Epiphany caught up with Amanda Miller, curator and host of the Lyrics, Lit, and Liquor bi-monthly reading series. (For details about the next event, on Tues., Sep. 1, at 7 PM, click here for the Facebook page.) A writer and actor, Amanda has adapted her memoir, One Breath, Then Another, into an interactive solo show that she has performed and will again next month at the San Francisco Fringe. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, UC Riverside’s Cratelit, and numerous other publications. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School and a BFA in Acting from NYU. Follow her reading series at facebook.com/Lyricslitliquor.
Epiphany: Tell us about your next Lyrics, Lit, and Liquor event at the HiFi Bar in the East Village.
Amanda Miller: Lyrics, Lit & Liquor is an intimate, fun show in the back room at HiFi, on Avenue A and 11th Street. The next one will be on Tuesday, September 1, at 7 PM. There will be readings of fiction and poetry, musical performances between readings, Burning Man-themed trivia, candy and booze. I will host.
E: What transpires during the course of a Lyrics, Lit, and Liquor event? What should the audience expect? What is it about these three that go so well together?
A: I start off the evening by introducing myself, the show, and the trivia theme. Then I ask a trivia question, throw candy at the audience member who shouts out the correct answer first, and bring up the first reader. The trivia theme does not necessarily coincide with anything else that happens on stage, but it might, and it’s a fun way to involve the audience who get a question between every performance and the opportunity to dodge or catch a mini Twix or Reese’s cup. There are six readers and two musicians. The readers read for eight minutes and the musicians perform two to three songs each following every two readers. Having live music between readings rejuvenates everyone’s ears, and liquor just makes everyone a little looser and more open-hearted. The whole show runs about ninety minutes without a break.
E: How long have you been running this series? Do you do this alone, or are there collaborators?
A: This next show actually marks three years of running the series! I’m planning to mark the anniversary at the November show when my collaborator, Amy Dupcak, can be there. She is the trivia writer. The Burning Man theme is actually in her honor, as that’s where she’ll be on Sept. 1.
I essentially run the series alone but the people in my writing group, The Ponies, have been a huge support and helped me come up with the name, Lyrics, Lit & Liquor. They are also frequent readers at the show.
E: When you started this series, what were your models at the time? Have other series or events inspired you?
A: There are so many amazing series and events in New York City that inspire me! When I started the series, I think my primary inspiration was an event that my fellow Pony, Scott Hess, put together to promote his book Diary of a Sex Addict. It was at Bluestockings Bookstore and he invited all the Ponies to read. He also screened his book trailer, a band played, and I performed a short segment from the solo show based on my memoir. I really loved the variety.
Initially I had just intended to host one event at Parkside Lounge to promote the anthology, So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, which included a chapter from my memoir. But the event was such a success that the venue asked me back and I decided to start a series as a way to give emerging writers an opportunity to read. For a while I had been looking for opportunities to read myself and found it difficult as a largely unknown writer.
Since starting Lyrics, Lit & Liquor, some literary series that have inspired me are H.I.P. Lit, Having a Whiskey Coke With You, Buzzard’s Banquet, SWEET: Actors Reading Writers, and Franklin Park Reading Series. They all have rock star energy and a spirit of fun and support. I especially love H.I.P. Lit’s motto that authors deserve audiences and literature deserves a party.
E: What is it about the East Village that draws you to host your series there? Until recently you were hosting at Parkside Lounge, also in the East Village. Does it feel like the series has found a good home at HiFi?
A: Even though so many amazing spaces in the East Village have been shuttered and the neighborhood is becoming more gentrified every day, the area has such a history of counterculture and I like to invoke that spirit.
I do think HiFi feels like a good home. It’s an intimate space for our intimate show and the booker, Mike Stuto, has been really responsive and supportive thus far.
E: Favorite or most memorable Lyrics, Lit & Liquor readings? Music?
A: Ah, so many. Well, Sean Doyle read and he is just a fierce writer and reader so that was pretty awesome. A fun memory for me is the time Amy and I read from the joint essay collection we are working on together called A&A; I wrote a piece about swimming and she wrote a piece about dancing, and we swam/ danced onstage during our performance. There has also been spoken word over recorded beats, improvised poetry by my hilarious friend Annie Barry, storytelling, occasional monologues… These all fit into the “reading” category, ha! I’m pretty open; it’s definitely a show to try stuff out.
Music-wise, we’ve also had some amazing performances. I’ve been really excited to host Rachel Ries and Jefferson Hamer, whom I’ve consistently listened to and admired for some time. We’ve also had Jean Rohe play a couple of times. She’s a friend of a friend who’s an incredible singer / songwriter and I’ve become a huge fan from having her on the show. Also The Kissing Club, Zach Berkman, Alyson Greenfield…
E: Tell us about your own writing projects...
A: Okay! In 2013, I published my memoir, One Breath, Then Another, on my own Lucid River Press. It’s about my quest for healing to avoid the self-destructive path of my father. We both struggled with eating disorders, and depression and anxiety that manifested various forms of self abuse. My dad died of lung cancer when I was seventeen showing me that people can die as a result of their self-destructive behaviors. The last third of the book takes place on an ashram in India where I completed a yoga teacher training. I then adapted the book into a solo show—One Breath, Then Another: An Interactive Yoga Show—which takes place on the ashram. I play multiple characters including myself and my father, and at various points in the show the audience is invited to engage in breathing exercises, meditation, Sanskrit chanting and simple movements. I’ve performed the show at various festivals in New York and around the country and this September I’ll be performing it in the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
I just finished a draft of an absurdist one-act play called Drunk Homeless 80s Girl’s Manifest Destiny. (Drunk Homeless 80s Girl is a comedy character I’ve been doing since college.) In it, Drunk Homeless 80s Girl saves America’s newest generation from destruction when she forces Santa and Dodo to stop killing babies and to free God, whom they have been holding hostage.
I’m also at work on a novel about a young painter whose father is in jail for murder, and she’s struggling to navigate between her drive to be a commercially successful artist and her evolving insight into art as a tool for healing.
E: What advice would you offer emerging writers who are hoping to one day read at an event like yours? ...to seasoned writers who have experience reading at events?
A: To emerging writers wanting to read: Come to readings and introduce yourself to the host! Tell them you’re interested in reading! Then when you are granted a reading slot, practice reading your piece a few times beforehand so you are comfortable with your material. Adhere to the time limit. Don’t read too fast. Speak into the microphone. Look up from the paper sometimes. Experience the words and thoughts as you share them. Be excited about sharing your story!
To seasoned writers who have experience reading: Find a way to make the reading experience fresh! Maybe take a risk with the material you choose to share. Also all of the above.
E: I heard that a couple got engaged on stage at one of your shows...!
A: Yes! Honestly this was the most memorable thing that has ever occurred at a show. Their names are Lisa and David, and they are friends of mine and repeat Lyrics, Lit & Liquor performers. The show has provided a venue for them to perform music together, which has been really meaningful to them. Lisa wrote to me months before this particular show asking if it would be okay to propose to David on stage during their performance. She invited a bunch of their friends to the show and at the beginning of their set David commented on how great it was that so many friends had come out to support them that night. They were singing a song Lisa had written for a musical she’s working on, about two people getting married, and Lisa changed the lyrics of the last line to “David, will you marry me?” No one will ever forget it.
E: Wishing you the best of luck at the San Francisco Fringe Festival! Has anything about the performing of your work informed you about the material that the writing of it did not?
A: Thanks for the well wishes!
Performing the work enables me to experience audience reaction in real time, which is really different than writing and hearing back from readers after they have finished the whole book. To hear people laugh or cry or make various other reactive human sounds informs me viscerally about the various ways the material is translating to the outside world. That’s one reason I really love performing.
August 20, 2015