Gigging in the Rigging
So, Readers, What Makes a Great Night?
Since we began our Year Zero Live tour back in February, I’ve had the time of my life, and learned vast amounts about performing my writing, AND what makes a literary night work, and not work. I want to share a bit of that here, but most of all, I want to ask people, and not so much writers and performers, but the people who enjoy going and listening and watching, what makes a great night for them.
We have always been clear at Year Zero that we didn’t want our events to be about people sitting or standing in front of a dutifully attentive audience reading from their books and taking the odd question before hawking their wares. These can be immensely fun – but usually only because the audience is a lifelong fan of the author in question. Not for the thing in itself. And that’s what we want – for our events to be known for being great experiences in themselves.
Back when I launched Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, I knew I liked words and music working together, and that’s something I haven’t changed my mind about (see this post for more detail). In fact, the more arts that can come together and overlap, and talk and create together the better.
But how do you make sure this works for the audience? I ask now because I realise that as we get into our tour, I’ve been trying to learn from what’s worked and what hasn’t and I’ve ended up pushing our events towards the direction of being “themed”, in an effort to stop the multi-arts format becoming too chaotic.
“Dropping the Beat“, our last event was themed, in honour of the venue – The Albion Beatnik Bookstore – and because we had a lot of writing that fitted the bill, around The Beat, and our next event, “Open-armed and Outcast” is themed aruond the idea of the outsider, or misfit. The theming is very loose, and as with Dropping the Beat is the result 99% of chance because it seemed a set of pieces was emerging that all dealt with the same subject matter. Already it seems, having spoken to the gallery, that this has made it easier for them to promote the night, but I think now’s the time to step back and ask readers & listeners what really works for them – what would make them go to a literary gig, and what they’d want when they got there. So I want to make some question/observations and throw things open.
- To what extent should Year Zero Live events follow the same format? Should we always read the same material like a band on tour, should we read different material but in the same kind of structure, or should we just do what feels right at the time to keep it fresh?
- Note, the above question is really for people who’ve never been to one of our events – what would make you want to go? Reviews of past events that said it was a good time? Knowing exactly whjat you were going to get?
- How structured do you like the night to be, and how much does it depend on venue? In particular, how would you think things should vary between a venue witha bar and a bookshop?
- E.g. would you be happy with a succession of people getting up and doing their thing, whatever that thing is – or do you want to have a fairly good idea of what’s coming next?
- Does running straight through a programme make you feel awkward because you’re tied to the spot, or does having breaks mean you’re liable to wander off and not bother coming back?
- Does havnig a theme mean you’d be more likely to come and see people you’d never heard of, or would you be less likely to come, even if you know soem of the writers’ work?
- Any views on what material works best? In particular would you rather have a whole short story or an extract from a novel?
Any other observations are hugely welcome. And we do hope as many of you as possible will come along on Wednesday.