I have to admit it: I’m over readings. Like WAY over them.
I think they are great to first hear my script. To get a sense of what’s working, what’s not, what do I really like about my script (because to be honest, when you’re nose to the grindstone working on pages it’s easy for me to forget what I like and why I wrote the damn thing in the first place.) First readings are great because you get to engage in a conversation about the play, you get to experience what ultimately is the point of a play: the community experience.
I think readings are even pretty good the SECOND time… I’ve shaped it a little better, things that I thought were clear the first time are now more clear…
But after that…
After that, the best thing for me is to go into a rehearsal. For a workshop or a production. Spending TIME with actors and a director and really digging into the script. Me sitting at home rewriting is just screaming into an echo chamber. And that’s no way to rewrite. Bringing in pages and having actors read them in the context of a rehearsal… THAT’S a way to rewrite.
More and more, I get the impression that readings at theater companies exist for two reasons: 1. An audition for the script and 2. to say “we develop plays.”
Now, with number 1, fair enough. I get it. You want to hear the play, you want to feel how it plays in front of an audience. I get it. But, let’s not pretend it’s about developing my play. I don’t need a feedback session afterwards “helping” me make my play better. Maybe I think my play is great. Maybe my play IS great. Just say, “Hey, it’s not for us.” OR, “It’s opening the next season.”
Number 2… ugh. I know, it’s cynical of me, but, sometimes, I think theater companies create development wings in order to get grant money. Plays come in, get developed there, but they don’t come out. They don’t get productions by the theater company. They don’t see the light of day. But, the company gets to say, “We develop plays.” Yes, but to what end?
Theaters: Don’t tell me what I need to do to develop MY play. Maybe I need time with actors. Maybe I need to see them in motion. Maybe everyone will understand the play better if they SEE it rather than listen. That’s what we’re going for right? A play that people come and see? It’s easy to say, “let’s do a reading…” Instead, let’s talk about it, maybe there’s something better to develop this play. Not every play is the same, why should the process be the same for every play. In other words, let’s talk about it.
I think we as writers get nervous about asking for what we want from a theater company… because there is always that dangling carrot: production. I know I’m nervous about missing out. I want a production. I want to see my name on a poster. And here’s a theater company who has thrown some attention my way. But, let’s be honest: just because someone has paid some attention to you, doesn’t mean they are going all the way with you.
I’ll be blunt: if you don’t like my play because of the style or tone or subject or whatever… let’s just move on, let’s just part ways, I would rather that than try and craft a play that suits a theater company’s desire, muddling it in the end. Because, somewhere out there, is a theater company who will like it for the reasons I do.