articles Home

Search the Green Room

The Three R's of Playreading - Part 2

Reading It

OK, so you've perused the catalogs and ordered some plays that won't stretch the resources of your group to the breaking point. What do you look for while you're reading it?

First of all, if you're an actor, take off your actor's hat. Too often we actors get enthusiastic about a play because there's a part in there that we'd kill to play, and we neglect to notice that while that one part is really well-written, the rest of it is awful, or the lighting requirements are impossible, or the subject matter is too banal or too controversial, or whatever. One good part does not make a show. Remember, you're trying to decide if this play is good for your group to do.

Second, you have to read the WHOLE thing, not just the lines. This includes the cast of characters, author's notes, stage directions, everything.

Start with the cast of characters, and read any descriptions the author might have provided. Do there seem to be any special requirements there - age range, foreign accents, physical attributes like great strength or a weight problem? Make note of those, especially any that might cause a problem, and move on to the setting. What is the locale? How is the room laid out? Any special set pieces needed? How many entrances and exits? Is there more than one floor? If there's a set diagram provided in the back, check it out, then try to imagine the set in your head - this will help you to visualize the action as you read.

Read the play. As you read, notice any technical requirements, which are generally referred to in the stage directions. Be on the lookout for the following:

  • Unusual costumes, props or set pieces that may have to be made, rented or borrowed
  • Special effects
    (smoke, fire, disappearing objects,gun fired on stage, etc.)
  • Quick set changes
  • Quick costume changes
  • Specialty lighting
  • Unusual sound cues

Notice how the dialog and stage directions advance the plot. With a good play, you should answer "yes" to the following questions:

  • Is an interesting problem or theme set out within the first few pages?
  • Does the action flow with a natural and believable progression (is it making sense)?
  • Are the language and situations appropriate for your target audience?
  • Do you want to know what's going to happen next?
  • Is it making you laugh or chuckle? (for comedies)
  • Are you interested in why the characters are behaving as they are? (especially true for dramas/murder mysteries)

Pay attention to the characters as well. If they're well written, you should answer "yes" to the following questions:

  • Are the characters interesting?
  • Are they original? (as opposed to stereotypes)
  • Do you care about the characters?
  • Do their words and actions paint a picture for you of what they're like?

Read the play all the way to the end (including any stage directions that follow the last line of dialog). With a good play, you should be able to answer "yes" to the following:

  • Was the ending believable?
  • Did it surprise you or make you think?

  • Did the author take time to tie up all the loose ends?
  • Would you want to read more of this author's plays?

To sum it up, ask yourself the following:

  • Did you like it?
  • Can you cast it?
  • Can you build the set?
  • Can your group handle the technical requirements?

And finally, the most important question, unless you've got a generous funding source that doesn't rely on ticket sales:

  • Will your audience pay good money to see it?

The Community Theater Green Room

The Community Theater Green Room
© 1999 - 2002 Chris & Mike Polo
All rights reserved.