Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tips on reading aloud - Part Trois

Okay so I have to apologise for not having posted sooner. It's been one heck of a week but I am pleased to announce that I have an acting agent! It is very exciting to me, and I really think she is just lovely. So yay!

And now onto today's lesson boys and girls.


The first thing when preparing to read aloud is, practice. I say practice darn you! Yes, know what you are going to read, and then, heck, read it. Aloud. Using some of the techniques you see fit mentioned in the two other parts of this series. If you can find someone who is willing to be read to, then read to that person. They can tell you if you are too quiet, too fast, or just too fabulous for words.

It is really important to keep pace in mind when reading. This is something I really suck at. I talk fast. Very fast. And I also read fast. I have had to teach myself over my many years as a drama major to slow down. So, yes, don't read fast. At the same time, don't go too slow. I mean, seriously, let's not bore people here. Ideally you want a nice steady pace, but one that speeds up and slows down ever so slightly depending on what you are reading. Please . . . don't . . . read . . . everything . . . in . . . a . . . monotonous . . . pattern. You also want to enunciate your words clearly. Often when we reach the end of a sentence, our voice sort of fades away. Remember to read right through to the end of the line. If you can't find a friend to listen, then tape yourself and listen to yourself.

Next, dress well. Just think about it. You don't need to wear a suit and tie, but people appreciate it when someone has put in the effort. Especially kids. They are probably the most style conscious people on earth.

Now as for taking the space. It would be great if you could find out ahead of time what sort of room you will be reading in. Will it be a classroom, a boardroom, a gym, an auditorium? Will you have a microphone, and will it be on a stand, will it be hand held, will it be like a Madonna one you wear over your ear (if it is one of these, please resist the temptation to start singing "Like a Prayer")? This is important so you know how loud you need to be. In a smaller space, obviously you don't need to worry about projection as much. Bigger space . . . well then you do. And a microphone? Ah man. Then you have to quieter, but enunciate uber clearly, and make sure you know whether you will have to stand or sit at it, because that can change your whole delivery.

Also, remember that unless the space is designed for theatre, it is likely to have the strangest acoustics. And that the more people you have in a room, the more your voice is absorbed. The same goes for a room that has a lot of carpeting and padded walls. So even if the room is smaller, if it is packed to the ceiling, and let's be honest if it is one of your readings chances are it will be, you still have to project your voice.

Another reason for knowing what sort of room you will be in is that it affects the way you "take the space." To "Take the Space" is a term in theatre which basically describes you as the actor walking out on stage and commanding the attention of everyone in the audience as well as your fellow actors. You don't sort of shuffle on apologetically, no you come into the room like you own it!

So if you are walking out onto a stage, or into a gym, or any other large room with several hundred people watching you, make sure they notice you. This doesn't mean cartwheeling in . . . although . . . But it does mean walking in with confidence, good posture, and a big smile on your face. I know that a big audience is scary, but take the time as you enter and sit to really look at it. To see individual faces and examine it from the very front to the very back. You don't need to launch into your reading immediately. Don't be worried if you think you are uninteresting just looking at all of them, they will be very pleased to have you notice that they are there. It will make them feel special. Make yourself comfortable, don't rush, don't worry. Use the time you have to enter as an opportunity to calm your nerves. Take a good few deep breaths. Seriously. Don't rush it. (I mean let's not milk it either people, be reasonable about the whole thing. It's just that so often we just start things without breathing or thinking. Please breathe and think. Please.)

But . . . if the room is small. If you only have twenty audience people sitting there, well then you can establish a much more intimate informal environment. You can make the audience feel like they are a part of something special, it's just you and them. Enter the room more casually, give a friendly wave or something. I'd say try to notice everyone when you enter, have a good look at all of them. Oddly though this sounds intimidating, when you actually look at the people you are reading to and realise that they are excited to be there and supportive of you, and are just people after all, it can calm you down as well. Make an intimate reading special because of its intimacy. Oh and also breathe and think here too.

Now, when you are reading of course you are going to do all those things I've already talked about, but here's one more thing. During your practicing reading aloud before the big day, practice looking up from the book as well. Choose some moments, some individual lines you think you could memorise, and then look up. An audience will respond so much more to an author who is engaged with them, who remembers and cares that they exist, as opposed to a reader who just puts his nose in his book and forgets all about them. Like I said a few posts ago, it's hard to keep attention when reading. It's just you, talking, with little to no movement (though I think if you can make a gesture with your hand every now and then it would be a good idea). Look up to make sure they are with you. Pause if you have to. Genuinely keep track of whether or not they are paying you any attention, and are following along with the story.

And when you finish the reading, have a moment of quiet. Then smile again, and look up at your audience from your book. And thank them for being such a good audience.

Now the thing is, stuff might not go perfectly. You may lose your audience's focus and no matter what you do you can't get it back. You may trip walking out on stage. You may stutter over a word or two. And you know what. . . who cares? Don't let it get to you. It's one reading. It's meant to be fun. For you. For the audience.

As Douglas Adams wrote: Don't panic.

And that concludes our class on reading aloud. I hope it was somewhat useful, or at least entertaining. I'm really enjoying reading other people's techniques in the comments section, so please keep 'em coming. I think we could all use as much help and support as we can get!

There's Always Something to Add

(previous: Tips on Reading Aloud - Part Deux)


Marjorie said...

Adrienne, thanks so much for this reading course! When I read the first posting, I wasn't sure how it would apply to me (I'm a writer, I don't speak in public, blah blah blah), but then I realize that with the projects I'm pursuing (writing a novel, stage play and screenplay, not to mention my weekly newspaper column, as well as maybe exploring filmmaking), eventually I probably will be doing some kind of public speaking or reading in the future. Thanks for the great tips! It was a fascinating read.

You know, a lot of people (including myself) always assume that a public reading is just that: reading, just in public, but you've done a great job demonstrating that it's more than that, that like everything else in the arts, there's a technique behind it all that enhances the experience for both the audience and the reader. Very useful


Holly Kennedy said...

Useful and entertaining, Adrienne. Very good stuff. I talk fast, too and often have to remind myself to slow down, but as a writer, reading aloud is an art well worth fine tuning!

ORION said...

This is great Adrienne! I also talk and read fast.
What part do you read? The beginning? What determines what part you choose to read?

Lesley Livingston said...

All good stuff, indeed. And you should know, o freshly-agented one! *grin*


Adrienne said...

Glad you guys liked it! I wanted to write it both as a an author who has had to do a reading, but also as an audience member who has seen readings. And you are so right Marjorie, there is so much more to it than one initially thinks. And whether or not any of what I wrote is of any help, at least I think it makes people aware that there is more work there than meets the eye!

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for an article like this for a while and thank God I found you. VEry infortmative indeed, thank you.
A novice writer who's reading aloud in an award ceremony next month :)