Today I am going to meet with the adult librarian in charge of the programming at our local library about possibly doing a reading of one of my plays. I need to see my work on its feet, so I figure this is the best way to do it.
I am trying to choose what work I should have read. For the first reading (hopefully there will be more!), I thought that it might be good to do something shorter. I have a two act play that I would love to have read, but perhaps that might be too long for an area that doesn't often do this sort of thing. Any suggestions on how to choose what I will have read? I am going to assume it will depend on the readers I have available as well--so a work with fewer characters might be the way to go.
Would it be unwise to choose something that isn't complete for the reading? I have a couple plays that are very close to being done but could probably use a workshop reading, but perhaps since this is going to be a public invite reading, it might not be a good place to do that in. There is a writing group locally, and they might be supportive of a reading as well, but they do mostly fiction and poetry.
Any suggestions would be very helpful. This is the first time I've done something like this outside of a theatre or college, and I am a bit freaked out by it, frankly. Also, if you've done something like this before, and have any 'I wish I would have/wouldn't have' anecdotes to share, please do!
I would start with your shorter works. BUT you need enough material to make the evening worthwhile. People don't want to come out for ten or twenty minutes of program. It probably doesn't need to be said but start and end with blockbusters- the best you have. I have had the best experiences with completed works. When I had readings of rough material or plays with problems I couldn't solve, people didn't like them and the feedback wasn't good or helpful. It kind of soured the evening and the future chances of bring the piece back again.
The process goes much slower than you think. If you have 75 minutes of material to present (a good target) , it will take 90 to 100 minutes to present them. People like to talk to each other after each play and it takes time to get the next group of readers in place and ready to go. Sometimes these readings seems like herding cats to keep it moving along.
Short pieces also gives you the flexibility to end the program early if people start to get restless. Also, if someone doesn't like a play for any reason, they know another will be along shortly. Full length plays seem to suffer in readings without any blocking or movement. If you do a full length play, don't be afraid to change which seats characters sit on - so that the main characters in each scene sit near each other.
I also tried to have talkbacks after each reading but they took up a lot of time and didn't give a lot of useful feedback. I ended up giving people a sheet of paper with the play names on it and two questions for each play: What did you like best? and What did you line least? My experience is that you will see what works and what needs to be fixed without a lot of outside comment.
If there is a structural problem, you will see it on several comment sheets. Don't worry about a single comment unless you agree with it. People can be surprisingly stupid.
You need a certain number of people attending to get people involved. Ten people in a room that seats 100 won't work. Ten people in a room that seats fifteen will be great. So . . . invite all your friends!!!
All in all, readings are great fun and well worth doing. It invigorates you and your writing.
Last edited on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 02:41 pm by Doug B
Thank you, Doug! That's exactly the kind of info I needed. I jotted down notes from what you suggested and I came up with four plays, one is longer, two are ten minutes and one is 15. I determined my reader needs and I think I can present this today with very little problems and hopefully the library will want to give me a hand with it.
I think the sheet idea with the two questions is great. I will definitely use that. And my friends will definitely be invited. That's why God made facebook. :)
I admire your invention and gumption and going ahead and starting something up in your community.
I've been involved in hundreds of these things and Doug seems to sum it all up pretty tightly.
He's especially right about less is more on the first time doing this. And read nothing incomplete because you don't know who your audience will be. This is an initiation for them so to speak, and a test for you. Remember, make them want more. Make them want to come back.
The written questions is a good idea. That way you don't get bogged down in wasted, nonsensical discussion. They can talk to you informally afterwards.
BUT...be sure to get a mailing list or an e-mailing list of those who attend, so you can inform them of the next one.
Briefly welcome everyone, then move on directly into the program and then briefly and warmly thank everyone for coming and tell thme that you will be in touch about future readings.
The meeting went pretty well. What she wants me to do is something everything three months. She's wanted to start doing theatre at the library and I'm apparently going to be in charge of organizing it.
I am excited about this, but now I'm a bit worried about how self serving it might be to do my own work at the first one. I mean, I could try to get together some more familiar works, but I'm not sure about that either.
she is fine with me doing my work, so I guess I shouldn't worry about it.
Barbara Barondess, a wonderful friend/mentor who passed away in her 90's after successful careers in films, theater, journalism and fashion design, used to tell me, "Save everything from your work--photos, programs, press coverage. If you don't, no one else will. If you don't promote your own career, no else will do that either. People know that I worked with Garbo and Harlow, that I designed clothing for Loretta Young and other stars and had a signature line of fabrics for Macy's because I wrote about it in my autobiography and because I kept magazine covers and newspapers ads and even copies of the films I made."
Barbara had a theater foundation that presented annual awards. She gave one to a woman who portrayed her in a play about her life. Self-serving? Maybe. Wrong? No.
Organizing regularly scheduled readings of plays is a demanding job. You deserve rewards for doing it, including using it as a venue for your work.
I feel the first thing is to look at your audience and determine what kind of plays they prefer to attend. It may seem that today folks prefer comedy but if you have a truly well written dramatic work they will applaud. I search those truly good dramas but they're hard to find.
Great observation, Sam. Probably should be in another thread but here goes:
All good comedies have drama in them and all good dramas have humor.
I have directed more than 60 shows in my career. As you say, it is clear that our audiences want comedies but good dramas also work well. Our audiences are still growing so it isn't fair to compare by butts in seats. We also work in multiple venues that have different capacities which further complicates comparisons.
We are a retirement community so both our acting base and audiences are old as dirt. (The play that opens Friday is The Sunshine Boys with an actor who is 86 in the lead.)
Our most popular play was Noises Off - a silly but well written farce. Our second most popular play (which actually had a higher attendance per performance than Noises Off) is a very off beat drama - Brilliant Traces (cast with actors in their 60's). I compare these plays because Noises Off followed Brilliant Traces by a few months. Brilliant Traces played in September and Noises Off played in February.
With 60 shows under my belt and having seen hundreds of other productions, I can make a pretty good estimate of the overall quality of a production. There is very little correlation to the quality of a production (made up of script, acting, set and direction) and attendance.
Here are a few surprises:
Enchanted April. A beautiful set and production values and great acting played to half full houses. Men didn't come because they thought it would be a "chick flick".
Wait Until Dark. A great production that scared people - even those who had seen the movie. People who attended loved it but those who didn't wanted something lighter during the winter.
Lend Me A Tenor. Far better production than Noises Off. Had great word of mouth, full houses but not the buzz that Noises Off had.
Love Letters. Old, worn out, overdone and not particularly well done but the audiences loved it - all out of proportion to the production quality. This was a case of having actors who were very popular within our community.
Waiting For MacArthur: A very good play that works well for older audiences. We made a mistake in our promotion - calling it a play about a woman in WW II when we should have promoted it as a play about those left behind when people go off to war. The younger people didn't come. Very different in terms of today's audiences.
Brilliant Traces: Written for actors in their 20's and intended to be produced as an unrealistic play, BT is popular on the college circuit. We cast it older (it is my actor base but I didn't think that actors in their 20's have the life experiences to pull it off.) We produced it in a totally realistic manner - from set to costumes to acting. People came back again and again to see it. Our average attendance was over 71 in a 60 seat theater. We are remounting it again this year by public demand - something we have never done before. Believe me, it plays far better than it reads.
Neil Simon plays are well attended even thought the scripts are dated and and the subjects are not relevant in today's world.
I currently have four plays in rehearsal - we do a play a month during the summer - two comedies and two dramas. I think the dramas will do better than the comedies but time will tell. One of these dramas is the second production of a 2004 play by a Seattle playwright I know (I've been sitting on this play for five years while I tried to find the right actors) and one comedy is by a known playwright but the play has not been successful and is not listed in the catalogs. After a search, I found the playwright and am going to give it a try.
As Sam said, much of the popularity of a play is its suitability for the expected audience but the season, the reputation of the playwright, the type of play and the quality of the production all count in determining its overall acceptance.
Just a few thoughts.
Last edited on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 02:58 pm by Doug B
Doug, my audience is also in the over-65 range average, as am I. We do mostly rehearsed staged readings of short mostly comedies (an evening of them) with the occasional fully-rehearsed full-length. The local community theatre has branded me a rival theatre company - I'm honored for the distinction as my total audience of just over two years in production at a local restaurant doesn't rival even one of their productions... and most of my audience are repeaters and personal friends. Most important is that we simply come to have fun... I advertise for actors stating, "Minutes of rehearsal time."