Chapter 4: An interview with Andrew Sargus-Klein
This series of interviews with writer/organizers aims to explore why and how to have a literary reading—a good literary reading—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience—a good literary reading that gathers a welcome, diverse, excited, and inspired audience while also creating a supportive environment for readers.
Last week spoken word/slam host Madison Mae Parker explained that being a welcoming host isn’t easy, but it’s crucial for the vibe. This week Andrew Sargus-Klein shifts the focus from literately-arts to art in general, arguing that everyone stands to gain from tearing down boundaries and collaborating across genres.
(Please comment with stories, commentary, and advice about readings at which you’ve performed, attended, or hosted. When this series is all said and done, maybe we’ll have developed the simple formula for the perfect reading. Or maybe we’ll learn enough to make more questions to answer!)
Name: Andrew Sargus Klein
Location: Baltimore, MD
What experience do you have with hosting literary readings?
ASK: My partner Lynne Price and I run/organize/curate States & Drives, which is a performance series involving work that is experimental, improvisational, and collaborative. We’ve also organized one-off literary events throughout the city.
How is States & Drives structured differently from the other one-off readings you’ve hosted?
ASK: Well, from the get go, we were a bit tired of the standard reading format (6 or so readers, 10 or whatever minutes). We wanted to expand the idea of a reading/performance into something bigger than some people talking into a microphone.
(And this isn’t to knock straight forward readings! I love them and go to them all the time).
We invite artists (writers, dancers, musicians) and we try to create an overall theme of sorts. The last iteration was a tribute to John Cage, and so we had participants figure out how their performances would fit inside that (daunting, gigantic, limitless) mold. Speaking for myself, I want to see poetry treated more as a malleable force, one that can be performed and interpreted and conjoined with other arts and artists.
Performances are a couple hours, which is pretty long (and one reason why it isn’t as regular a series as we’d like); participants are musicians, poets, dancers (most local, we’ve had a few from out of town). We’ve paired up participants in improvisational contexts (which was terrifying and very successful and everyone had a blast).
What is your vision for it?
ASK: A performance series of experimental, improvisational, and collaborative art.
We intend for each one to have its own umbrella, but even straight-forward readings that have a “theme” of some sort can so visceral and compelling.
I really want to see a more aggressive crossover between literature, dance, and experimental music. I think there’s a lot of blood running between them that people don’t realize. This isn’t just about hustling for bigger audience (though that helps!), I think it’s vital for the communities as a whole to be exposed to and performed with each others’ work
How long have you been attending readings?
ASK: Since college.
What is the best thing that has ever happened at a literary reading (could be one you hosted or one you’ve been to)
Well, I’d say that in our last States & Drives, we blocked off a chunk of time for improvisational duos (we had poets, musicians, dancers). The pairings, for the most part, were totally new, insomuch as the various pairs hadn’t worked with each other before, and some had never even improvised at all. The results were just amazing. The poetry was surprising and real.
I was terrified; I felt responsible for the participants but they took the idea and ran with it, and it ended up being one of the highlights of the night.
Getting out of comfort zones can be so invigorating. And poetry has so much inherent performance to it.
How do you get people to come out? Do you promote? If so, how?
ASK: Facebook is the main engine of promotion. That’s all well and good. With Baltimore, you have the benefit of a small-ish community, and venues have their own baked-in followers. I feel like our overall format (various genres represented) is part of the “marketing,” in that I do want to aggressively pursue various scenes/communities/groups.
Do you pay performers?
ASK: Yep, we split the door with them as best we can. It’s not much, but enough for some rounds after the show!
What is the worst or weirdest thing that has ever happened at a reading you’ve been at or hosted? (I just ask this question because writers are fricking weirdos)
ASK: They really are.
The “worst” was probably the lead off reader being so drunk it sucked all the energy out of the room, to the point where the rest of the night felt strained, and weird. That was a reading that I’d attended.
Who is one person I should contact who knows what they are doing when it comes to hosting literary events?
ASK: Dylan Kinnet.
What do you want me to ask the next person I interview?
ASK: Is there a disconnect between listening to someone read and reading something on the page?
States & Drives is an experimental performance series co-curated by Lynne Price and Andrew Sargus Klein. It emphasizes improvisation and collaboration between artists of all genres.