I’ve never really seen myself as a performer... but last week I threw chocolate buttons, wine and glitter in my face at the Bristol Festival of Literature Flash Slam.
The thought of doing any kind of improv class scares the crap out of me. I hated drama classes at school, though of course I preferred them to the pure evil that was PE classes. For someone who so desperately wished I could be somebody else when I was growing up, I was too scared to pretend. I hated anything which meant being loud, or in fact having to speak at all. I never thought I would ever want to speak in front of an audience.
I first read a story aloud at Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack. It’s a friendly mixture of an open mic/comedy/storytelling night and the audience is warm and friendly. I read my story Poked by an Alien which had come 3rd place in the Henshaw Press writing competition so I had reasonable faith that the story wasn’t shit. I’d practiced it over and over so I was as confident as I could be, yet still not confident at all. I didn’t want to read it but I knew I had to, after all, how could I ever be a famous author if I can’t even read my work aloud in public? Plus all the rest of my writing group had started reading at storytelling nights and I couldn’t be left behind. So I read the story, managed not to fuck it up, and got a prestigious Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack medal. Then the adrenaline kicked in and I got very drunk. Hurrah.
Shortly after that, my writing group - Stokes Croft Writers - set up our own storytelling night called Talking Tales. Reading at that and other storytelling nights more regularly meant it became marginally less terrifying, but still scary. I’ve always tried to force myself into doing things if they scare me. It’s confidence building. Though in all honesty, reading/performing is a rollercoaster and I’m still not sure how much I really enjoy it. I’m super anxious beforehand. A minute before I get on stage I feel like I’m about to piss and/or crap myself. When I’m on stage I try not to think that it’s really me there or else I might just freeze under the strain of knowing all of those eyes are on me. After is the good part, the relief that it’s over. Sometimes people come and compliment me which I try to take graciously but I’m still not great at that. Then comes my worry. Was it actually good? Did people actually laugh, or was that laughing in fact at me? It’s hard to continually have faith in your own creativity, especially if, like me, you’ve struggled with low confidence and self-esteem all your life.
I stepped it up to Show and Tell, which is less storytelling more comedy and a bigger audience (Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol). At least there you can put something up on a screen so they don’t all stare at you. I recommend a badly drawn picture of a penis with 3 pieces of jizz, it’s a good distraction.
Last week at the Flash Slam, I read my most performance-based story yet. It’s called Proper Chill (you can read it HERE – it’s very short) and it involves a list of all the stuff I – meaning the protagonist - want to do. It is of course fiction and not at all based on anything I’ve done or would want to do. Not at all. Ahem. So I threw chocolate over myself (such a waste of chocolate, I’m sorry), downed half a bottle of Chardonnay and threw glitter over my head, which took two days to wash out. It was a lot of fun, but I was terrified beforehand. There was the extra pressure of not letting my writing group down as we’d won the Flash Slam the previous year and we were not going to let one of those other pesky writing groups win. No way.
I didn’t intend to swear so much in the story, but I told myself to really go for it and I think the extra ‘fucks’ just automatically slipped in. Angie Belcher, who did a wonderful job of hosting the evening, called me ‘the Liam Gallagher of flash’ which I can only presume is because I’m so rock n roll… either that or I’m a massive northern knobhead. Hmmmm.
But we won! Our team was called Cillit Bang Slam and was made up of myself and the wonderful Christie Cluett, Mark Rutterford and Chris Fielden. In the final round, we all had to write a story together in just ten minutes. I don’t have a copy to share with you as I’ve no doubt Christie has probably burnt or eaten it out of either secrecy or shame, I’m not sure which. I can tell you that it involved the line ‘Ere, put this smelly coat on. Where we’re going it’s gonna get wet.’ Pure genius.
So this is the bit where I conclude this post and say what lessons I’ve learnt or something like that. I guess it’s that I like performing occasionally if it involves wine and glitter. I think I’ll save the chocolate for eating only next time. Maybe one day I’ll make it up to Jarvis Cocker status instead of Liam Gallagher. Either way, I think I’ll always be nervous as hell but I’ll do it anyway.
Check out the Bristol Festival of Literature events – there’s over a week of stuff going on and many of them are free!
In other news, I’ll be going to Thailand for three months as of Mid-January 2018! I’m planning on writing a separate blog post along the lines of ‘shit Mel did in Thailand 9 years ago that she won’t be doing this time now she’s supposedly all grown up and what-not’. I hope you like smug beach pictures because my social media is going to FULL of them.
Thanks for reading!