Monday, October 24, 2011

Elements of a Useful Reading

Back on September 17, as part of the Rhombus Readings, I put together a reading of my play, Flight, at Boston Playwrights Theatre.  It ended up being a very useful experience for me, as a way to see how much progress I'd made on changes and to get ideas for what to do with it next.  I got to thinking about what make up the essential elements of a useful reading.  Here are some of what I needed on that day:

A good chariot.  Here's my bike and bike cart loaded full of all the stuff I needed for the event--a big pile of scripts and binders, snacks, donation jar, and more.  (Really, I just wanted to put up a photo of my bike and cart.)

A space.  We are incredibly fortunate here in Boston to have the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  They put on all new work (by writers with links to Boston University) in their two theatres, and they also provide cheap and free space to other organizations putting on readings or productions of new plays.  Rhombus has its regular meetings at BPT, and this was our second reading series held in the space.  I don't know what we'd do without the folks at BPT.

Actors.  I was extremely fortunate to have a cast of Luis Negron, Elise Manning, Brenny Rabine, and Michael Buckley.  They spent a whole afternoon with me, reading and discussing the script.  Even though our time was limited, they gave me important insights into the characters and the play as a whole.  Working with actors of such high caliber is critical for a new play.  Though it's possible for a strong performance to cover over weaknesses in a play, I really want the script tested by people of the highest skill level.  (And these four were also terrifically nice people.)

A hardworking director, and a friend to read stage directions.  Here is my director, M. Bevin O'Gara, going over notes with Alexa Mavromatis, who is a fellow Rhombus playwrights and who read stage directions.  I've had the good fortune of working with Bevin before, on a reading of Constant State of Panic.  She's super smart and was able to make the most of the time we had, and also helped me find our cast.  Someday, we'll get to work on a full production together. 

Yummy snacks.  Good snacks make for better readings.  Everyone is in a better mood after a home-baked brownie.  I like my actors and audience in a good mood.

An audience.  For our reading, we had about 20 people in the house.  They were good listeners and very responsive.  In some ways, for a public reading, a good audience is the most important part.  For a comedy, I always say there's no point even having a reading for fewer than 20 people.  You won't be able to judge laughs.  I worked pretty hard to get people in the seats, but it was still a struggle.  Saturday evening readings in September are a tough sell.  There's just too many full productions going on in September, as the season hits full swing.  I probably would have had a better crowd with a Saturday afternoon reading.  Or a different time of year.  I'm not a big fan of formal talkbacks after readings, but instead prefer mill-abouts, where we all eat snacks and talk about the play informally after the reading.  I got lots of useful feedback from the folks who attended.

That's about it.  I mean, you also have to have a script ready for a reading, copies of that script, a good way to take notes (I used my LiveScribe pen).  Having a little cash to pay the actors is helpful, if you can swing it.  (I can't afford to pay them what they're worth, but at least can give some gas money.)   I love that the tools to developing new plays are so basic and accessible.  It's not rocket surgery.  It's just a matter of bringing people together who are willing to spend some time on an interesting project.

Thanks to everyone who gave their time to help my make Flight a better play.  (I'll have another reading in NYC in February, from the id theatre.)

No comments: