Getting More Comfortable at LIFE Center Stage by Lauren Cerruto
Getting More Comfortable at LIFE Center Stage
By Lauren Cerruto, poet, fiction writer, medical writer
A blank page doesn’t intimidate me. But getting on stage, at a microphone, in a room full of people, to read the words I put on that page makes me feel like I’ve swallowed a gallon of live hornets. At least, it used to. I’ve gotten it down to more like a pint of mosquitoes. That improvement came, in large part, from getting up to read quite often over the past two years in front of the friendly, appreciative audience at LIFE Center Stage. It’s also because of the one-on-one coaching I’m getting there from a singer-songwriterwho looks more at home on that stage than I feel in my own living room. (More about her later.) LIFE Center Stageoffers a wide range of opportunities for writers, musicians, and artists to interact, collaborate, learn from each other, and perform. As a writer, my main involvement has been with their writing group, Word Crafters, and open mic nights.
Although some light critiquing is provided at each writer’s request, the focus of Word Crafters is not on helping writers to edit their written work (as is done at most other workshops and critique groups). Rather, Word Craftersgives writers a chance to read their work in front of an audience, and listen to and support others in doing the same. It’s been good practice for overcoming my on-stage jitters, and I’ve found that hearing my own words helps me identify where to revise. It also gives me a quick gauge of my audience’s reactions to a new piece, and a chance to hear the work of other local writers. Open to poets, fiction writers, storytellers, song writers and anyone else working with words in any form, Word Crafters encourages cross-genre collaborations. Members of the larger LIFE Center Stage community occasionally bring music or paintings into the group for consideration as writing prompts. The evolving small group of writers who attend range from beginners to more experienced writers. Everyone is equally supported and encouraged in their personal development
Word Crafters also features “writing lounge” sessions with quiet time devoted to getting new writing done. The space at LIFE Center Stage reminds me of a new-age hippie’s studio apartment full of cozy couches and chairs, large cushions, original artwork, djembe drums, guitar cases, meditation bowls, crystals, and crafts. It smells just faintly of incense, candles, and fresh-brewed coffee. There are plates of cookies and muffins on the breakfast bar. It’s a comfortable and inspiring space in which to write, in quiet community with others doing the same. And that comfort, too, makes it easier to step up on their small stage when it’s time to get off the couch.
Open Mic Nights
At the open mics on the third Saturday of every month, the room is sometimes filled with as many as fifty people. The musicians often provide impromptu backup for each other as both new and familiar singers and bands take the stage. Although music tends to dominate, poets and other writers are welcomed and encouraged. So is dancing in the aisles. Talking during performances, however, is not, so when I’m on that stage delivering a poem, the room hushes and everyone’s attention is on me. Like I said, with practice, I’m learning to quiet the mosquitoes in my stomach. In so doing, I’m finding that there’s something empowering about having everyone listen to me. Especially in a crowd where everyone understands the vulnerability of putting yourself up there in the spotlight.
Individual Mentoring and Coaching
Remember the woman I said looks more comfortable on a stage than I feel in my living room? That’s singer-songwriter Lorraine Ferro. I first saw her at a LIFE Center Stage concert, performing with awesome guitar player Vicki Genfan. Lorraine also performs at some of the open mics. She’s the kind of singer who opens herself wide up and lets it all fly, so the room fills with her powerful voice and all sorts of raw emotions. She seems larger than life. Watching her left me thinking, “Geez, if I had just a little of that woman’s confidence and presence on a stage when I read my poetry…” I said it aloud once, and she replied, “I can teach you that.” After the first of our sessions together, I actually believed her.
She’s teaching me basic technical aspects of performancelike proper microphone technique, and how to read in a way that better emphasizes the natural music of the poetrywithout turning it into an overly dramatized monologue. She’s also giving me various strategies to understand and address my anxieties about being on that stage. She sometimes lapses into a bit of “life coaching” during these sessions. She’s been urging me to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” not only on a stage but elsewhere in my life—that is, not allowing fear to get in the way ofliving as fully as possible, having a voice in the world, and accomplishing my goals. Because ultimately, the mission of this place is to encourage its community to live a LIFE center stage, not just perform on it.
It’s working. I finally sent my first poetry chapbook manuscript out to publishers. It contains poems I’ve been working on over the past fifteen years. Already, I’ve gottenup on a few different stages to read from it. Whether or not the book finds a publisher, I’m looking forward to doing that again.
October 7th, 2015