Play readings (and screenplay readings) are very important for writers, directors, actors, and producers.
It’s an opportunity to hear the material so it can be evaluated, timed, and as a way to attract potential investors.
Staged readings are different. Some people are confused between the two. If you google the subject you will find different interpretations. Last month’s blog was Part I of this topic where I talked about play readings. This month I’ll discuss staged readings and how we do them at the Actors Workout Studio.
It’s a good idea to review Part I first as I will be using the same script to demonstrate the difference. If you missed it just look at my last blog here on this site.
A stage reading “shows” the material being performed. It is visual, both watched and listened to as opposed to a play reading that is listened to only. The idea is to “show the potential” of a production. Therefore, it has movement, direction, props and actions. In a writers reading the actions are read by the stage manager, in a staged reading they are watched and performed. We watch the actors’ movements. They have scripts in their hand and are reading the material. Below is the same script from Part I. The sets can be suggestive, if they are not seen, then they should be read by the Stage Manager. In our staged readings, I like to have actors perform as much as possible. The idea is to get an idea of what the play might “look” like.
Here’s the example from Part I, but for a staged reading. Notice I replaced the stage manager reading to what the audience sees:
Audience: sees a stage set up like a living room, a couch is in the center, left of the couch is a table with 4 chairs. There are dirty dishes on the table as well as 5 empty bottles of beer.
Jim enters the front door and walks into the room. They will see a young handsome man around 30, wearing a baseball cap, heavy coat and scarf. They’ll watch him as he takes off his coat and scarf, look at the table with disgust, and look around the room. He walks into the bedroom, then walks back to the living room. They’ll see a scared look on his face.
Jim: Max! Here boy, Max where are you?
Audience: sees an older woman sit up, she is approximately 60 years old. She had a blanket over her that she threw off herself. She wears a bathrobe and looks upset.
Marta: Will you please stop yelling!
Audience: sees Marta throws a set of keys to Jim.
Marta: Max is next door. I couldn’t sleep, he was making so much noise running around the room.
Audience: sees Jim look at Marta with an angry look and walk out the door.
Marta: I tell you I get no respect.
Audience: sees Marta lie back down on the couch and throw the blanket over her.
The purpose is for the audience to watch the action and to experience the potential of a produced play. They watch behavior and action. Notice one difference between the reading and the staged reading is that here the audience doesn’t know who Marta is, that information needs to be revealed through the action and experience of the play vs read to the audience as in Part I.
These two types of readings have different purposes. Where in a reading we are listening to the words, in a staged reading we are watching the show. When I see a great staged reading, in just a few minutes, I don’t even notice the actors having scripts in their hands. I get lost in the performances, relationships and chemistry. The scripts simply look like a piece of clothing. I am experiencing the potential of the play.
In a staged reading, there should be several rehearsals, with a director. It should be blocked, paced, and all actions fully directed. The actors need to be much more familiar with the material, even certain passionate speeches memorized. They should be glancing at the script while making eye contact with the other actors on stage. We are watching interaction and chemistry. They are in character, acting with their physical and emotional bodies.
A good staged reading should be like watching the play. Sometimes readings charge admission and are treated like a performance. The performances should be such that the audience’s imagination and investment into the experience forgives the fact that scripts are in their hands. They don’t even notice it after a few moments.
Staged readings are a great way to show the potential of what the production will look like. You can’t really have staged readings of screenplays as the locations are constantly moving, but in a play, staged readings are very common and effective. There was a time in Hollywood when pilots of sit coms were done as staged readings to save time and money for investors and networks. Decisions to shoot the pilot would be made from their experience of the staged reading. For me, the difference between a staged reading and a production is that the lines are memorized and the sets more elaborate.
Actors need to be good at staged readings. Where this shows up for actors is when rehearsing a sitcom, soap, or any multi-camera shoot. They are rehearsing with the scripts in their hand for the camera, so the movements, timing, and pace need to be in sync.
Too many times I see play readings done as hybrid of the two discussions of Part I and Part II. I think that compromises the purpose of what the reading is being used for.
When planning on a reading, know your purpose for doing it, and it will help you decide which type of reading to do. Remember, there is a difference.
Have a great month.
Till next time.