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The speak easy reading series opens its door to area writers



Michael Hanlon

 

Traditionally one would have to keep hush-hush regarding the whereabouts of a prohibition-era speakeasy. The whole point was to “speak easy” so the law wouldn’t find out and shut down the illicit bar. But things have changed over the last 85 years and no one needs to hold their tongue when it comes to Rochester Spoken Word’s “Speak Easy” literary readings at Cheshire Bar in the South Wedge.

On the second Sunday of each month Rochester Spoken Word founders, Evvy Fanning and Scott Seifritz, showcase up to ten local writers on Cheshire’s stage. Audience members purchase tickets ahead of time guaranteeing the readers an attentive audience in the cozy pub over Solera Wine Bar on South Ave. A full selection of cocktails and mocktails are available for purchase which adds to the relaxed and comfortable setting. Doors open at 12:30 pm allowing guests and readers time to grab a bag of free popcorn and order a drink before the show starts. “Speak Easy starts pretty civilized at 12:30,” says Fanning who co-owns Cheshire with her husband, John, “but by 2 o’clock it’s a party. And we have booze.”

The perfect Old Fashioned 

Seifritz is an IT consultant for Green Leaf Professional Services, the company he owns. He is also a writer whose play Denny Killington, Master Detective!, was selected as part of the 2016 Regional Writers Showcase. His short play, No Encore, was produced as part of the 24-Hour Plays at the 2017 Rochester Fringe Festival. In addition to owning Solera and Cheshire, Fanning is a writer who was a member of the 2017 Listen To Your Mother Cast. She’s also an English teacher who can mix a pretty mean Old Fashioned (but not for her students).

In November 2016 Seifritz asked Fanning to join him and a few other writers for a monthly get together to read current work to each other. Fanning suggested they meet at Cheshire. “Over an Old Fashioned or two, Rochester Spoken Word was born. We could both see the value in giving writers a chance to read their work aloud to an audience that was there specifically to hear them. The fact that there’d be cocktails on hand was a bonus,” says Seifritz.

“It’s magic”

Seifritz and Fanning find readers through friends, social media, and word of mouth.

No one has to apply, audition, or present credentials says Fanning: “There is no application process; we don’t review writers’ works – we simply schedule them to read if there is space. Most who read here ask to read again, and most who have come here, have come back. I’m telling you, it’s magic.” Writers and audience members agree that there is something pretty magical about the Speak Easy reading series. Sejal Shah is a local writer and professor who read at the inaugural Speak Easy event and then brought her writing class from Writers & Books to read in the summer of 2017.

“I enjoyed reading there and my nonwriter husband also thought the reading was thoughtfully run and curated. And Speak Easy includes a paper program. I love that detail! Great vibe. Organized, quiet, friendly, supportive, intimate and appreciative audience. It was a terrific opportunity for my writing class to read without my having to worry about organizing, emceeing and advertising the event, while also teaching and helping my students prepare for the reading.” Another Writers & Books teacher, Jennifer Kircher Carr of Webster, brought her short story class to Speak Easy in February. She, too, finds the Speak Easy vibe friendly: “Public readings, in general, help writers ‘own’ their art in a new and different way and the Speak Easy’s venue ‘off-campus’ lends a new authenticity to the reading.” Shah’s student, Nadia Ghent of Brighton, has read at Speak Easy several times and always has a great time. She feels that Fanning and Seifritz offer sincere and “generous hospitality” to everyone in attendance allowing readers to feel at ease and calm during a performance that, for many, can be nerve wracking. Kristine Bruneau of Rochester read at Speak Easy last November. She is a writer who tends to feel a few butterflies when she reads and says that she gets, “extremely nervous speaking in front of a large audience, but once I’m there, I get into the rhythm of my story. Scott and Evvy really made me feel welcome and safe.”

Creating a community

Speak Easy event tickets (only $7) routinely sell out. Audience members enjoy the cool, comfy vibe Fanning and Seifritz cultivate at Cheshire. Regular attendee Miriam Gale, a clinical social worker from Rochester, says that the “intimacy of the space, the warmth of Evvy and Scott, the right amount of structure, the energy of readers and audience all make for a wonderful experience.” It’s this energy that keeps writers and audiences coming back for more. Seifritz points out that Speak Easy “is geared to the writers. Everything we do is to help them be heard – whether they’re a first time-reader or a seasoned pro who wants to test out some new material. It’s a nice bonus that the audience has been loving what they hear.” Learn more at their website: rocspoke.org

Rochester Reads 2018

Writers & Books’ 2018 Rochester Reads program features Reyna Grande’s memoir The Distance Between Us (Washington Square Press 2012), a 2012 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards for Autobiography. Grande will participate in a variety of literary events around the area including readings and book signings. All events will take place between March 28 and March 30, 2018. Visit WAB.org for more information or stop by their offices at 730 University Ave. to purchase a copy of the book and pick up a free reading guide.

Christine Green is a freelance writer who lives on the Erie Canal in Brockport with her family

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