Your hand reaches for the microphone, you stand alone upon a stage and begin your piece, practised, polished and perfected. The audience waits expectantly to be entertained and educated, your words formed and found from deep within the recesses of your mind. Experience coming together with creativity and who is your audience? This fandom of thousands, adoring the sound of your voice – and then you come back to reality; whilst most of this is true the audience is an old lady, her dog and three of your friends who have come along to support you, even though they started drinking for breakfast and it’s now two in the afternoon. Welcome to the world of the spoken word at festivals.
This year was my first experience of festivals having taken up performing at open mic nights last year, I’d had one similar experience at the Bardic Picnic in Northampton in August 2014, but this year I embraced the local festival scene. I got to perform at the Green Meadow Festival, the Bardic Picnic, the Umbrella Fair and Much Ado About Corby, as well as going along to Woodfest in Irchester Country Park. Having spent the last 15 months performing in pubs and clubs it was such a different experience playing these open air gigs. Most were in tents of some sort although the Bardic Picnic was on a makeshift stage in the open air.
Audience numbers varied massively as did the conditions, although the weather remained balmy on every day I performed from the beginning of July to the end of August. I prepared for every event in the same way. I picked my set list, I practised in a spare bedroom, speaking aloud and timing myself. I tried to educate, to inform, to amuse, to stimulate, but this was where the real learning curve came in. In the peace of where I live you don’t get the heavy back beat drumming of a band in the background or the reggae rhythms coming across the air to jumble the spoken rhythms of your mind. You don’t get the dogs outside the tent barking loudly as you try to softly speak the words of love that you poured your heart into through the tips of your fingers. As you look at the audience do they engage in your words or drift off into their private thoughts or even carry on talking to their friend as if you a Chinese musak in the background?
All of this is education to you, the performer, the writer, the deliverer of words. When you return to the bars and clubs during the winter the experience will make you better at your craft and you will take with you those moments when you did reach the audience. When your passion filled their hearts too, when your witty comment allowed them to laugh out loud, when the applause rang in your ears or an audience member came and spoke to after and told you how you had touched their spirit. It was a summer of learning, a little bit of skin burning, and for now a yearning to become a true talksmith.
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