A new reading series, River City Revue, makes its debut at The Bard’s Town on Thursday, and founder Ashley Taylor hopes the monthly event can distinguish itself from the competition by mixing the standard poetry night vibe with live music and theatrical readings. She’s also hoping to conquer her stage fright by taking on the duties of running a series and helping new readers get used to being on stage themselves.
Taylor, a graduate student at University of Louisville, began her collegiate journey as a music education student at Northern Kentucky University before moving home and redirecting her focus to study English. She believes UofL was a great fit.
“I completely fell in love with the department,” says Taylor, who also works at UofL’s writing center.
A writer herself, she admits to having difficulty presenting her work at readings. “I get really nervous on stage and to read my work in front of people,” says Taylor, noting she doesn’t mind sharing her work in a more academic setting. “It’s different in the classroom; in the classroom, I’m the first one to raise my hand.”
Taylor recognizes that running a reading series frequently involves some time on the microphone. “So I thought maybe if I practiced, I would get better. So that’s one of the motivations for running the series.”
Helping other less-established writers get used to reading in front of an audience is another goal. Taylor says she wants a mixture of writers that always includes newbies. “It’s a way to inspire people who might be nervous. It’s not just for published, award-winning writers.”
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some more established writers contributing to the first River City Revue.
Iliana Rocha is a Latino poet who won the 2014 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry for “Karankawa,” her debut collection. “Karankawa” also was featured on a “Best of” list by the Los Angeles Times.
Several of the other readers have published books of poetry as well. Taylor says guest reader Tina Parker’s “Mother May I” shows a broad picture of the many emotions motherhood creates. “It was interesting … showing the complications and also joys and conflicting emotions of motherhood,” says Taylor, adding that Parker also tackles themes related to Appalachian heritage.
Taylor says Jake Curtis, a writer from Louisville, has a strong local following but still qualifies as an emerging artist, and she reiterates that emerging artists are important to the ethos of River City Revue. “I wanted to make sure that at every event we feature one emerging artist, somebody who might have had some things published in journals but they don’t have a book.”
Most recognizable to Louisvillians will be Ron Whitehead, famous for his Gonzo antics and association with Hunter S. Thompson.
It’s an interesting lineup, certainly a tempting selection for the poetry set, but Taylor also invited “No Sugar,” a local music trio made up of UofL students.
Musical guests are part of Taylor’s attempt to combat stereotypical images of poetry nights.
“I have a lot of friends who think a poetry reading is really boring, but it’s not like that at all,” says Taylor. “I’d like to open with music, then have the reading, then close with music. It’s a way to get that energy up … It’s a different type of energy when you bring on music.”
She chose The Bard’s Town as her venue with an eye toward drawing a diverse crowd.
“I knew I wanted a venue that wasn’t a coffee shop,” says Taylor. “(The Bard’s Town) a great place as far as aesthetic, as far as menu, and then the owner was just really excited about the series. He was very welcoming, and that definitely fostered that connection.”
While Taylor has had great success lining up poets and music, she’s still working to reach out to local playwrights.
“I’m looking for ways to recruit more playwrights and more people in theater. I need to be a little bit more creative about how to do that,” says Taylor, noting that one challenge is having to coordinate with actors, thus complicating the scheduling process.
River City Revue is scheduled for the last Thursday of the month through the end of 2016, with the exception of Thanksgiving. The event is free and starts with music at 8 p.m. at The Bard’s Town, 1801 Bardstown Road.