All images and logo courtesy Letters Live
In the beginning was the word. And on its heels, the art of letter writing sprouted. For hundreds of years, the written word was the only way to keep in touch over any distance, putting chisel to rock, ink to papyrus, pen to paper.
Thus, letters became messengers, confidants, sometimes confessors. Connecting head and heart, stringing together sense and sentiment, they wove an intricate structure to bridge physical and ideological divides, and helped preserve ideas and events for future generations.
But with the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century, the letter faced a new and mighty foe: electrical data transmission quickly pushed its communication predecessor into a corner as the second Industrial Revolution chopped up work flows and lines of communication with a view to maximising efficiency.
As the technological revolution spat out newer, faster communication devices over the last few decades, the means of transporting a message exploded simultaneously: emails, texts, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat and others are at the ready to deliver your rants and ramblings with a few clicks.
Preferably in 140 characters, or fewer.
Although today we are faced with an avalanche of information, views, comments and interactions, very little of it ever sticks. As quickly as these messages are typed out and shot off into cyberspace, they disappear into the mountain of data that we must process every day.
But as our attention spans decrease and the constant exposure to media numbs our senses, a small group of people have created the perfect antidote to these ailments.
Letters Live emerged on the back of the launch of two new publications that celebrated the art form of the letter: Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note and Simon Garfield’s To the Letter. The unique live events defy any kind of labelling. Neither theatre nor monologue nor concert fits the bill, as the self-proclaimed ‘celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence’ takes its audience on a trip through space and time, and, more importantly, into the hearts and minds of visionaries, thinkers, lovers, soldiers, husbands, wives, writers and many more.
Something extraordinary happens when the performer takes the stage. For a brief moment, they become one with the words and the sentiment infused into the letters, bringing their spirits out of the past and into the present. In a way, the performers become today’s embodiment of Ray Bradbury’s Book People who, at the end of his classic novel Fahrenheit 451, memorise works of literature and recite them to anyone who wishes to listen.
But Letters Live does not only connect a performer to a letter—it goes far beyond. Transcending traditional story-telling methods, it effortlessly breaks down the fourth wall with its pinkie while brewing a cup of tea. It marries the written to the spoken word, which in turn makes a beeline into the audience’s lives. There is a prevalent sense of emotional intimacy during the events, an unspoken understanding of the privileged glimpse into someone’s deepest feelings, hopes and fears, creating a silent bond with those fortunate enough to be a part of it.
As the audience travels along with the witty, weird and wonderful compositions, tightly wrapped in the poignant residue of people sometimes long gone, but surely not forgotten, many a hanky is passed along the aisles between complete strangers.
For when it comes to delivering heartbreak, Letters Live flips the script. Instead of making you tune out—it sucks you in, drawing you so painfully close that empathy is inevitable.
The format does what few others manage to achieve today: it creates understanding and compassion. It celebrates the fire and the flaws, the miracles and the mess that make us unmistakably human.
Letters Live carries this torch into this millennium, growing ever brighter as it continues to inspire and touch its audiences along the way. From literary festivals to Freemason Hall, Union Chapel to prisons and even a refugee camp, Letters Live events are beacons of light in dark times, reminding us that sometimes all it takes is a pen, a piece of paper and a little bit of your time to make a difference.
Performances are on the Letters Live Vimeo and YouTube channels.