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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bobby Keniston's Advice On Rehearsals, Part One: The Read-Through

A rehearsal shot from my play, "The Re-Programming of Jeremy" at Lakewood Theater
Greetings drama lovers, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and tonight, after a number of posts about writing, I am going to offer some advice for rehearsing plays for school and community theater.  As someone who has directed a great deal of plays for both, I thought I'd give you a little insight about what has worked for me in the past, and some things that haven't.  Tonight's piece of advice is all about what I believe should be the first type of rehearsal for any theatrical production:  the first read-through.

Don't worry--- I will have other posts dealing with some tips for pre-production, but tonight I want to focus on the first time everyone is together.  The read-through, also called a table read, is a vital part of any endeavor that involves a script, and should be considered the foundation from which the rest of the rehearsal process is erected.   Professional theatre and even films have table reads, and I strongly advise every school and community theater to have them as well.

The first read-through is when the actor's gather with the director and other members of the technical crew and read through the script out loud.  Sounds simple enough, right?  It's the first time everyone gets to hear the words leap off the page and provides an understanding of the flow of the script, displaying all of its strengths and weaknesses (Theater gods willing, the latter will far outnumber the former).

This read-through needn'd be around a table, though, of course, a table is a nice hard surface for taking notes.  I've been part of read-throughs that take place in a living room, or even outside on a beautiful summer day, stretched out on a lawn.  Whatever location you choose, however, you should make sure that everyone can be heard, and that distractions are minimal (which is why having them outside is a bit of a danger).

Below, I will outline some advice for what directors should attempt to achieve from the first read-through, followed by some advice for actors.

ADVICE FOR SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY THEATRE DIRECTORS FOR A READ-THROUGH:

Read-throughs can and should set the tone for the rest of the rehearsal process.  If you allow it to become a silly gag-fest, beware---- you'll have no one but yourself to blame  if subsequent rehearsals fall into the same silliness. 

My advice is to make the read-through as warm and welcoming as possible.  Keep the actors at ease--- they will most likely be a little nervous, particularly if they don't have a great deal of experience.  And even if they do, the outset of any new production can be nerve-racking.  They could easily be thinking to themselves a number of the following:  What if I stumble over my words?  What if no one laughs when I deliver a laugh line?  What if everyone thinks I suck?  As director, it is your job to keep people as relaxed as possible.  Stress the idea that no one is expecting a perfect "performance" sitting around the table--- it is the first of many steps toward creating a production. 

Before you start reading the script, have everyone sit in some form of a circular shape so everyone can see everyone, and go around, having everyone introduce themselves, the job they have or the part they are playing, and maybe a word or two about themselves.  Once that is finished, I suggest giving a bit of an introduction about how you see the script and your plans for the production (not too detailed yet--- save that for after), and then begin. 

After the read-through, that is a time to start talking in-depth about your goals, thoughts, and visions for the piece.  Encourage a conversation with your actors about the story and how their characters help to tell it.  This is the first spark of "character work" for a school or community theater production.  Talk about what the play actually means, and what you hope to have the audience glean from it as well.  Encourage the actors to share their opinions (if they are diametrically opposed to yours, now is the time to nip that in the bud by gently steering them toward the goals as you have set them). 

If you have had pre-production meetings with the set designer (or, in the case of a lot of community theater, the person who has graciously agreed to help build the set), have them talk about the plan and the layout of the stage.  If they have blueprints or sketches, show them to the actors.  Likewise with the costume designer.

ADVICE FOR SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY THEATRE ACTORS FOR A READ:THROUGH:

First off, congratulations!  You got the part!  Good for you!  Whether you've been doing shows for years, or haven't been in a play in fifteen years, it's okay to be nervous and excited as you approach this new undertaking that will be utilizing a great deal of your time for the next 6 to 8 weeks or so.

The first read-through is a chance for the technical crew, including the director, to hear the play out loud, with all of the actors finally together.  While you will want to do a good job, remember, no one is expecting you to show up to the first read-through with a full performance already memorized.  In fact, speaking as a community theatre director, that is the last thing I want.  The process is about buidling to a performance level, and I get a little nervous when I see an actor who already seems to have their performance locked in their mind at the first read-through... after all, where do you go from that?

Having said this, I do believe that every actor should at least read through the script a number of times before the first read-through, and familiarize yourself with the story and how your character helps to tell it.  I also highly recommend highlighting your lines and stage directions (you can use different colors if you want).... a lot of directors throw out stage directions (I have been known to do so), but, at the very least, highlight your lines.  It helps your brain, it really does, and certainly helps your eyes find where you speak during the first read-through.  I've also found that highlighting is often the very first step that starts your brain on the journey of memorization.  It's a good thing.

If you like, it wouldn't hurt to actually read your lines out loud once or twice before the read-through.  If there are words you don't know, look them up before the read-through, find out correct pronounciations, definitions, etc.  It saves time in the long run.

When you get to the actual read-through, have fun with it.  Now is the time to meet the  people who are going to become like family very soon.  This is part of the reason you got involved with community theatre in the first place, right?  Because you love to act, and you wanted to meet some new people!  Well, here you are!  Enjoy it! 

Remember to be respectful of the work the director and designers have already put into it.  There will be a time to express opinions, particularly when asked for them, but do not be judgemental of the designers work.  As an actor, your job is to act--- while it is okay to have opinions, it is not okay to say things like, "Is that really how you see the second act office scene?  I saw it more like..."  Please, please refrain from this, and also any unsolicited advice to your fellow actors. 

Most of all, appreciate the fact that this read-through is going to lead you to discover how the play works on a different level.  There is a big difference between reading the play and hearing it in your mind and then listening to a group of people read it out loud.  You'll most likely be amazed to see what one of your cast members does with a line you just thought of as a throwaway. 

I personally love table work, both as an actor and a director.  You can't stay with it for too long, but for the time that you do, it is a valuable time to analyze and intellectualize before putting the play on its feet and into the actors' bodies.  It's a time for a bit of the mind workout before the physical workout gets underway.  Use this time at the table to your advantage.

Thank you for reading this post.  If you would like to learn more about me, well, you can follow the links at the end of the post.  I'll see you tomorrow.  In the meantime, please remember:  theater is not only a craft and an artform.  Theater is a sport. 

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1 comment:

  1. Once again, you have hit the nail on the head. I like your article very much, especially the part about reminding the actors not to criticize another actor's reading or performance. Letting them know something about your vision is important, too. Good job.

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