretty imaginative beings, in that what they create can be totally unexpected. Which also means you may be prepared to see a balding old man reading off a short story about a band of heroes with superpowers who rid the world of spirits. If you don’t believe me, by the way, just check out who is the artist of the manga Bleach. And so it may come as a laugh when you hear a deadpan voice reciting a poem on murder, or a well-dressed gentleman spouting off gangster speak. Think theatre, except the actors did not have any professional training. I think this would spoil the atmosphere depicted in the literary piece, if the voice reading it lacked the essence required by it.

Which also brings me to the point that some authors simply may not want to be associated so viscerally with their works. I hate when after my essays in school are read out, people turn to me and ask if I really think like the protagonist in the story. Especially if the protagonist was an angsty immature teenager — which has happened before, and caused some degree of embarrassment when my friends lectured me on growing up. I also tend to be quite ashamed of my works after I write them (sometimes even before) so I would certainly be most reluctant to read it in front of everybody.

Then again, some of you may say I just haven’t seen actual performance poetry in action. Indeed, I haven’t been to a poetry slam, which I hear is a competition where poets read original work and are scored by a panel of judges. This is the most simplified version of performance poetry. Actual performance poetry will often include props and costumes, to ensure the atmosphere is adequately generated. I’m sure I would be most interested to watch, but I’m still not enough of a poetry fan to pick myself up and attend such events unfortunately, unless they take place someplace near, such as in school.

I guess the best literary pieces to be performed are ostensibly plays and the screenplays of films. Then again, I wouldn’t expect playwrights or scriptwriters to be acting out their own pieces, would you? This is why my point still holds, that authors should not have to read out their own works.

But one can’t say it is entirely to the author’s detriment to read out his own works in an open mic. The main incentive for people to do so is to receive immediate feedback. Reading out the work ensures you have an audience who has actually listened to what you wrote, and can immediately tell you how you can improve. Authors are always looking out for peer review and sharing sessions, and open mic is one of the best opportunities.

So if you have written something recently and want to find people in your area (more than just anonymous strangers online whose expertise you don’t even know) to offer comments, find an open mic in your local arts facility! Who knows, this may be the best performance to usher in the New Year.

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