If ever there are polls about people's most common fears, public speaking is always near the top of the list. Well that and vertigo and spiders (not too bothered myself, snakes on the other hand..) Getting up in front of a group of strangers and talking about something gives lots of us the heeby jeebies. If on top of that you are expected to be entertaining or even funny, then most people would run a mile. So how on earth did I end up on a stage in Camden on Tuesday trying to make people smile an interested in a story for 10 long minutes. Especially as my voice is screwed (left sided vocal palsy) and I'm half deaf and wear hearing aids in both ears.
This story starts with my Barts pal John Underwood who introduced me to writer and journalist Kit Lovelace's night Romantic Misadventure. Kit started the night five years ago to publicise his choose your own adventure ebook of the same name. The format of the night is that he and five or six friends each tell a short tale around the theme of Romantic Misadventure. People's takes on that subject can be wildly different and the joy of the night is the variety of different stories that get told.
On the first night I went along, John was doing a story, but I had no idea what it was going to be about. To my sudden realisation I quickly realised it was going to be a description of having to do a pre chemo sperm donation which all men facing treatment are offered. Chemotherapy is a pretty good way of making you infertile and so if you ever want kids, freezing your little swimmers is necessary for any future IVF procedure. What followed was a mind blowingly detailed description of what is basically the worst wank in the world. I don't think I've ever laughed so much in recognition and horror in my life.
Anyway fast forward 18 months later and I decided to pitch Kit a story. I decided that I need to set myself some challenges for my time off from treatment. As well as writing this blog every week I'm wanting to get out and do new things and meet new people after the general nightmare of last year. I remembered an encounter with someone on a train journey I once did from Chicago to Memphis while at university. Kit liked the story and we worked together to edit it for time and pace. He offered me a slot on the annual pre valentines day show and before I could think about it I said yes.
Now I've been writing in one form or another since leaving university. I'm pretty confident I can string at least a couple of sentences together in a mildly correct form. Performing on the other hand is always something I've shield away from. In my various jobs in media I've always had the blessing of working with people much more talented than me, who can deliver my words to millions with clarity, wit and warmth. Performing my own words is something new entirely.
Also there was the not too small obstacle of my voice. With one side of my voicebox muscles now in paralysis, I have lost power and clarity to my speech. As I said on the night I sound like Mariella Frostrup after a good night out on the gin. I had a talk with my speech therapist at Guy's and we thought ten minutes would be doable with a mic. She sent me away with exercises to practice which I blu-tac top my wall, and then practiced every day. Proper My Fair Lady stuff. My book balancing skills are now excellent. I also contacted some friends who make their living from performance and quizzed them over drinks on things to remember.
So Tuesday night came in a mixture of terror and anticipation. I learnt the story but still needed a print out copy on stage with me in case of brain freeze. I'd invited some friends along and it was a lovely thing to know I had some sympathetic ears in the audience. The actual time on stage wernt in a blur. I was concentrating so hard on being understood and keeping the pace right. All of a sudden it was over and I gulped down the glass of water I'd bought with me on stage and then completely forgotten about. I think it went ok, my voice held up and I managed to get a few laughs.
The rest of the night was a blur of beer and hugs. I tried to enjoy the other very great people who were also on the bill but my brain was making a big wooshing sound of adrenaline and relief. It was only yesterday I managed to reflect on a challenge accomplished, and that's not a bad thing to say you've done.
*I totally would do it again, book for your children's party or bar mitzvah
This week I've been.....Reading Emily Reynolds "A beginners guide to losing your mind" and Colin Saunders "The Capital Ring" which is my next challenge....Listening to new albums by Franz Ferdinand, Ezra Furman and The Go Team....Watching The Winter Olympics, I love a bit of curling.
Next Week! The revolutionary act of walking.