Honing the Spoken Word

Alicia performs her stories and music at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during a 75-performance cross-country tour in 2000

Today I attended From Page To Stage: Performing Your Personal Story, a class offered by The Learning Annex on spoken word performance, a fast-growing trend in theatre. The list of spoken word venues continues to grow in cities with art scenes; in Los Angeles, for example, you’ll find Word-a-Rama, Melt in Your Mouth, Mortified, Show and Tell, Dear Diary, Say the Word, Sit ‘n Spin, Story Salon, Word Theatre, Tasty Words, Word Nerd, Word Space, Cornucopia and Afterbirth. These evenings feature four to seven readers of personal stories in an atmosphere of hipness bordering on a poetry slam.

I certainly recommend both teachers. Amy Friedman, a much-published writer of fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, and a syndicated newspaper column, teaches Writing Your Personal Story through UCLA extension. Jim Pentecost has acted, directed and produced plays and musicals in New York, came to LA to produce Disney’s Pocahontas, and now is coaching spoken word. Both are personable and communicate well.

Amy led us in writing what she calls “personal essays”—intimate, honest, and revealing narratives about small, distinct events in our lives. You can find abundant examples of this genre in The Sun Magazine.

As our first task, we composed lists of as many memories, absolutely any memories, as we could think of in ten minutes. Then we were asked to quickly jot down ten more memories and were asked to look for our repetitive life themes in this seemingly random set of ten memories. Finally, we wrote a short personal essay using anything from our memory lists, or on subjects suggested by Amy and Jim, including What No One Knows About Me, My Morning Ritual, and How I Learned About Sex.

Three volunteers read their first drafts to the class while Jim coached them on reading with emphasis and good dramatic timing.

I discovered that what I really want to do is not the same as spoken word performance. I want to do more one-woman shows of my humorous autobiographical stories and original music, like the shows I created and toured in 2000, 2001 and 2002. So, I will seek coaching in this particular dramatic form.