I spent Sunday afternoon at an end-of-season Mee Club party at the Herbert in Coventry.
Those who’d taken part in the once-a-month ‘true stories, told live’ events, or in the workshops set up to help first-time story tellers bash and chisel their ideas into shape, were invited to come along and perform new stories in front of a friendly crowd, or cast an eye back over their experiences.
And I did just that, shared my experiences of being involved with the Mee Club during the summer season.
I heard about Mee Club through a Writing West Midlands Room 204 Facebook group, and went to the first event back in April 2016.
I watched the pro tellers share stories that met the theme of ‘dancing shoes’ and found it a great environment, different to any other live lit or slam event I’d been to.
I had listened to a few of the Moth Club NYC podcasts, and I got the attraction of true stories told live, but the format works so much better as a true live event when you’re part of the crowd. It’s the difference between listeing to a recording of a stage play and being in the audience.
At its best, the Mee Club has delivered a great mix of theatre and moving autobiography from accomplished tellers in front of a sizeable, warm crowd.
I grew up in Coventry, so the fact the Mee Club was hosted here, at the Herbert Art Gallery, also meant a lot. I’ve written stories from a young age, but I don’t recall any avenue or outlet like this available during my youth.
I lived in London for 15 years, and came back to the West Midlands just a couple of years ago, so was pleased to see how lively the writing and performance scene is here now.
So my first visit to the Mee Club made me feel I wanted to be a part of it, and I had a pitch accepted to take part in Mee Club May.
I’ve written here about the thrill of that first performance. And do you know what? It’s addictive.
I pitched again and was accepted for the following month’s theme in June, this time for City of Faces. I told about my memories of Coventry’s FA Cup win in 1987, and how 20 years later I went on to work on the FA Cup final programme and wrote a piece on it that reconnected me with long lost friends.
Again, it was far from perfect – it was at least 1m faster than I’d gone in practice, so again I must have either gabbled or forgotten significant chunks of my tale, or likely both. I sweated under the lights, hunched over a microphone I didn’t know how to adjust, and blinked nervously out at a crowd in silhouette. There was a moment I lost my thread and blanked completely, but otherwise I was less nervous than the first time, and enjoyed it more.
So for me, the Mee Club has been a revelation – an intoxicating mix of theatre and documentary or fictionalised autobiography.
At its best the interaction with the audience is almost palpable, and I feel like I’ve learned some important lessons about the art of live storytelling. Like how delivery and connection with the audience is at least as important as the content.
I’ll be doing quite a few more live readings over the coming weeks. There’s the Room 204 cohort taking part in the Birmingham Literature Festival (#PopUpBirmLitFest) on various dates, and there are some further, exciting events for true stories told live – including at Waterstones in Birmingham with the chance of a trip to London for a gala event.
These are exciting and productive times…