On the topic of new play “Readings”

In Playwriting, The Daily Drool on November 25, 2009 at 10:20 am

There are a lot of “development” opportunities out there for playwrights.  Sometimes you hook up with a theatre and they do all the work for you- others turn over some space and say “Go for it!” – but always it comes down to someone reading your play and deciding “Hey!  There’s something interesting happening here…” And it can be of great service to you, the playwright, or it can be a disaster.

I think the matter with readings is that sometimes you get one because that is the only way said theatre is going to look at “new” playwrights.  It’s simple enough- they have many, many, many financial concerns directing their decisions.  A play could come across a Lit. Manager’s desk that is in wonderful shape, but it’s as-yet-undecided reputation and your relative obscurity, makes them reluctant to hand you a contract.  Instead they offer you a reading and invite their artistic director, and you head into things hoping that everyone likes you… that everyone likes your work.

Then there are the readings (as I just had with Theatricum Botanicum) where they bring you in on an admittedly new work, invite actors and directors to come listen and talk about what they heard, and you get a whole lot of rewrites done because the process is about YOU.  See the difference?  Above= about the theatre.  Development Readings= about You and the script.

I think it’s important to recognize the difference beetween the two because a reading can have serious consequnces on a playwright’s psyche.  I mean, it is said by some that a play is never done- but I disagree with this sentiment.  I believe there comes a time when a script is most certainly ready as done as it’s gonna’ get without a production, and all the “talking” about it in the world becomes mute compared to the final polishing that will take place in rehearsal.  So you take your little creation around to these readings, hoping they’ll lead to a production somewhere, but if all that is happening is people are sitting around “talking” about it and “rewriting” your script, you can get stuck in “Development Hell” and you might start to go crazy.

So… I suppose the moral of this is to the playwright- Know which kind of reading you are being offered.  Prepare yourself for tons of questions, but know where you are in YOUR OWN development process.  It’s hard, especially when you have theatre professionals nodding over some random comment made by the crazy in the back… but try to make sure that YOUR questions about the script are present in your mind before the reading so that no matter what happens afterwards, that reading can be of benefit to YOU.

I have to say my experiences with the multiple readings I had this month were each of them different- In one case I hadn’t been involved in any of the casting or rehearsals and got to sit through an awkward read of a very polished play.  (The lead actress was about as interesting as listening to rocks… Gah!)  But we got our lead actress for In the Company of Jane Doe from that cast, so all was NOT lost!  The second reading I had was of an old play that I hadn’t looked at in ages- and I forgot how funny it is!  The director was SOOO on her game that I wound up looking brilliant.  It was wonderful.  And the third reading at Theatricum was great for me, but challenging for the audience as it was a “Staged Reading” which means actors on stage, script in hand, moving around and trying to give a sense of the staging.  Now, I find staged readings are always difficult as they are essentially invited rehearsals, which means that stage directions (sometimes integral to the plot) inevitably get missed- If you can’t see it, hearing someone tell you that the house is completely caved in might not stick in your mind.  Sunday was incredibly helpful for me as the playwright, but frustrating for the audience partly due to this very matter- they simply weren’t able to “See” the play through its “Staged” ness- and so I had to sit through some awkward moments.  BUT, for me, I was able to see quite clearly where the rough spots still lie…

SO that’s my little riff on readings.

Any from you?


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