What I want to talk about today are dramatic readings.
For those who are not familiar, they are exactly what they sound like. Actors read a play aloud from a script which they have in front of them. There is little to no memorizing of the lines, but the staging can vary to a great degree. Some readings consist merely of actors behind podiums. Others make use of props and set pieces. It all depends on the director.
However complicated the actual staging is, (though I think the simpler, the better for a reading) I cannot sing enough praises of staged readings to actors.
Resist the temptation to see them as watered down theatre, or as one friend of mine has called them “acting-lite.”
They are only acting-lite to lesser actors. In reality, a reading is an excellent way to hone skills of the craft, some of which do not get the attention the deserve in a standard production.
For one, projection and annunciation become even more important, as in many cases sets and extras are not present to invoke mood. You have the script in front of you. The audience does not, yet they must catch every word you read, in order to make sense of the story. The result is that readings often require a tighter focus, not a looser one, on the script, lest having the words in front of you lead to complacency.
Secondly, a reading forces the actor to pay closer attention to the face. Behind a podium, gesticulations and certainly crosses are of far less use to the performer. The often overlooked power of the facial expression must be utilized, in order to be true to a reading. The lessons about the use of the face one is forced to learn during a reading will hopefully carry over into the next conventional production one finds oneself in.
And finally, readings require far less time commitment. Some rehearse very little. Others do not rehearse at all. Either way, dramatic readings of any play, by virtue of what they are, require less time for the actor, while at the same time providing the same opportunity to delve into the complexities of character analysis and presentation.
That is, for the actor who takes a reading as seriously as he takes a production. And for me, only the best do so.
Why not be the best of the best, and get yourself involved in a reading?
(Originally appeared on showbizradio.net on February 18, 2009. Time specific references have been edited for this post.)