Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Get On Up: A Claire Tacon Guest Post

I didn’t start writing fiction until my mid-twenties. Before then, I was more interested in poetry and drama—completing an undergrad in theatre studies and working for a few years at CanStage. I’d swallowed the theatre Koolaid by the pitcher and kept a copy of Peter Brook’s The Empty Space on my nightstand. When I wrote a script and showed it to my mentor, however, she said she liked the writing but didn’t think it was a play. Why didn’t I rework it as a story?

At the time, the comment was devastating. It felt like my characters were being sentenced to a lesser existence—they’d never live in print as fully as they would on stage. They’d be robbed of the tension that theatre creates between the performer and the audience, the marriage of textual and visual elements. I went out with friends that night and got wasted. After sobering up over noodles at Swatow, I went home, opened a new Word doc and tried to rewrite the play as prose.

What’s stayed with me as I’ve focused on writing fiction is an appreciation for seeing the written word performed. In those five, ten minutes at the mic, non-playwrights get to snatch some of the magic of theatre. Some readers are able to push the spectacle—Allen Ginsberg reciting Blake, or Daniel Tysdal leading the crowd in a collective reading of a Cohen poem. Others, like Jessica Westhead or Suzanne Buffam succeed with understatement, letting their writing do the heavy lifting. No matter how subtle or bombastic the reader, listening to text filtered through the human voice rarely fails to yield new insights.

For writers, readings give us the rare opportunity to see people react to the work as it’s being read. (Unfortunately, most readers bristle when the author hovers over them, assessing their every twitch.)

It also brings unpredictability to a fixed form. Alongside the potential to connect with an audience lurks the possibility of disaster—what if no one laughs? What if there are fewer people every time I look up? What if I’m struck with the runs mid-sentence? After one reading, which I thought had gone well, a sweet, older gentleman informed me that he was familiar with the road I’d mentioned in the passage. His aunt and uncle had died in a horrific car accident on it. There wasn’t much to say after that.

This spring, I’ll be touring In the Field with Jamella Hagen, whose blisteringly good poetry collection Kerosene came out last year with Nightwood. Honestly, I’m looking forward to every minute of it. Three people more interested in the free cookies? Great! Forty people being polite? Sure! For better or worse, there’s a feeling of being present that comes from standing in front of a group and putting one’s writing on display. In theatre school, I was always a terrible actress. Somehow now that I’m reading my own words, it feels more comfortable. Even when the vibe is less than electric, there’s still a thrum, an intensity of feeling alive that’s rare and precious.

The Tacon/Hagen Tour, Spring 2012 

April 24: Windsor (w/ Mike Barnes)
April 29: Ottawa, Ottawa Writer's Festival/ Plan 99
May 1st: Art Bar, Toronto
May 2nd: Pivot, Toronto
May 6th: LitLive, Hamilton
May 7th: Virus Series, Niagara Falls,
May 8th: Cobour Poetry Workshop, Cobourg
May 14th: Regina
May 15th: Pages on Kensington, Calgary (w/ John Lent)
May 16th: Kelowna, BC
May 24th: Robson Square Reading Series, Vancouver
May 28th: Bolen's Books, Victoria

Other events in London, Guelph, Waterloo, and elsewhere forthcoming ...

No comments: