During December I hibernated, there wasn’t much in my social calendar but January has made up for it and I’ve been to several really interesting events. My latest jaunt was to Edinburgh to attend a masterclass from one of the UK’s top spoken word acts, Francesca Beard, organised by Rally and Broad. To be honest, I’d never heard of Francesca as I’m not familiar with the spoken word scene. I hadn’t heard of the masterclass either until my friend from Twitter, Claire Archibald, gave me the tip-off that she was going and it sounded like a great chance for me to improve my performance technique.
The masterclass was billed as “an opportunity to explore your poetic voice through creating a persona and aimed to give you the tools to create a journey arc for your audience. Each participant will write and have the chance to perform a new piece of writing. Please wear comfortable clothing and come prepared to work as well as play“.
Two things in the descriptor scared me, ‘poetic voice’ and the bit about ‘playing’ in comfortable clothes. What did that mean? Reciting poetry in a onesie?
I’m not a reader or writer of poetry but I’m up for a go at most art forms so dressed in leggings and a stretchy tunic I found myself sitting in a circle at The Counting House with twenty or so other writers. It soon became apparent that most of these folk were experienced spoken word performers, and I wondered if I should slip away and go shopping instead. But Francesca made us all feel safe to experiment and when she asked us to write a list poem I wasn’t frightened to have a go. The list of questions all starting with, ‘Who in the room has ever… ?’ isn’t what I recognise as a poem but I was assured that this was a structure that was particularly effective as an active form to engage an audience. And the biggest surprise for me was that I enjoyed writing a poem!
The responsibility of the performer to connect with the audience was something Francesca likened to the writer being the driver of a bus and it was our job to make sure everyone in the audience stayed on board for the entire journey. This means thinking carefully not just about words but also about body language and to be present on stage in every sense. We did several physical exercises to look and sound confident in our delivery. We also spent time creating an introduction for an audience that would give them a sense of our identity. This could take the form of, ‘Here are 5 things you don’t know about me…’ I’d never considered developing a more interesting introduction other than, ‘My name is… ‘so this was a really useful exercise.
Throughout the afternoon, Francesca encouraged us to share our inner world with the audience and not to be afraid of being judged as that’s something we can’t control and will happen anyway. The idea of opening up to strangers is a challenge that I’m working on and the masterclass really helped to develop my confidence.
How do you connect with your audience? Do you have any tips to share when performing spoken word?