The first thing to do before you
even pick up a script is to evaluate your group's resources,
as these will come into play for every single show. How
many actors do your auditions usually pull in? Do you have
more men than women at your auditions? More women than men?
Do you have your own building, or do you hold rehearsals
where you can and then move onto your stage during tech
week? How big is your stage? Is it large enough to support
area lighting, or is the whole stage illuminated no matter
how you set the lights? What can your sound system deliver?
Do you have a costumer? What kind of special effects can
Keep all of this in mind when you
check out catalog descriptions of shows that you think you'd
like to read. (For information on where to order scripts
or script catalogs, check out our Play Publishers link).
The catalog descriptions will offer some basic information
that will help you narrow down which plays your group can
Check out the title and the author.
Is this a well-known title, or a playwright whose name alone
will sell the show? Do you know whether your audience already
likes his or her stuff? (Keep in mind, though, that a name
show or playwright is no guarantee of a show's success --
it has to be done well for that to happen!). If you've never
heard of it, chances are your audience hasn't either, and
you'll have to work a little harder both to evaluate it
and to sell it.
Move on to the number of actors
required - the catalog will tell you how many men, women
and children you need for the cast. If the show requires
18 men and one woman, and you've currently got only four
actors and ten actresses that you can depend on to show
up for auditions, you probably don't want to order it no
matter how great the plot synopsis may be, especially if
it's something that you've never heard of. You may be able
to attract enough men to your audition if it's a really
hot title, but if you don't, you'll be stuck with a show
you can't cast.
Next check out the set requirements.
If your stage is small and you have no fly space and limited
wing space (like at our home theater), or if you
know you can only get three people to work stage crew, you
may not want to order a show that requires 6 interiors and
8 exteriors. For those who may be reading a play catalog
for the first time, an interior is a set meant to represent
a room or other enclosed space, whereas an exterior represents
an outside scene - a street corner, a field, the racetrack
at Ascot, whatever. So a "6 interiors, 8 exteriors" show
will require 14 different sets - can you realistically build
and move all that? Many small theaters try to stick with
"unit sets," meaning you build only one set that's used
for the whole show. Other simple options are "bare stage,"
or "bare stage with set pieces," meaning you don't really
have to build a set except to mask the backstage area, because
settings are suggested by the action or by a few simple
pieces of furniture.
On to the synopsis. Does the plot
synopsis make sense, or does it sound really far-fetched?
Does it sound like something you'd like to go see as an
audience member? Do there seem to be any special costuming,
set piece, prop or decor requirements that might be difficult
for your group? Does the play explore issues that your actors
and audience will be able to deal with? This brings up the
"community standards" test - you have to know your audience
and your community to know how far you can push the envelope
in dealing with controversial issues (Unless, of course,
you're totally reliant on grant funding to keep you afloat
and don't have to worry at all about ticket sales.)
Finally, I'll pass on to you a caveat
from our own playreading committee - we have a knee-jerk
reaction to any play whose synopsis includes the words "wacky"
or "zany." It seems that most of the time, this description
accompanies a farce or comedy whose plot is so far out in
left field it wouldn't hang together if you welded it shut.
This isn't always true -- on occasion we've been pleasantly
surprised to read a "wacky" show that was truly good, but
we tend to approach such shows somewhat gingerly.