Author Mina Esguerra Takes Us Deep Into The Heart of RomanceClass Tradition
By Mina V. Esguerra
Several times a year, a romance author and reader community meets in Manila to bond over books and watch live readings. But instead of authors doing the readings, they invite theater actors to do it. Authors and readers become the audience. Sometimes there’s coffee, other times wine, but what’s constant: romance, books and the experience of enjoying the words, with fellow readers.
What also happens? Books are discovered, bought, and read. The #romanceclass author and reader community in the Philippines has organized over a dozen live readings as group events, and these are all at once a social gathering, a stage performance, a book marketing event, and a writing class. Imagine an author reading, but with actors. Or a TV series table-read, but the cast is reading a romance novel scene out loud. As a reader and fan of the book even just a scene reading is an experience in seeing an adaptation of the story, but leaving most details from your imagination intact. “Live readings have this unique way of bringing the story alive, depending on how the actors interpret the scene,” says Chachic Fernandez, who covers the events on her book blog Chachic’s Book Nook. “The experience is a lot of fun because I feel like it's all about emotions: what line or action would make the audience...react and what will stick with us. It's all about the feels.”
For authors, the experience of having your work read by actors to an audience can lead to a lot of lessons learned. As a romance author and live-reading event organizer, I learn something from how people react to the words, even if it’s not my book being read. When a reading starts, the room and what happens in it is all feedback for the author—the giggles, gasps, which lines get laughs, tense silence during a dramatic scene, how actors take cues from the text and respond with eye contact, smiles, body language. “It was more of a table read,” shares Miles Tan, whose book Finding X was performed at the first romanceclass live reading in 2015, “and I closed my eyes for it so I could focus on the words. It drove home that your work is not (just) yours anymore. Their interpretation of the scene was definitely not how I intended, but it's how they--we--see it now...It's both enjoyable and scary, like a series of leaps of faith.”
A reading can make an author see more possibilities for the books, too. A scene from Tif Marcelo’s book North to You was performed at a January 2018 event by Filipino actors Gio Gahol and Gabriela Pangilinan. “…it took everything to not melt into a puddle of joy. Hearing the dialogue between the characters and their introspection brought them to life,” Marcelo says. “It gave me a glimpse of what it could be on the big screen, and that in itself is a platter of hope, that my Fil-Am characters have a place in mainstream U.S. media.”
Another possibility? That HEA is for everyone. H. Bentham’s “The Other Story” (M/M), read by Gio Gahol and Fred Lo also in January, was a memorable reading for the audience, and the author. “It gave me validation that my words, once magical and cathartic only to me, would be even more magical and wonderful in so many ways when shared to others," he said.
As a celebration of romance, it’s also a great platform for authors and books. Jennifer Hallock’s historical romance books set in the Philippines aren’t in our local bookstores yet, but a 2017 live reading (of a sex scene from Under the Sugar Sun) introduced her book to new readers. “Once I got past my initial agony of exposure (Did I write that?!), I thrived on the fact that the audience was feeling the scene just as profoundly as I was. Every gasp, every fan of the cheeks, every long sigh was romance gold. The uncountable hours put into the book paid off in thirteen short minutes,” Hallock says.
Consider including the work of authors who can’t come to the event, but whose books will be a match for the audience anyway. (And send the authors the video!) A recent event in Manila included a reading from A Night at the Mall, F/F romance by Brazilian author M. Hollis. “[Being] able to listen to someone else reading my words and noticing the reactions from the people around was one of the best experiences of my life, even though I’m miles away!”
We’ve done YA themed readings, adult romance readings, prom night, “all authors studied STEM”... It can be a party, for readers and authors. If this seems at all interesting and doable for your own bookish community and you want to try it, you’ll need:
1.At least two actors, or people who can read aloud very well, and feel what they’re reading. This is not an easy a job as it might seem, and you’ll need to give your actors direction so they get the characters right.
2.Scenes from romance books, sequenced into a program. Ideally the scenes are the romantic ones, and a program is fun when you find scenes that cover different, familiar tropes done well. More emotion is better! Scenes that are funny, or angry, or sexy, or flirty, or dramatic, or combinations of those play out well to audiences. Keep it under ten minutes. Secure permission from the author (or publisher) before putting it on your program!
3.A welcoming, comfortable place to have the event in. Check if the space can fit the number of people you expect, and if their sound equipment’s any good. Next thing to check is how welcoming the space is to romance in general, and also to the people you expect to attend. (Some events and spaces that identify as book-friendly aren’t romance-friendly.) Definitely prioritize the places that offer a more accepting, and accessible, environment!
4.An audience. That is: Readers, authors, fans of live performances, students of literature and genre fiction, teachers of literature and genre fiction, publishing industry people. But the priority audience will, and should, be the romance readers.
(Photos, courtesy of: Clarisse David, Veronica Silagpo, Kathrina Galang, Chachic Fernandez, Chachic Fernandez, Kathrina Galang)