Performing is always tough for writers. I mean, we’re not typically stage-trained theatre experts amped up on auditory performance steroids when reading our prose. The reality is, most writers are just average Joes like me. We stumble, stutter, are monotone, and really are quite boring when we get up in front of people and open our mouths. I don’t know why this is, and have been guilty of it for years. I’ve droned on like a pontificating robot. I’ve blathered, buzzed, and really was in need of a good oiling of my vocal joints.
Within the last year or so I started to transform my approach to readings. In fact, I’ve been watching two guys for several years now whom I consider reading performance mentors. One is TNB’s own Rich Ferguson (Watch Rich perform with my son Landen Belardes). I have carefully watched Rich’s often-aggressive delivery, his command of the stage, and the booming confidence in his voice. Doesn’t matter that it’s spoken word poetry. His work is often narrative anyway. Imagine him reading excerpts from a novel. I’d be in a trance.
That’s the spirit I want to capture.
Another reading performance mentor is author Tim (TZ) Hernandez of “Breathing In, Dust.” He’s from a little town in the Central Valley near where I live in Bakersfield, Calif. I’ve seen TZ wow an entire auditorium packed with teachers, musicians and vatos. He can memorize long poems, and read with the gusto of a gang thug, screaming to his homies. I so dig it. He can transform into any character, and read so passionately and so forcefully, and dare I say vivaciously, that you just might fall off your chair while listening. (Watch TZ tear it up from his forthcoming novel “Surge” while he’s just sitting around).
All writers can learn from Rich and TZ, whose poet hearts resonate something special from the core of their souls. They pull from an inner place that believes in characters, not just words. In fact, they transform into characters.
Yes. That’s what I want to accomplish as a performer of prose. I want my words to soar into hearts, not just minds. I want to transcend any venue, take listeners into the depth of a story, into the very believable world we writers have the talent, hearts and minds to create.
I want to become my characters.
Slowly I’m doing that. It takes confidence, lots of practice, and an eager heart to want to touch reader’s souls. I often use my kid Landen to accompany me. I’m lucky to have a guitarist in my family who can soothe the savage beast with just some licks on the strings. And he never gets stage fright, which is difficult for a guy like me who grew up shy to understand. Yes, I’m jealous of my own kid (and his brother too who can bust out his violin in front of any crowd and not break a sweat).
Now watch me perform chapter one from my novel Anhinga at a bar in downtown Bakersfield. You might love it. You might not. Either way, blame Rich and TZ for my slow transformation into a performer of prose, rather than just a reader.
You can also click on the below image to view the video.