At the end of 2015, I was looking for something to do with myself. I’d always enjoyed writing, but that was something I’d barely dabbled in since college. I’d started a play a few summers earlier, but had only gotten about a third of the way into it before I put it aside. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
Fortunately, my wonderful wife, Rebecca, noticed a contest called 2 Pages/2 Voices in the Writers & Books catalogue. “You can do this,” she said showing me the description.
Sure, why not? I thought. After all, I only needed to write a two-page play with two characters. That seemed like something I could actually complete. So, I wrote my play and entered it. A couple weeks later, I was notified that it was one of the ten selected for a live reading by professional actors. I remember how excited I was when I got that call and how incredible I felt the night of the actual reading.
I then stumbled upon the Regional Writers Showcase — a contest sponsored by Geva Theatre and Writers & Books where selected full-length plays would be given an in-hand reading by professional actors on the GEVA stage. I dug out the play I’d started some years before and worked on it day and night to get it completed in time to meet the deadline.
I was beyond excited when I got the call some weeks later that my play, Denny Killington, Master Detective!, had been selected as part of the 2016 showcase. The night of the actual reading in front of a packed theater is still one of my fondest memories.
As awesome as the live reading was for Denny Killington, it was the table-reads beforehand that I found to be truly wonderful. Not only were they fun, they helped me understand my play better and figure out what worked and what needed work. So, in the fall of 2016, after I’d come down from my playwriting high, I decided maybe monthly readings with friends would be a good way to work on my craft and survive another Rochester winter. That’s when I brought my idea to Evvy Fanning and she agreed to it with the caveat that we hold the event at her bar Cheshire. Within days, Rochester Spoken Word was born, and on January 8, 2017, we held the first Speak Easy — our signature monthly reading event. That seems like forever ago.
From the beginning I wanted to make each Speak Easy professional and special. I wanted each reader to feel the same excitement when they climbed on stage to read as I did when I had my plays read. To that end, I borrowed — then purchased — a PA, enlisted an emcee (before taking over the job), brought in a photographer, and put together a printed program. I decided to sell tickets — not only to attempt to cover our costs but more importantly to make sure people who said they would attend actually did, and so people didn’t come just to drink at Cheshire on a Sunday afternoon. It was imperative to me that the attendees were there to hear the speakers and no one ever turned their back to the stage.
Speak Easy was a huge success from the start, and the constant positive feedback I received told me we had a good thing going.
For over five years, I’ve invested hundreds, if not thousands, of hours making Rochester Spoken Word and Speak Easy things that Evvy and I can be proud of. Between Speak Easy and its offshoot for high-school students, Listening to the Future, we’ve put on 45 shows — some more wonderful than others — but each one special in it’s own way. We’ve given nearly 200 local writers a chance to be heard by reading their work on our stage to an appreciative audience. Many of those writers have returned and shared their work multiple times. I’d say it’s all been a huge success.
Despite how much I love Roc Spoke and Speak Easy, after five years, I’m tired. It’s a lot of work to put on a monthly show, especially now that we record it for on-demand streaming. I want to focus more on my own writing and less on updating social media, badgering participants to get me their information, and looking for last-minute replacements because, more and more, keeping commitments seems to be optional.
This summer, my wife and I are moving to Albuquerque, NM, to start a new adventure. Maybe we’ll return some day, maybe not. I’ve met a lot of great people over the years and made a lot of great friendships thanks to Rochester Spoken Word. I hope to continue those friendships from afar.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who has read on our stage, attended one of our shows or viewed a stream, donated money, helped promote us, took photos, made popcorn, served drinks, moved chairs, listened to me vent, or assisted in any other way. This never could have happened without you. I want to thank Evvy for making the suggestion (or was it a demand?) that led us down this road, and my wife, Rebecca, for her unending support and for pushing me to get back into writing that December day seven years ago.
Founder, Rochester Spoken Word