Douglas Whaley. Law professor, gay rights advocate, atheist, heart transplant recipient, actor, director, novelist, playwright, bridge player, husband, father, cat owner, storyteller. Much humor and, since the writer is a teacher, advice on many topics.
How To Have a Playreading at Your Home and Turn Your Friends Into Actors
was in high school I’ve always used playreadings as my primary social event when
gathering friends together.Many people
would love to try their hands at acting, and if they can easily read out loud and
have a sense of fun, then I suggest you invite them over for a playreading in
your house at a scheduled time and date.
Here are the steps I go through when I invite you for one of my playreadings:
a Play.The first time you do this, and
for most of the subsequent times, choose a light comedy.These playreadings are for fun only, and no
one pretends that high art is expected to occur.Instead the goal is lots of laughter.After all, at my playreadings alcohol is
served.Years ago there was a great
older woman named Kitty who was one of the regulars at what came to be called
performances by “The Whaley Players.” She
was very good at playing her various parts even though she drank quite a
bit.As the reading reached near the end
she’d start having trouble getting the lines right or even reading them at all,
but Kitty handled that with aplomb—she simply made up what seemed appropriate,
and frequently came up with lines better than the playwright’s.
play should you choose to start with?Most
can be found at the library either as a lone volume or in collections of
plays.Others will have to be ordered
online—Amazon has a large collection at usually very cheap prices, just search
by title—and then duplicate. Here is a
list of proven successes at playreadings:
“The Importance of Being Earnest”
by Oscar Wilde.Very funny, and with
eight good roles (four men, four women—the actor playing the butler Lane can
double and also play the servant in Act Two).The text is available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/844/844-h/844-h.htm.
Act Three of "The Importance of Being Earnest"
“Arsenic and Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring (3 women, six men—with
some doubling in the small male roles).Two elderly women compassionately murder their houseguests.
“The Foreigner” by Larry Shue (2 women, five men).When an Englishman pretends not to speak
English at all while staying at a Georgia Bed and Breakfast chaos ensues.
“Visit To a Small Planet” by Gore Vidal (2 women, four men).An elegant visitor from outer space means to
land in Manassas, Virgina, during the Civil War and witness the battle there,
but accidentally ends up in 1951 and nearly causes total destruction of the
“Mary, Mary” by Jean Kerr (2 women, 3 men).When a man about to remarry is forced to work through tax returns with
his ex-wife their old romance is rekindled, causing major complications.
Once you get into these
affairs your friends will begin to suggest other plays.As you move beyond comedies, you can try more
serious fare such as plays that became famous movies (for example, “Doubt”
or “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—and with the friends who are very good at
this the Whaley Players have done Shakespeare), or even musicals (letting the
original cast album perform the songs while guest read the dialogue).
should note that while some of these plays are English I tell my guests that no
one is expected to perform with an English accent (though some do—my husband,
David Vargo, is a former professional actor and he can do more or less any
accent he needs to assume).
2.Assigning Roles.Read the play yourself before you decide to
have the playreading, and as you do so start casting it in your mind.Remember that the guests are not going to be
on the stage, but just reading the parts, so old people can play young ones,
men can play women and vice versa, etc.Some
guests might want to read the play ahead of time, but I discourage that.As I said above, this isn’t high art and I
don’t want people working at their roles.Often I don’t tell them what parts they’ll be reading until I hand them
the scripts.If someone refuses to come
without knowing, then fine, let them read it ahead of time, but make sure they know
this is will all be quite casual and the others reading it cold.
Royalties?For these casual in-home fun events no
royalties need be paid, though technically copying the plays on a copying
machine for handing out to guests would violate the copyright laws.
Timing?Most plays can be read in two hours if the
host gets right to it shortly after the guests arrive and doesn’t permit too
long a break between acts. After the
play is done the evening can last for a good long time, as plot and other
matters are rehashed.
and Drink?I always offer snacks to
nibble on during the reading and make sure my guests are well-beveraged (featuring
the Whaley martini and a full bar, plus soft drinks, coffee, etc.).
the decades The Whaley Players have read hundreds of plays (for a description
of one I organized at the home of now Senator Elizabeth Warren and her husband
in 2000 where Elena Kagan was also a member of the cast, see Related Posts
below).At the end of each reading we applaud
the performance and then I remind my guests that if there’s a part they’ve
always wanted to play, let me know and we’ll try and set up another playreading
starring them in that role.After you’ve
had a number of these playreadings you start to develop a stable of reliable
people you can call on when you need cast members for the next one.
So, if this sounds like your sort of thing, I highly
recommend you give playreadings a trial.It can lead to hours and hours of great fun with good friends, many of
whom will uncover talents they didn’t know they had.