Room 204 experience: putting on a show at Bham Lit Fest 2019

Sell-out Room 204 cabaret event pARTy Lines: Tuesday 8 October 2019

By Justina Hart and Naomi Paul, co-organisers / volunteer co-organisers

‘Such a privilege to take part’; ‘It was so good to see a full house’; ‘What a lovely, warm atmosphere’. These are just a few of the thank you messages that the Room 204 writers who performed in the cabaret sent us after the October 2019 event.

We had our first meeting in November 2018 with Festival Director, Antonia Beck, when both we and the nation were in a gloomy mood. The cabaret and ‘arty party’ ideas were born, along with an uplifting theme: ‘how literature sustains us through thick and thin’.

Room 204 showcases during Birmingham Literature Festival have taken place for a long time, but as they’ve grown in audience and performers, we’ve professionalised the event itself. Events are democratic – any of the now-120 plus Room 204 writers can throw their hat in the ring.

A call-out to Room 204 writers went out in July. Offers of stories, poems, life writing, monologues and songs flooded in. We were able to include everyone who applied and made it clear that we would be curating the event, not our peers’ writing.

The hard work intensified over the summer. We liaised with Writing West Midlands’ Festival team throughout: sorting the line-up and running order, promoting the event, collating website text, organising technical requirements, generating ideas for the set, and so on. With a dedicated theatre space and 12 performers, there was even more to think about than in previous years, including microphones, lighting, tablecloths and programme. We had a rehearsal so that writers from different cohorts could get to know each other and we could make it an enthusiastic team effort.

It was fabulous to arrive on the night after all that hard work. We were delighted that the event was a sell-out, especially since we were programmed on the same evening as the new poet laureate! The black-box space was large enough for an audience of 50-60 but wonderfully intimate for performers. Jonathan Davidson was a consummate compere, keeping things slick, funny and to time. The performances were diverse, the quality uniformly excellent, and the audience very appreciative indeed – ‘royally entertained’ as one of our number said. It was great to perform our own songs, too, as part of the cabaret line-up.

The ambitious idea meant that the organisation was particularly time-consuming this year but our expectations were surpassed; we also learnt a lot about curation, production and collaboration. We are indebted to the festival team for helping us to realise our literary cabaret dream.