Last night I attended Open Mic for 1st Person Narrative. It was held at an artsy and intimate Bryn Mawr coffeehouse with lumpy, velvet sofas and a view of Lancaster Avenue along Philadelphia's famous (or infamous) Main Line.
Remember "The Philadelphia Story" starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant? The Main Line is the setting for that classic film, although the movie was shot in a studio in Culver City, California, 3,000 miles from Bryn Mawr's mansions and towering oak trees.
The Main Line is synonymous with socialites and snobbery. It is where I grew up. Not that we had money. Dad was a teacher. We didn't belong to a country club. Pappagallo shoes and Villager sweaters were hardly in the budget. I attended junior high and high school on the Main Line. My "clique" was a small group of girls who hung out at Ho Jo's and smoked cigarettes and drank black coffee.
I was married in a Gothic-facade Presbyterian Church with massive red oak doors on the Main Line. I was born at Bryn Mawr Hospital, my sons were born there. My husband died of cancer there. . . moonlit clouds scuttling across a warm September sky framed that towering edifice last night.
Even though I don't live there anymore, the Main Line is still home. It is heaven and hell.
Back to Open Mic. I enjoy the energy of performance. I admit it. I have come to like the attention. In the past few months I've learned how important audiences are to developing a voice and a presence on stage. The written word takes life in real-time setting when the author grabs the microphone, looks out at her audience and starts. At first, the words come too quickly . . . slow down, pace yourself, an inner voice says. Let them feel the story the way you do.
My first reading was in a bookshop last January. How stilted it was compared to what I felt last night when I looked past the stage lights and into darkness. I saw the blur of faces - a small audience listened to sentences written long ago in the privacy of my room. I smiled.
We need to engage our audience. This is not an easy task for writers. We are solitary by nature. We don't normally seek attention. Even our writing sometimes beats around the bush. We describe everyone else in utter detail, but leave ourselves out. We tend to be a shy and insecure bunch.
It is important to practice reading at home before taking the stage. Much of the value of Open Mic rests in how well-crafted the performances are. Some people have yet to develop the poise and theatrical aplomb to pull off reading their work. They make eye contact only with the written page. But that's okay. Practice makes perfect.
Many thanks go to writer Tracy Kauffman Wood of Ardmore, pictured here. Tracy organizes Open Mic at Milkboy coffeehouse in Bryn Mawr. Her whimsical piece about clothes shopping in junior high was a pleasure to hear. It took me back to a time when I, too, walked to the Marianne store. It was located - where else? The Main Line.