Alchemy Labs was a modest project for English-speaking writers in Prague, aimed at honing their work and preparing it for public performance. The idea was launched at the ten-year anniversary of the Alchemy Readings and Performances Series in September, 2012. That anniversary evening celebrated the publishing of my husband’s books and it felt quite fitting to also come up with a new concept. It lasted throughout that season.
Reading for People
Being a good writer and good performance-reader are two very different skills. I know this particularly well because I’ve been a notoriously poor reader ever since childhood. I don’t mind lecturing to a crowd, as long as I’m not required to read something to them. When I let other people read my work, it sounds like proper literature, when I read it, everyone yawns as I fight my way through. Yet, sooner or later, most writers end up facing the challenge of delivering a public reading, and most have very little practice.
This is not to be confused with stage-fright, which might play a role as well. Reading fiction or reciting poetry are particular skills that are best delivered by actors. Thus writers simply must train themselves to present their work in style. The best way to hone these skills is, of course, in a safe environment, among friends. This was the primary reason for Alchemy Labs – to create a safe and comfortable environment.
Its other general aims were to create a weekly get-together, where people can bring their work-in-progress, ask questions, provide each other with feedback, help one another edit their work and discuss ideas. Regularity was key because the public Alchemy readings took place only once a month, our weekly Alchemy Lab kept the motivation between events.
The group that quickly formed had some regulars (a handful of people devoted to writing every single week) and a wider list of occasional writers, who stopped by when they had something to share. We kept it as informal and comfortable as possible, meeting in our living-room, sat in chairs and on big pillow on the floor. Someone woudl bring cookies, I made a pot of tea, someone else might open a bottle of wine and we got to work. Our cat got an extra dose of petting and it all worked somehow.
What really surprised me, though, was the unique composition of people and styles of work. One evening, I looked around our living room and there were an Israeli poet and painter, a young Lebanese writer and singer, a British writer and war correspondent, a Philippine writer and actress, a British writer and musician, a couple of American writers, a British professor of literature, myself, and another Czech girl, who writes about her travels in South America.
Wait! Didn’t the Lebanese and Israelis shoot at each other a few decades ago? And what about America and the Philippines? All these people were outstanding writers and half of them not even native English-speakers. This is globalization in practice. These people didn’t come together in a cultural exchange symposium, a youth summer camp or college dormitory, they live and work in Prague and came together independently – to work together and support one another’s talent! After twenty years in this community, it shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it did.
Alchemy Labs fulfilled its purpose and filled our living room with stories, poems, laughter, and interesting discussions every Sunday evening.