Tag Archives: readings

Staged Readings

There’s nothing like hearing your words read before an audience.

I’ve had the good fortune to have two readings in two months of my newest play THE LUCKIEST GIRL. (It’s the play that not one, but two artistic directors told me no one will ever produce for political correctness reasons. So, I’m grateful that it’s even getting a reading!)

As much as we playwrights disparage the whole development hell process, it’s so important to have a safe place to help a play grow. And one part of that growth is exposing it to an audience.

Thought I’d share a few notes about what I’m listening for during a reading of one of my plays.

What I’m listening for:


It’s the ultimate immediate audience feedback. Did they get my jokes? Even my dramas have little laughs sprinkled in. I admit if my chicken jokes in the Bosnian war crimes drama don’t get laughs, I feel like a failure. So the first thing I listen for is laughs from the audience – what jokes are popular? Which ones fall flat? Is there some unintentional laughter about something that seemed perfectly reasonable to me when I wrote it? Could it get a bigger laugh with different phrasing or a different punch line?


My bad playwriting motto is “if it’s good once, write it again elsewhere in the script. Several times.”

The reading is where I FINALLY hear the repetition that somehow doesn’t jump off the page. And it’s an opportunity to look for the places that plot points or character clues NEED to be repeated.


My new standard for bad plays is when the audience starts texting. I’ve seen it happen at exactly the point in the script (not mine, of course…) where the action lags, the piece feels like it’s not going anywhere, the audience is bored. The worst example of this was a mediocre production of Jon Jory’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” last year in Florida. Not one, not two, but THREE people in the audience all pulled out cellphones at exactly the same moment – late in the script just as Mr. Darcy was about to propose! Jane Austen was turning over in her grave! Dramatically, that should be the HIGH point of the script. It was not.

No one texted during my readings, but sitting in the back row, I did notice several folks fidgeting. I made note of where they came in the script and will now look to see why interest is lagging at that point.


Do the events of the play follow in a logical order? I discovered that I had inserted a short scene in a place that made no sense whatsoever.


There’s nothing like an actor trying to make sense of a line missing a word to catch your attention. A cast is like a room full of proof readers.


I have a series of short “interview” scenes where my two young actors do a man on the street interview of actors who play a revolving cast of characters. It was clunky in rehearsal. It was still clunky the first reading. And it never improved in the second reading. I could say “three strikes and you’re out,” but I think I have an idea of how to fix it.

STUFF THAT DOES WORK (or “get your finger off the delete button)

There’s a line that just felt wrong to me. And I’d made a note to myself to change it. And then the audience laughed loudly at the original line. Will I keep it? See rule one.


Directors are amazing people. They see things in your script you had no idea were there.

My both my DC and LA directors found things in my script I had not fully thought out. Which has helped me flesh out characters and motivations and a style quirk that needs ironing out. I think I took more notes than my actors.


Actors bring heart and soul to your words. They generously spill their insides for the sake of your current draft. Pay attention to their instincts. They may see more in your characters than you do. Be aware of the lines that get stuck in their mouth. Usually it means the sentence construction needs a tweak.

White Fluffies and Butterflies…

Butterfly on weed by marilyn958

When you go to script readings, do you comment?  And when and if you comment, do you tell the truth or do you give white fluffies and smile for the imaginary camera?  Are you concerned that the director may find out who you are and put you on a list? 

On the flip side, when it’s your turn to receive comments for a script that you have written, do you want white fluffies or the truth?  How difficult or easy is it for you to see through the fog of fluff?  Does your inner radar sound off?  Do you, as storyteller, know the story you are trying to tell?  Do comments assist or hinder you in your process?

I personally hate white fluffies.  I tend not to give them.  Okay, I don’t give them.  I don’t want anyone giving them to me either; just tell me straight out.  The thing about comments is that it is ultimately up to the writer whether or not they want to incorporate them or not anyway.  But, it’s a lot easier to wade through the information if there are no fluff balls crowding constructive comments.  I think that as fellow artists, if we give a comment it should be an honest one.

I went to see a new play where the playwright participated in a talkback after the production .  The audience did not give white fluffies; they gave something worse, convoluted and somewhat idiotic rants and rails that could never help the playwright.  I hope the playwright was able to let it roll off his back like water on an oiled surface.  So brave, he was, to sit there and take questions, so vulnerable; unsure of the work maybe because it materialized in a radical new way this time, unsure, like a new playwright just trying out craft.  I could feel his butterflies in the room fluttering about…  It made me wonder if the they ever go away – the butterflies — when we send the children out into the world to play… 

Careful, watch out for the fluffies…

*Art by Marilyn MacCrakin, a California playwright and photographer. http://marilyn958.deviantart.com/

Stage Directions


I have a good brain for maps. I can navigate well in physical space and especially cities. My sense of direction served me well when I read Joyce’s Ulysses since the movement of the novel is the movement of characters in space. I was able to move around my own mental Dublin with Leopold and Stephen. 

Moving from novel space to stage space, I want to talk about one of my favorite playwriting elements, stage directions. I love stage directions. 

Stage directions describe the stage and the visual world of the play as well as any physicality by the characters. 

My favorite stage directions are at the beginning Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape with the banana business. I like bananas in plays. Beckett is fun. 

Recently, I found myself reading stage directions for a variety of play readings. First one friend asked me to jump in and read, then another friend asked, so I had a chain of play readings. I enjoy reading stage directions. I can indulge my inner actress without actually acting. 

Sometimes, I feel like the Stage Manager in Our Town. I set up the stage simply and efficiently, then I let the play play. I try to dress for the play—not in any big costume way—just to fit in with the play’s universe. 

Unlike the other actors in the reading, I am only there for the reading. When the play is produced, I will not be called. My part will disappear. Knowing this gives my work for the reading a simple kind of specialness. I will do it, then it will be over. Onto the next thing. 

I never thought I would find such specialness in a play reading.