Janet Geddis and Topher Payne (Luck v. Skill) get their instructions from Nick Tecosky.
Last April, on the backroom scuffed wooden floor of the Flicker Bar between the orange and maroon bricks and beneath the Yuengling clock, Schlitz banner and penetrating gaze of the owl, eagle and beaver, word warriors hit each other as hard as they could—right in the ear.
“Hath not a zombie eyes?” asked Nick Tecosky. “If you prick us, do we not ooze a fetid black clotted substance once resembling blood?”
No, it wasn’t another university production of Zombie Shakespeare. It was the inaugural evening of Write Club Athens, a verbal competition between storytellers that sprang from Chicago and earns money for the writer’s favorite charity. And unlike Fight Club, the first rule of Write Club is not don’t talk about Write Club. That evening’s leader Tecosky, a seasoned pro of Write Club Atlanta, lent his expertise to the kickoff for Athens by shouting at the crowd. A lot. And the crowd shouted back. Because shouting is the difference between sitting in on Write Club and drinking tea whilst watching "Downton Abbey." Write Club dubs it “literature as blood sport,” but also, as Write Club Athens leader Jami Howard says, “It’s doing good without getting all preachy about it.”
Two opposing writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes apiece. Audience picks a winner.
The writer with the winning level of shouts is decided by a blue ribbon panel of—Tecosky pointed at random people in the crowd— “You. You. And you.” Each reading of original material can last no longer than seven minutes, or, as Tecosky warned the Athens newbies, “The Timekeeper of Time is itching to buzz you out.” And the winner of each bout gets a cut of the door for the charity of his or her choice. The first pair is chosen by a random card draw. The decision of which writer goes first comes down to the primal rock-paper-scissors, and, ironically, in Athens’ first match-up of writers, paper was the loser.
“As soon as I moved to Athens, I had it set on my heart to bring Write Club here,” says Howard, an Atlanta native who was recruited to help put together the Atlanta branch by the organization’s Chicago founder, Ian Belknap, a.k.a. The Overlord. “Ian emailed me my topic (Dark) and informed me I would be going up against him (Light), and the shock waves of terror that reverberated through my gut were painful. I had never read my writing aloud before. But I showed up, gave it my best and won. (I brought a lot of friends for the audience.) My favorite part of that night was when I made a comment about needing to keep the dick jokes to a minimum in my piece because my father was in the audience.”
After creating Write Club Atlanta with Tecosky and Myke Johns, Howard decided it was Athens’ turn.
“It’s time to gather up all these big-brained, bookish, performing, talented people in Athens and put them onstage with a mic, head to head, making a difference but also flexing those big brains and pushing themselves to create and express in new ways,” says Howard. “It’s a competition, for sure, but the spirit of the night is inclusive and warm and, really, above all else, it’s just fun.”
The topics vary, such as the April Round Two matchup of Tired versus Wired, resulting in Wired’s Krista Westervelt presenting a commercial for “Nice ‘n’ Speedy. No hype. Just hyperactive,” and Tired’s Randy Osborne beginning his tale, “This true story is about me and my girlfriend Joyce and a cat. It’s called 'How We Are Assholes.'”
Round Three was another story.
“Assume the position!” cried Tecosky, as the last two writers took the stage.
“One! Two! Three!” yelled the crowd.
“Oooooo...” oooed the crowd.
“One! Two! Three!”
“There are also rocks and paper,” intoned Tecosky.
“One! Two! Three!” shouted the crowd.
Evenly matched—at least when it came to the hands. When it came to words and performance, Luck beat Skill’s Janet Geddis as Topher Payne’s story began with an assertion that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original) was better than Extremely Loud and Up Close because it didn’t search for meaning in the randomness of death. He then launched into his own story of going to the doctor because “there was a problem with my balls”—not for a routine exam like women do—“because we don’t have vaginas, which apparently require constant maintenance. But a man will go to the doctor if there’s an issue with his junk, because we’re very protective of that area.”
For the next six minutes, he wove his words around jokes and tenderness, and beating the odds and saying farewell to a new friend. The room was very quiet. And then it was very loud. His winnings went to Camp Sunshine in Decatur.
Write Club Athens returns from summer break to Flicker Bar this Thursday. Duking it out will be the topics Always (Krista Reed) versus Never (Amy Moss), Smooth (Tim Sanders) versus Rough (Adam Hebbard), and Lost (David Noah) versus Found (Kat Greene).
“I’m particularly stoked about Smooth versus Rough, because both of those dudes are lawyers,” says Howard. “You know they’re going to be persuasive.”
Doors open at 7 p.m. Readings start at 8 p.m. Bouts are over by 9 p.m. And the cover...
“The cover is flexible: $5 to $10, whatever you can,” says Howard. “Remember, the winning combatant of each bout gets a cut of the door money to donate to the charity of their choice. In April, each charity got $70. I want to be able to give them each more this month. The plan is to do this every third Thursday of the month."
And be ready to shout; do not raise your hand.