Working at Berkeley's Pegasus Books, writer Joe Christiano has seen his share of readings. And sometimes, they weren't all he hoped for.
"No matter how dynamic the prose is, the authors were not always great performers," he said. "Sometimes there was all this dead air around the words. Some writers know how to deliver it on the page, but not the stage."
This led Christiano to create First Person Singular, a dramatic reading series where actors perform written work, rather than the writers themselves.
"We're basically bringing together underutilized material and underutilized actors," Christiano said.
In August 2010, the group started at Pegasus with two summery short stories, Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." and John Updike's "A&P." Since then First Person Singular, which Greil Marcus wrote in The Believer "means to redefine not only the literary event but the literary as such" has expanded to the Shotgun Players theater as well, and gone on to do works including an all-female reading of Glengarry Glen Ross, a '60s girl-group song recital, and The Elements of Style.
Being at a theater rather than a bookstore means the ability to put on a more dynamic show, Christiano said.
"Sometimes we weren't able to flex the way we needed to," he said. "The stage gives us more room, and we have sound and tech and all that. I think of it as a sweet spot between a dramatic reading and a full dramatic production."
The series' next performance is on Monday, which will be a performance of Hear Me Now: Cell Phone Monologues.
"I was walking through the Mission, and there was just one after another," he said. "It's a kind of unsolicited public theater, a kind of performance with voice and character."
Christiano, who says his own writing is steeped in voice, liked the idea of taking that street theater and putting it in an actual theater. He invited people whose work he admires to take part, including comedian and one-woman show veteran Marga Gomez, poet Kim Addonizio, noir lover Eddie Muller, and Duck's Breath Mystery Theater founder Ian Sholes.
There were just two guidelines he gave the performers, Christiano said.
"It had to take place in present day Bay Area at some locale that gets mentioned and to present a character who is inadvertently revealed."
Cell Phone Monologues starts December 3 at 8 p.m. at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK), Berkeley. Admission is $15.