So last weekend the New Short Fiction Series performed a selection of my short stories at the Barnsdall Art Park in LA. They chose four stories (two of which were excerpted) and a different actor performed each one. The actors were Buckley Sampson, Jesse Holcomb, Kate Heller, and Sally Shore (the series director), and all were terrific.
If the words I wrote are a score, then those performances were music. As the writer, I've never been more aware of what good actors can do with the printed word. Even with minimal costuming and gesture--in this series the actors stay seated and read the story from pages, rather than memorizing--they bring the story into a different dimension altogether. Their tools are voice, with all its varied tones and dynamics; rhythm--speeding up, slowing down, pausing; facial expression; gesture; and the ability to engage an audience. This last is a process I don't fully understand. But rather than simply accepting the audience's presence, as a sort of worrisome fuzz in one's field of vision, they bring the audience into the space of the story. You are not being talked at. You are with the characters in a shared fictional world.
The actors found and expressed nuances of emotion in my stories that I wasn't fully aware of. The stories were mostly comic, and they knew how to bring out the laughs, but they also guided the audience into sudden, but fully earned, moments of sadness. It was a great honor to have my stories given such careful attention.
It was also brought home to me, in no uncertain terms, that performance is crucial in literary readings. I am seriously considering hiring actors for those (still rare) occasions when I am invited to read in public. (I could hide under the table, and...oh, that's been done?) If that isn't feasible, I am really going to have to work on my acting skills. I know, I became a writer so I could *hide* behind words. Full-on acting isn't in me. But I have now seen the difference between a droning "reading" of a story and a performance. The former is something the audience politely sits through. The second is entertainment in the best sense.
All of this is by way of mentioning that the New Short Fiction Series is looking for more material by West Coast short fiction writers. If you fit that definition, write to firstname.lastname@example.org for submission guidelines. That's how I got the gig. You won't regret it, I promise.