Geva presented a reading of Women in Jeopardy the other night. It is a new play by Wendy Macleod that will be premiered next season on the Mainstage.
I have never been to a reading of a play before. I guess I thought that it was nothing but some volunteers standing on stage and just reading from the script and that seemed like it would be a poor substitute for theatre. I was wrong; I once again discoverd how naïve I am about theatre in spite of attending so often.
First of all there are no volunteers doing this reading. It was done with high quality professional actors hired for a three day workshop. The workshop, as I understand it, was an opportunity for the playwright to work with the actors to flesh out changes and for the actors to develop their characters. The reading therefore consisted of accomplished actors standing behind music stands but nonetheless delivering convincing performances without benefit of scenery, staging, sound, or lighting. The performance was great! The play was great too!
I also thought that a reading is done to amuse an audience. Wrong again. The reading allows the playwright (Wendy Macleod) and director (Sean Daniels) to watch the audience’s reaction and make changes accordingly. This is the reason that they need the best possible actors, so that they can present a realistic performance to a real audience. There was also a discussion following the reading with the playwright and moderated by Dramaturg Jenni Werner. I thought this would be a chance to ask the playwright questions but it was, instead, a chance for the playwright to ask the audience questions. For example, she asked how many got a certain literary reference. “No one? Maybe I’d better change that line”. She asked what people thought about various aspects of the play and also solicited open ended comments and concerns.
So, a reading is an important and necessary step in developing a new play. It is also great fun to attend and participate in.
(david then also sent the following note to our playwright)
I have been regularly attending and supporting Geva for decades and never been to a reading before (thank Sean Daniels and his Cohort Club exercise for sucking me in). I did not know you would be soliciting comments but you did so here are some that I didn’t have a chance to express the other night
What did I think about on the way home?
This wasn’t a mystery story to me. When you asked when everyone knew who the killer was I realized that I had forgotten that this was a murder mystery. This play to me was about the interaction of the three women, pure and simple. All of the other characters in some way help Liz, Mary, and Jo focus on themselves and watching the way that they interact was the best part for me. Each supporting character brought a unique “stress” to the three. The supporting characters were wonderfully written (and acted) in their own rights. The policeman with the ridiculous police speak, the dentist with his awkward humor (I liked that Liz had an explanation for this), the horny and somewhat clueless young man (wonderfully written and acted – great voice and phrasing), and the troubled and troublesome teen girl. Each one of these characters grabbed my attention for a bit until Mary seemed to shout out “Hey, this is about me and my friends”. The back and forth in my mind as to who was the main character on stage was very engaging.
I most enjoy those plays that have me thinking about it for days afterwards (Race of the Ark Tattoo was one of them Sean – I still think about it!) and this morning I find myself remembering all of the character interactions and not the mystery plot. Sometimes, for me, fascinating characters ARE the play and that is what sticks with me after this reading.
I look forward to seeing the finished product.