Future Reflections                                                                                         Summer/Fall 2005

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Writing and Performance Art

by Nancy Scott

Reprinted with permission of the author from the Slate & Style, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind Writerís Division.

Editorís Note: Do you have a budding young writer in your home? Is your child a good reader, but a reluctant writer? Are you looking for fun ways to encourage or maintain Braille literacy skills? Hereís a good project for this summer: read the following article together with your child then plan and conduct your own performance art show for family or friends. Hey, you can even ďHelp Your Child Become More ResponsibleĒ (see page 4 in this issue), and incorporate tips about choice making as you help your child plan the event. And what a great way to expand your childís understanding of careers and the work world. Here, now, is what Nancy Scott tells us about her experiences with performance art:

Nancy Scott
Nancy Scott

My 21-year career as an author has contained many challenges and happy accidents. Writing requires discipline and perseverance. Getting published is helped by belief in oneself and tangible recognition. And sometimes, artistic dedication needs new projects that get the adrenalin going. One way to test work in the world or to find new reasons to write is reading work for audiences.

I write both essays and poetry. Though I attended readings early on and I was a good Braille reader, I didnít think I could read my work with every word and inflection correct.

In 1992, a friend read several of my early-published poems at a local coffee house. That became my catalyst--not because I now had poems out in the air, but because I was afraid the sighted audience would think I couldnít read. My advocacy as a blind person made me get up, shaking hands and knees, and read two Brailled poems the following month.

I practiced at home beforehand. No one threw things. They applauded.

After that, I occasionally read in open mike portions, never trying more than two pieces. I got smarter about microphones. Because Braille is big and I do not memorize work, I learned to read from a podium or table or other flat surface if I was standing. (Iíve used everything from flimsy music stands to the edge of a grand piano.)

It became fun to surprise people with my white cane and Braille pages. And, since some of the work was about disability, I could influence peopleís thinking and talk about disability issues after the event.

In 1993, I was asked to feature read for a half hour. That led, in 1996, to the publication of my poetry chapbook Hearing The Sunrise. And that lead to other readings of both essays and poetry.

Iíve read at local arts festivals, churches and synagogues, service clubs, writersí groups, senior centers, and bookstore and coffee house gatherings. Some groups badly need speakers and are happy to be approached. Sometimes, word of mouth encourages groups to approach you.

My most challenging performance art to date happened because a friend recommended me after seeing me read commentary essays that Iíd published in our local newspaper. Our public radio station wanted people to write and record short pieces of this type.
I knew that writing the approximately 460-word essays to fit in a three-to-four-minute time slot would be easy. But I wasnít sure I could read Braille fast enough for on-air. The news director convinced me to try.

So far, Iíve recorded twenty-six essays and the station has aired twenty. I have to record them at the studio and I read four at a time (all my nerves and cold hands can stand). I practice at home with a talking timer and, although they never come out with every inflection perfect, most essays are recorded in one take. Thereís no money for this work, but it forces me to write at least eight essays a year for which I can find secondary publishing markets.

About one in four essays have a disability theme. Most of my audience now knows I canít see, whether Iím discussing talking to kids about blindness or considering the plural of rhinoceros.

Logistics of performance art and disability are tricky. I need transportation to venues and help knowing the reading set-up. If Iím traveling with friends or attentive program providers, I can ask about audience size and reactions after a reading. And someone often has to rescue me because I can never remember how to get on or off a stage or out of the front of a room, even if Iíve done it twenty times. Itís nervousness, although I donít usually look or sound nervous.

Sometimes, groups pay for readings. A national anthology tacked on $50 if Iíd read my essay and one other at a local bookstore. I didnít tell the publicity people I couldnít see until my appearance in a second anthology. They wanted a radio interview along with a reading and I had to explain my reluctance to read Braille while holding a phone on my shoulder. (Iíve since bought a headset.)

I rarely read without choosing pieces and practicing ahead of time. I have to remember page turns because my hands are doing other things while my mouth is reading. I always read faster in performance than in rehearsal. I mostly read my own work, although some venues allow people to read favorite pieces by other writers. I always try to engage live audiences using humor or a response question.

Pages have floated off podiums. Iíve whacked my nose against microphones. And there are nights Iíve worn sneakers because I couldnít walk far in heels. But I still get asked and I still offer to read to audiences.

Something I say or do might spark new thoughts for someone. Something I hear might spark an idea for me. Maybe, with enough practice and luck, Iíll make it to NPR or Book TV.

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