Category Archives: Spoken word

The Gutenberg Boys

Posted by Babs Melville

We caught up with Ian Boyter to find out more about The Gutenberg Boys, a storytelling stage show taking place at Dreghorn Loan Hall on Saturday 14th April.

First, can you tell us a bit about the story?

Set in the Edinburgh in the 1960s, the stage show is based on Ian Boyter’s book, ‘The Adventures of The Gutenberg Boys’. This extraordinary fictional memoir is a hilarious evocation of the work, play and joyful shenanigans of a group of 1960s printing apprentices as they grapple with the antiquated printing methods of Johannes Gutenberg.

In a busy Edinburgh printing factory, in glitzy, grimy dance halls where rock ’n’ roll is youth’s latest passion, in the streets and bars of the capital city, Blackie, the rawest new apprentice and his crafty workmates relieve life’s daily grind by outwitting each other, outfoxing the foreman and betting on the Cuban missile crisis, while flirting with forgery, fire-raising, fantasy and the fairer sex, as they gradually wise up …and become letterpress printers in the process.

Ian, three other musicians and a show director have collaborated to develop the script, and eight brand-new rock ‘n roll songs.

Alastair McDonald, best known for his Scottish folk songs, is flexing his considerable storytelling muscles. He also sings and plays guitar in the show.

Peter Fenton, singer and guitarist, is the show’s lead singer and is accompanied by Alan Herriot on keyboards and vocals. Alan, also an excellent singer, has created the show’s original cartoons. Ian adds his saxophone to the music, which is performed live on stage.

What lead you to adapting the book into a stage show?

I wanted to perform a reading of some of the stories myself, but I don’t have the ability to do the stories justice. My friend, Alastair McDonald, is an experienced actor, and he offered to make audio recordings to let me hear how he thought the characters should be ‘played’. There is a lot of pithy Scots dialogue in the stories and Alastair is the ideal actor to express it. When I heard his readings I was amazed at how he added much more drama and expression to the stories than I could ever have imagined. He is able to use individual voices for each of the characters and bring them vividly to life.

What do you think the music adds to the story?

Some of the stories take place in dance halls and sometimes the teenage characters discuss the pop music of their day. Because I am a working musician, having played saxophone in rock and jazz bands since I was a teenager, I felt that certain parts of the stories could be re-interpreted as songs and add whole additional dimension to the show.

How long has the adaption taken? What changes had to be made?

Once the project group was formed (one storyteller, three musicians and a director) we worked for about three months, holding one project group meeting a week on the script adaptation. At the same time the eight songs were written and developed. For the show, the stories (four stories selected from twenty in the book) were simplified, reducing the number of characters and cutting any parts of the storyline deemed not absolutely essential to moving the story forward at a good fast pace. Many sentences were re-written to ensure that the identity of the particular character speaking was immediately established. Finally, to get the show down to a reasonable length, one and a quarter hours, I was ruthless in editing my text, with the valuable assistance of Alastair McDonald and the show director.

Do you have any other projects planned?

Once the show has been premiered I might be able to think about future projects, (there is plenty more unused material in my book) but with two weeks to go, my total focus is on this show.

Where can people find out more about the show?

Go to my website: http://www.ianboyter.co.uk

Writing tales to read aloud

By Matt Nadelhaft

Performing at spoken word and storytelling events can be daunting. There’s a lot to get over and remember. Stifle those nerves (have a drink… but don’t get drunk, God no). Is your fly undone? Watch out for flying fruit! Never, ever, throw up on stage. Try not to burst into flames. Avoid religion and politics. Remember, you are most probably being videotaped by the United States Department of Homeland Security. Anything you say may be used as an excuse to prevent you from vacationing in the US.

And oh yes – there’s also your story. If there’s one thing more important than making sure you don’t have toilet paper clinging to your shoe, it’s getting your story right. Which means more than having a good story: it means having a good story for reading out loud. Not every story works well as a performance piece; not even every good story. You’ve read “Flowers for Algernon,” right? Brilliant story, but try to imagine it read aloud. Try to imagine reading it out loud. It won’t work, and not just because it would take all night.

Creating a good story for reading requires its own set of techniques. Obviously, the story can’t depend on tricky layout and typography. Block quotes, diary entries and footnotes aren’t likely to work. Puns in foreign languages probably won’t go over very well, either. Dialogue is great, as long as the audience can keep track of who is speaking, and as long as nobody talks like an Umberto Eco character. Funny is good, but don’t feel you need to write a comedy routine. Spoken word doesn’t have to be stand-up comedy; just because the audience laughs like mad at one story doesn’t mean they don’t silently love another, more sombre piece. Jokes will entertain, but they aren’t very memorable when not part of an interesting plot.

After you’ve written your story, or when modifying an older story for performance, there are several editorial techniques you can use to give your story the best chance of shining at a spoken word event. The most important technique is the most obvious one. Practice it. Read it out loud to yourself. Read it out loud to friends. Ask for their reactions. Everybody laughs at their own jokes, but did your guinea pigs? If you were trying to scare the audience, find out in advance if it worked. Know the words you wrote; you’re less likely to trip over them. Get a feel for when you want to modulate your voice, volume and pace. Is the story too long? Don’t tell yourself “I’ll read faster!” No, seriously. Don’t. Cut. Cut like a gardener with an anger- management problem.

In particular, cut out your prize-winning prose. Those images and meditations that would make J.G. Ballard envious aren’t going to work as well in the read-aloud format: your audience doesn’t have time to savour a great turn of phrase; they can’t go back and reread a particularly gorgeous description. And they don’t have the ability to untangle long and complicated sentences; the last thing you want is for somebody to be puzzling over what you just read while you’re moving on to the next bit. Pacing is more important than poetics. Don’t fret: remember, this is just the performance version of your story. The one you give to friends and family, the one you send out for publication – that one can have all your best imagery. Although you may find – not necessarily, but just possibly – you prefer the leaner version you’ve created for the reading.

And then soak up the applause. But remember: no encores.

A pretty poster for our pretty neighbours

Posted by Babs Melville

Sooo… Pulp Fiction’s first storytelling event is nigh. Our Matt Nadelhaft will be reading a story about zombie popes, and Tom Moore will be reading… well… something. Pulp Fiction also sell tea, coffee and cake, so no doubt I will be demonstrating what a person covered in cake looks like. If you plan to come along, let us know on here/Twitter/Facebook, if you can — it will help Pulp get an idea of the numbers.