Tonight Your Humble Blogger will be performing in a premiere public reading of a new play by a local playwright. I think this is the fifth time I’ve done one of these? Well, more or less—one was an actual no-scripts-in-hand performance of a short play, one was not a world premiere but a regional premiere and the first public reading after a substantial revision and the playwright was at the rehearsal and performance, two were premieres the first time I did it but not so much the following times, and there’s this one. And the one that I wrote, which I didn’t perform in. I’ve done a couple of other staged readings as well; they’re quite common around these parts both as fund-raisers and as community-builders.
I enjoy doing them a lot. It’s odd, because when I work on a role for a fully staged performance, what I enjoy the most is coming up with business (that is, physical activity) rather than the vocal stuff. I mean, I’m better at the text part, but I get more satisfaction out of the physical. In Lughnasa, f’r’ex, a bit I really liked was beating out a rhythm on the dining room table as I talked about the dance—it evolved from a couple of taps to a two-sentence long accompaniment, ragged and strange, which (I think) brought out how badly the character was fitting in to the household and how uncomfortable his sisters were with him. Also, I worked really hard on Jack’s walk, and was absurdly proud when the Perfect Non-Reader of this blog told me that I moved disconcertingly like my father. I also took a mention of a handkerchief and gave Jack a nervous habit of wiping at the corner of his mouth when he was unhappy. That one was less successful, I think, particularly once we decided on painting on makeup-stubble for Act One, which meant that actually wiping my face would wipe off my beard. Still, I really enjoy the physical stuff. And the staged readings don’t so much have physical stuff.
But I’m quick at sight reading (my misspent youth reading with a flashlight under the covers finally paying off) so the short rehearsal process isn’t a problem for me. And that short rehearsal process and one-night or two-night performance schedule make it a light commitment. I’m not up for another proper show this summer, but I could happily do three staged readings. Plus, I get a wider range of parts in staged readings, for whatever reason—possibly my physical type being less important to the casting decision opens my options, or maybe it’s just that there are more different types of parts in shows that don’t have to be fully produced. Or perhaps there are things I agree to do as staged readings that I wouldn’t audition for full productions of. At any rate, tonight I play the villain of the piece, a kind of charming-vicious bastard. I do get shot, which makes, I think, four out of my last eight shows (in a fifth, my character shoots someone but I don’t remember if he gets shot in the general carnage that followed).
The main thing, though, is that I am working on a new script. I am the original (in this case) Frank, and if I want to I can ask the writer if I am heading in the right direction. I enjoy the sense of helping with a new work that may eventually be produced all over. I think I have enough experience reading, performing in and watching plays that I am sometimes able to ask questions that help the writer make choices—I don’t think that I give useful advice, if such a thing exists, but I may bring up possibilities that the writer can usefully reject. And of course the whole point is that it’s helpful to just hear the thing read and feel the audience respond, so that’s all right.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,