What’s Rochester Spoken Word all about, anyway?

Founded by Scott Seifritz and Evvy Fanning after a number of Old Fashioneds, Rochester Spoken Word was created as a way for local writers to be heard — literally. It was founded upon the belief that there is a rhythm and flow to good writing that can only be identified when a work is read aloud, and that real-time audience feedback is beneficial to a writer in determining whether their words are properly conveying their message. With these tenets in mind, they came up with the idea for the Speak Easy series which mixes two of their favorite pastimes: talking and drinking.

What’s the Speak Easy Series?

Speaking in front of an audience can be tough; reading your own writing to strangers all the more so. But what if the audience is made up of friendly, appreciative people who are in good moods because they’re in a comfortable setting and they have cocktails in their hands? Is it possible that speakers would feel more comfortable and be able to read their works the way they were meant to be read? Would they come away with a little more insight into their own words and the power that they hold?

To put this to the test, we needed to find a comfortable venue that served cocktails and was perfect for small crowds, yet had a stage for readers. While we were willing to put in the leg work, we didn’t have to look far to identify Cheshire cocktail bar in the South Wedge as the perfect venue. Located upstairs from Solera Wine Bar, Cheshire has no obvious identification; most people find it out of curiosity by following regulars up the back staircase. But what it lacks in signage, it makes up for with ambiance and cocktails — oh, such wonderful cocktails!

Next we had to decide how to get the right people to attend. If the event was open to the public, we might get people who simply wanted to come in for a cocktail or who might wander in during someone’s reading. Plus, the last thing we wanted was the place to be overly crowded or, worse yet, empty. We decided to make it a closed event. We’d require invitations for entry and make sure the people who wanted to attend were coming to support the readers first and foremost. Plus, we’d get everyone to commit to arriving before the program began.

So, with the blessings of Cheshire management and a plan under our belts, we set out to think of a name for our event. Let’s see… a spoken word event that you need to be invited to, in a comfortable 20’s-style cocktail bar with no signage, hidden away above another bar, accessible only by a back staircase.

And thus, Speak Easy was born.

We’re happy to say our first event was a smashing success, and everything we supposed was correct. Even new readers performed as though they’d been reading aloud for years, and all readers learned more about their work. The feedback showed that everyone enjoyed themselves and felt we’d assembled a wonderful, repeatable event. So, we decided to listen to them and repeat it, thus the Speak Easy Series was born.

Unfortunately, success can be a double-edged sword. There are costs involved with putting on a monthly event, and more attendees, mean more costs. After packing Cheshire for five consecutive months, it was decided that for the Speak Easy Series to continue, we’d have to charge a small admission fee. We had faith that people would appreciate the quality of the events and pay to attend, even if admission had been free in the past. We’re happy to say we were right. Since we started selling tickets, every Speak Easy has been sold out.

We hope you’ll join us as a reader or an audience member in the near future. To request a slot to read, please fill out the form on our home page. To purchase tickets to one of our events, check out our Events Calendar.

What’s the Speak Easy format?

Unless identified as a special event, a normal Speak Easy consists of nine to ten writers each reading a partial or completed piece of their own work. Some events are themed, others open to any topic. Each writer is given up to 10 minutes to read a single piece. There is an MC on hand to introduce the readers and to keep things moving along. The readers are broken into two sets with a 15-minute intermission between them. After all readers have read, we call them all back to the stage for a Q&A session where the MC and audience can ask questions of the readers and the readers can ask questions of everyone. Audience members are free to mingle with the writers at the beginning and end of the event and during intermission if they have specific questions. When possible, the readings are recorded for posterity, and a photographer is on hand to document the event.

The audience is limited to around 25 people, exclusive of readers. Audience members are encouraged to arrive early and are provided seats at tables or at the bar. The bar serves it’s normal cocktail menu with additional limited beer and wine selections throughout the event. The actual program tends to run about two hours and fifteen minutes. The doors open a half hour before the scheduled showtime and the bar stays open a half hour after.