Liars’ League NYC is an awesome reading series and literary journal. Here’s how it works: actors read original stories by writers for an appreciative crowd at the intimate KGB Bar. The stories are then published on the Liars’ League site and made available as podcasts. Sound cool? We thought so too, which is why we were thrilled to interview founder, producer, and host Andrew Lloyd-Jones.
Aimee Howard performing at a reading in December.
What inspired you to start Liars’ League?
We set up Liars’ League London eight years ago when we realized that while writers love the writing process, they don’t necessarily love the performance aspect when it comes to readings (and some actively avoid it). So by having actors read the stories, we were just leveling the playing field—as we say, writers write, actors read, audience listens, everybody wins. When I moved here, I set up Liars’ League NYC with exactly the same philosophy—but a different accent. New York has an incredibly dynamic literary community—and over here, I was hugely inspired by series like Amanda Stern’s Happy Ending series (now at Symphony Space), Suzanne Dottino’s Sunday Night Fiction, Blaise Allysen Kearsley’s How I Learned, and Gabriel Delahaye and Lindsay Robertson’s Ritalin Readings.
Liars’ League is unique in that trained actors are reading new short stories, which haven’t been published anywhere else, by a variety of emerging and established writers.
Aside from the obvious, how do you think that the feel of this differs from an author reading his or her own work? Do the writers and actors ever talk and collaborate before the performance?
I think there’s a difference between reading a story aloud and bringing it to life. That’s where actors truly shine—they’re fantastic at painting the words, becoming the characters. Liars’ League also gives the audience a different way to engage with and immerse themselves in a story—because it’s removed from the context of the author. I love author readings too—they’re an ideal opportunity to meet writers, ask questions, have books signed, and so on—but at Liars’ League NYC events, we focus purely on the story. As far as rehearsals go, our writers are invited to meet their actors, and take part in the run-through—and if they can’t make it, they’re welcome to suggest notes for the performance if they have specific suggestions.
What are some of the Liars’ League’s most memorable performances?
So naturally I’d say all our performances are memorable, but I’d recommend a few recent ones in particular to get started—E James Ford’s performance of “Do Days” by Vito Racanelli, which was recorded and broadcast by the BBC earlier this year; Roya Shank’s performance of “Small Town” by Kate Weinberg; Rico Frederick’s performance of “When Elsa Sings” by Rayna White; and Jonathan Harford’s performance of “A Man With a Towel Around His Waist Speaks” by Chris Arp—which was for our very first event and which he performed wearing just a towel. And it was a cold night.
Liars’ League is performed and recorded at KGB bar, a great literary hangout and a pretty awesome, intimate space. Do you think that the venue itself has an impact on the performances?
I think it does to an extent—we’ve performed at a number of other locations, for example as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival and Lit Crawl NYC, but KGB definitely feels like home. That’s partly to do with the space—as an intimate venue, there’s a strong connection between actor and audience; and partly to do with the house itself—KGB has an outstanding literary reputation, and always attracts an appreciative audience. There’s an amazing energy to the room that really lifts the performances.
How do you decide which actor or actress to pair with a certain author’s work?
We’ve been going for a while now, so we’ve built up a semi-regular company of actors—after a while you get a sense of a performer’s range. More often than not an actor immediately springs to mind, though there are times it takes a little thought to find the right fit. When we have a new story to cast, I tend to listen to past performances from our archive—occasionally there’s something in a performance—a voice, a style of delivery, an emotion—that might be an incidental aspect of an earlier piece, but which ends up being the foundation for a whole new performance.
What passage, from all of literature, would you like read at your funeral?
It’d have to be Raymond Carver’s poem “For Tess,” from his collection Where Water Comes Together with Other Water. It’s one of the most heartfelt and beautiful expressions of gratitude I’ve ever read.
What else can we look forward to seeing from LLNYC in the future?
More great stories! But more specifically, we’re looking forward to the publication of our first print anthology in 2016, which we’re hoping will be out by the summer. And in the meantime, I’m excited to be introducing a new format for our podcasts which I’ve been developing for the past couple of months—as well as the performances, it’ll feature interviews with our writers about their stories, their writing process, inspirations, and pretty much whatever else comes up in conversation. All good things.
Interviewed by Ben Philippe