How Not To Read A Play Aloud

popsicle stick mess

When you’re reading a play aloud – in company, that is – it’s like mocking-up a building from its blueprint, but with popsicle sticks.

So, here is a set of rules to completely eschew (until after the word “seriously”) when reading another playwright’s work aloud in a group setting.

If reading stage directions, be sure to read everything in parentheses aloud. Also, all “beats” and “pause”s. And feel free to edit or leave out stage directions, just because.

For roles, add or subtract or change words at whim, edit the playwright’s grammar and syntax on-the-fly. Ignore punctuation. And, per Arlitia Jones, choose an accent not called-for in the play (points if it’s not one you’ve mastered yet).

Lean over to whoever’s sitting next to you and comment on the proceedings (points if you do this while you’re in the middle of a line; bonus points if in the middle of their line).

Read slowly, trying to suss out what function each line has in the overall scheme of the plot, relationship, character arc, how that particular phrase or clause relates to the theme that you don’t know what it is yet.

Conversely, read as quickly as you can, taking care to tell the playwright, after the reading, that the play moves too quickly so you have no idea what the play was about.

Decide that your character already has all the answers, knows ahead of time what they’re going to say or do, and has no questions or spontaneity whatsoever.

Stretch out in your chair, get comfortable, yawn.

Always wait ’til the line before yours has finished, then inhale, then speak. Or, you guessed it, jump in halfway through the previous line so that nobody can hear what prompted your character to respond.

Seriously, though, even if you’ll be asked for writerly or theaterly feedback thereafter, please remember that reading someone else’s play aloud in a group is an exercise in Service. The playwright wants nothing more than to hear exactly what’s on the page with a modicum of energy and intelligence. Why? Because, like you, the playwright is Serving The Play.

The best way to read is not unlike typing a copy of something or reading music on an instrument – in the eyes, out the hands. So, rather than deciding to impose yourself on the words, read in-the-eyes-out-the-mouth. Give the words the chance to work on you, to make you feel and think and express. Of course it’s important that you understand and follow and notate during the process, but this particular exercise is about letting everyone – including yourself – hear the play. As-written.

In the ears, out the intellect and emotions.



popsicle stick house.










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