I thoroughly enjoy acting in rehearsed readings.
“What does that mean?” You might ask.
A rehearsed reading is a group of actors enacting a piece reading rather than having learnt the words. Also known as a “script in hand reading.” It is actually as simple as it sounds but also challenging, not least because most of the time there’s little or even no time to meet the author or the other actors let alone run through the lines. So most, in fact, are un-rehearsed experiments. The better the writing, though, the easier it is for the actor to bring a piece to life.
At one of my favourite groups, Script Tank (a table-read group i.e. the actors sit around a table and read the script aloud) one often only gets the script a few minutes beforehand whilst at Player Playwrights one can sometimes have as long as a week to study a play. Rarely longer since writers are renown for last minute changes.
All sorts of scripts are read in these groups from stage plays to television sit-coms, from radio drama to screenplays full of long scene descriptions where a good narrator is essential. There’s often a last minute cry of, “Anyone around to do stage directions?”
The aim of a R.R. Is to give the writer am opportunity to hear how their work sounds out loud. (There’s generally little movement other than entrances and exits in a RR and props are kept to the minimum as turning the pages of a script is quite enough for an actor to cope with.) What looks good on paper is not necessarily easy for an actor to say.
For instance last night I had the line,
- “He sits at home watching Heir Hunters.”
Apparently this is one those trace your ancestors programmes. Fair do.
However, say the line aloud and the brow furrows.
- Air Hunters – is that about breathing?
- Or is it Hair Hunters – someone looking for a wig-maker?
I suggested changing the line to, “Storage Hunters”. Accepted and move on to the next.
I love acting in a script reading. It’s interesting and sometimes an honour to originate a role, to be able to go with instinct in interpretation without bias or foreknowledge about how Dame Whatsit did Lady Thingummy in 1967.
I work regularly with a few groups invariably in rooms above a pub. Payment is usually a free drink, cake sometimes and my bus fare plus lots of thankyous.
Sight reading is a special skill which I was first taught at the age of 14 by Miss Castle in Gants Hill. The trick is not to look like you are reading and to make eye-contact with the audience and other actors. It’s as much about trusting yourself, using a sort of extended “look and say” principle. Sight reading is a skill all actors should practice; I became quite proficient from reading bedtime stories to my children.
Sometimes a bonus gig comes along with a fee and rehearsed readings are always good for the blessed networking opportunities.
Apart from a chance to practise their craft whilst helping and supporting new writing, actors always hope that, should a full production go ahead, they’ll eventually play the role for proper! For me, being part of a rehearsed reading is a chance to “do” rather than sit waiting for the phone to ring. They are fun, social events and can sometimes lead to other acting work.
Many rehearsed readings welcome an audience; members of the group, other writers, acquaintances of the writer and performers – the audience reaction is an important component of the evening. At one of the plays performed last night the author could not help but feel proud that the audience chuckled in all the right places. Usually there’s a discussion after the performance about the merits of play with tips and advice about how to improve and even market the script. One can learn a great deal as much from the errors a writer makes as from the successes.
Everyone’s a critic.