“It’s really exciting when an audience hears a good actor read great writing,” says Cedering Fox, founder of WordTheatre. Since 2003, Fox has been combining literary fiction with award-winning actors (Screen Actors Guild Awards, plus Emmys, Tonys and even an Oscar) to put on some of the best readings the city has to offer.
This fall, Fox will showcase the works of Allan Gurganus at two events and Janet Fitch’s writings at one; another evening, called “The Women,” will feature stories by Ramona Ausubel, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and Michelle Latiolais.
“I like an exquisitely written story,” Fox says. “I like it to have an emotional impact. When my body temperature starts to change — whether it’s a funny story, sad story — when I get really engaged and moved, that’s the right story.”
The performances are like very polished table reads without a table: The actors have microphones, music stands for their scripts, the stage. Usually, a single actor reads a complete story.
As many people who’ve been to readings know, writers aren’t always the best representatives of their own works. Actors, however, are skilled at bringing other peoples’ words to life.
“We’ll spend a couple hours in advance at their house or my house, and we’ll pull the story apart,” Fox says. Together, they’ll analyze the stories, the word choices. “They put it back together; they inhabit the role.”
Performers reading Gurganus on Sept. 21 include Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon on “Game of Thrones”) and Christina Pickles (Judy Geller on “Friends”). WordTheatre events are performed all over the city, but this one will take place at Microsoft’s space in Venice, trading the typical evening event for brunch.
It will feature four separate Gurganus stories: an excerpt from his novel “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”; “Nativity, Caucasian” and “It Had Wings,” which both appear in his collection “White People”; and “Toward a More Precise Identification of the Newer Angels,” from the New Yorker.
Afterward, Gurganus will be on hand to answer questions. This isn’t always the case, and authors sometimes don’t make it that far. At one WordTheatre reading, an overcome Joyce Carol Oates burst into tears.
Fox is a performer herself — for the last two years, she’s been the voice of the Oscars. “My voice-over work supports me,” she says. She runs WordTheatre as a nonprofit that puts on performances in schools; for the last few years, she’s also run a series of summer programs in England.
Likening WordTheatre performances to radio dramas, Fox says: “You are a listener visualizing things… It brings you back to your own imagination. There’s a very powerful relationship between the author and the actor, and then the actor and the listener. All three are the equation that make this particular alchemy.”
WordTheatre: “Allan Gurganus and the Angels”
Where: 901 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Suite A, Venice
When: 11 a.m. Sept. 21, 11am at the Microsoft Lounge
Tickets: $35 (includes brunch)
Follow me on Twitter: @paperhaus