Next week, we kick off our 2012 Festival of New Theatre or, as we affectionately call it, FONT. FONT is a two-week whirlwind of rehearsing and presenting brand-new pieces of theatre. In addition to the Young Writers Showcase, this year’s festival features 4 full-length plays. Each play will rehearse for between 2 and 4 days before being presented to a real live audience (luckily for our fabulous actors, they don’t have to memorize all their lines in that time – they’ll be reading from scripts when they perform the plays). Almost as soon as the applause dies down, the next writer, director, and cast move in to start rehearsing; some of the plays will even be rehearsing at the same time (in different rooms, of course).
Why, you may be wondering, would we want to cram all those projects into two weeks? Aren’t we shortchanging the artists by spending so little time on their plays? Glad you asked! Actually, we specifically select plays for FONT that will benefit from this experience. These are works-in-progress, and their creators are ready to hear them aloud, see them on their feet, and consider feedback from directors, actors, and audience members. Short workshops like this are a great way to find out where their plays need to go and then get right back to work on getting them there. In fact, last week Sean explained how valuable readings can be to writers as they evaluate and revise their scripts.
OK, so artists like workshops. But who wants to go to the theatre and watch actors read aloud, without sets or cool lighting or music or special effects? Well, you know those “Special Features” they put on DVDs? Behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, commentary tracks? Readings are like that: they give audiences a look at what goes into making a play, to see scenes and hear lines that may not make it into the finished version, and to hear the artists involved talk about the process.
The difference is, with a new play reading those special features are not only live but one-time-only; in all likelihood, no one else will see these versions of these plays ever again. Even though one of the plays in this year’s FONT, Chat, will be performed twice during the festival, those two readings probably won’t be exactly alike. After all, they’re two whole days apart (that’s like two months in FONT time!) and playwright Tanya Barfield can make revisions at any time during the workshop.
And that unique inside peek isn’t the best part. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes yells at my TV or tries to reassure the characters in my favorite movies that they really will get a happy ending. Well, when you check out the commentary at the end of a play reading, of course you hear from the artists about where the play came from, how it’s grown, or what it’s been like to work on it, but you also get to share your responses – and the people you’re talking to can actually hear you! You’re a real and important part of the play development process. Your reactions and comments help writers and creators refine their work to achieve the effect they’re looking for. If you get to see the play again, you may be surprised at the ways your feedback has helped to shape it.
Actually, though, my favorite thing about attending new play readings is that they remind me how powerful strong words and strong acting are, all on their own. I’ve seen a lot of readings, but I never stop being surprised and amazed by how a cast can create a set of fascinating, nuanced, real characters, and even a whole fictional world, with almost no time to prepare and no scenery or technical elements to shape illusions for them. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the cool stuff that goes into a full production, but readings have a special theatrical magic that let a roomful of people imagine together in a way that’s not quite like anything else.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that play readings are usually free. FONT is no exception.