Review of a Literary Event — Tea Town

So this week I went to a reading at Tea Town in downtown Northport, AL featuring Andy Johnson’s spoken word class, Alina Stefanescu, and Heidi Lynn Staples. It was definitely interesting because I saw lots of different styles and approaches to executing a reading, and overall I’d say that it was successful. I’ll break down the event by talking about different aspects of the environment, people, and pacing of it.

First of all, the space was a weird space to work it. The area of the reading was a small courtyard with a small platform built in the corner of said courtyard. But the way the courtyard was situated, it was shaped almost like an “L” with the platform being placed at the tip of the “L.” This led into a strange tunnel effect of the sound carrying through it, and so the readers were not in a central location whatsoever. The readers had to have a strong stage presence for everyone to pay attention to them. This effected some of the readers for the spoken word class, because at the beginning people hadn’t realized the event had started, and there were umbrellas blocking the view to the platform. Thankfully these were removed quickly, but it made me feel bad for the first reader because she was really good, but no one could see her. The one nice part about the space was that it felt intimate, and the readers could look out at the audience and give eye contact. One other thing that I noticed is that there was the platform was too high to easily step onto, and that there was no step built or stepstool provided to help the readers get on and off the stage.

The readers of the spoken word class overall did a great job, I was really impressed with the quality of their work and their projection and stage presence. I think that they will get quite good at reading by the time they’re done with this class. Afterwards, Andy Johnson read from a new novel he is working on, and that was amazing. His presence and work were both powerful and beautiful, and it’s always a delight to hear him read.

Next, I’m going to talk about Alina Stefanescu’s reading, then go over Heidi Staples’, and then I’ll talk about the differences between the two because they had very distinct reading styles. Alina’s style was very casual, and she connected well with the audience. She had several pieces that she brought with her, and she selected at random which pieces she wanted to read. She even asked the audience which pieces they wanted to hear first, so that was a nice way to get the audience involved in her reading. Hers was fairly short, taking about 15 of the 30 minutes allowed them and only because one of the facilitator's suggested she read one more piece. But she did a good job reading, and I felt that all the pieces were read in her authentic voice, and it didn’t sound overly practiced or under practiced. She also chose to hold the mic, so it allowed her freedom of movement as she read.

Heidi Lynn Staples’ reading was very different. She had a very practiced, formal air. She stood in front of the mic and had a list of her poems already prepared that she read straight from. She is also a great reader, and her work does well read aloud I think because it plays a lot with sound. Another thing that I noticed was that her style was a lot more detached from the audience than Alina’s. She angled herself slightly towards the wall than to the audience, and I think she practiced how many pieces she could read, because she took exactly 30 minutes to perform her work. Her style was very professional, to the point, and traditionally what I’d call “literary.”

This is not to say that Alina’s style was not literary, it was very much so, but in a much more modern way than Heidi’s. I was fascinated to see both such different styles next to each other, but I think those styles worked for both of them. However, I think it would’ve been better if Heidi went first and then we finished up with Alina’s because since Alina’s reading was about half the time allotted, it made Heidi’s in comparison seem very long. I could feel the crowd get a little antsy by the end, and there seemed to be a little restlessness that could be felt. I think this was also because the nature of Heidi’s reading was more detached than Alina’s, which is fine, but after Alina’s engaging style, the audience didn’t have as much holding their attention. I think if Heidi went first, people could’ve appreciated her work a lot more, and then Alina’s would be a very refreshing way to end the reading. Both did a great job, and I really appreciate the different styles of readings that they offered; I enjoyed myself and enjoyed being immersed in beautiful language that all these readers offered.

Anna Wallace

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