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How to…set up a spoken word night

Written by Bob Beagrie

Being a writer can sometimes be a bit of an isolating experience. But one of the best ways to combat this is to get together with some other writers and put on a gig! Bob Beagrie, founder of Electric Kool-Aid Cabaret in Middlesbrough, gives us some tips for how to get started. 

When I first got involved in spoken word events as a volunteer it allowed me to suddenly see the poetry and fiction that was being created in my local area, as well as the work of visiting writers. It completely altered my perceptions of being a writer; I felt part of a creative community which has links to writers all around the world.Your work and ideas and approaches to writing will be fed, challenged and expanded through the contact with other writers – through listening to them perform or read, to sharing practice, and not least by getting up and performing your own work-in-progress.

I have often found that a poem is only ever finished through the process of testing it out on an audience and editing it accordingly.

I think live spoken word events are one of the most important factors in developing a literary scene and building a writing community. These are the things I think are important.

1. Place is key
Find a suitable venue, one that has a quiet space for listening. I have performed in busy pubs with absolutely no one listening, or to a few hardened listeners who are struggling to hear above the jukebox and the conversations from the bar.

2. Create the atmosphere YOU want
Organising the space to create atmosphere is important. Do you want a relaxed cabaret style event or a more formal reading? The seating arrangements can affect this. Make sure you have the resources you need too: a PA system, mics, plug-ins for musicians, lighting, technical support, projector, backdrop all need to be considered. Give yourself an hour and a half before kick-off to prepare the venue and sound-check all the performers.

3. Variety is key
I have found it works best to programme a variety of performers, with a musician or singer-songwriter playing at intervals to break up the spoken word, perhaps some comedy sketches or drama, along with poetry and short fiction. Programming is key to creating a vibrant atmosphere, so think about contrasting and complementary acts.

If you don’t have a headline act who will definitely draw a crowd, then giving people a chance to participate will make sure you will draw a crowd, so some open mic slots are a useful thing to include in the schedule. However, it is easy to overrun so you need someone in charge of timings, someone who can be strict with anyone who is trying to over-run.

4. Tell People
Marketing and promotion is often the most difficult thing to judge, but social media is a vital component in attracting an audience, as well as flyers, posters, press coverage, as well as word of mouth. Get people talking about it.

5. Get out and about
The best way to get a sense of how spoken word events work is to go to several of them and compare them, take the bits that work best and consider what is missing for your intended audience. There are lots of spoken word events in the northeast so check them out and then see what you can do, what you can add and how you can contribute to the evolution of the scene.

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