After you walk to the podium or step onto the stage to read or give a talk “let yourself arrive,” said Elizabeth Austen, at the performance workshop I attended last Sunday at Jack Straw Productions in Seattle. Don’t rush, especially at the beginning, she said, because “it takes the audience a few moments to tune its ears to your voice.”
Austen is a poet, trained actress, Washington State Poet Laureate, and an inspiring, insightful performance coach. She has a knack for bringing out the best in the poets, memoirists and novelists among us – twelve writers reading in different genres, with different presentation styles, and different needs for each piece of writing. She helped us identify our natural gifts as performers and our challenges with many tips for how to “best serve the work.”
If you live in Seattle and want to see how this year's Jack Straw Writers applied Austen's coaching to our work, please join us on May 2, 9, or 16 at 7 pm at Jack Straw Productions. (I'm reading May 9 and would love to see you there.)
I want to share three more tips with you from Austen’s workshop that may help you when you rehearse for a talk or a reading:
- “You are not the work,” she said. The performer you is different than the writer you (or the artist you). The way I think about this is when I’m reading a work or giving a talk, it’s as if I’m playing me in a movie. But it’s not “me.”
- You’re performing (or presenting) “in service of the work,” she said. Think about what style will best serve your audience and your work. For example, you may be a shy person but your work may be large and loud. Can you stretch yourself as a performer so you can be as big as your words need you to be?
- “Don’t let the word ‘perform’ scare you,” she said. “To perform is to activate, to bring something to life.” That’s all and that’s everything.