While I was at All Day Sonnets in Winchester last Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting poet, actor, and professional voice coach Kate Firth who will be running a Performance Skills Workshop at the Poetry Festival on Saturday, 8 October.
Somewhat pressed for time, and thinking about my ‘what’s in your bag/pocket’ series, I asked the first question which popped into my head:
What’s in your bag and what does it say about you?
Several pens because I’m always writing. I travel a lot with my job… I also make notes on my phone….
Kate showed me the notes app on her phone which had an enviable number of pieces of writing in it, at various draft stages. Clearly a woman who’s not short of ideas!
I always write down half-formed phrases and ideas….it’s like chasing after a runaway kite.
Kate works as a Voice and Executive Communication Coach, with a huge range of clients including actors, broadcasters, business and not-for-profit professionals – anyone who needs to make presentations or wants to improve the way they communicate. She also teaches on Bath Spa University’s MA in Performing Shakespeare (and, yes, her performance of Sonnet 98 at All Day Sonnets was top-notch.)
What else was in Kate’s bag?
Tickets to All’s Well that Ends Well at The Tobacco Factory, Bristol, tickets to see a friend’s band (The Pin Top Band)…. gloves because I have cold hands and when I left Bristol the sun was shining!
I asked Kate a few questions about teaching performing skills to poets.
Q. What stops a poet being able to read their work well?
A. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s a lack of the skills you need. A practical workshop is a way of overcoming that. Sometimes you forget that spoken language comes from the body, not the head.
Q. Can you over-egg a poem?
A. Of course! But you can also under-egg it and leave everyone in the audience feeling bored. It’s common for poets to feel they don’t want to over-do the theatricals. That resistance sometimes dissuades them from trying to perform their poem in a different way. It’s about compromise.
Q. What do you hope that poets will gain from attending your workshop?
A. I hope they will discover the joy that comes with lifting the poem from the page and knowing that you’ve performed it in a way that does the poem justice.
At this point, Kate was called away to the podium (it was all go at All Day Sonnets). I was left with the impression of someone who loves working with the written and spoken word, her enthusiasm, knowledge and experience was strikingly evident. She knows how important it is to get this right. She understands about nerves and anxieties. I really liked what Kate said about finding a middle way to perform poetry, of not being over-theatrical but, at the same time, of considering the audience and helping the poem to ‘take off’ from the page.
It was no surprise to hear from one of the festival’s artistic directors Keiren Phelan that Kate’s Performance Skills workshop at the 2014 festival was hugely popular. I’m really pleased that this year’s festival-goers will also have the chance to take part. Bookings for Kate’s workshop are available from the Winchester Discovery Centre’s site here.