TAP’s new play-reading club brings dramatic literature to the fore
Many people haven’t read a play since they skimmed Hamlet in their high school English class, but Jacob Janssen, artistic director at Third Avenue PlayWorks (TAP), thinks more people should. That’s why TAP, in conjunction with the Sturgeon Bay Library, has started a monthly play-reading club.
“One of our main goals with this is to show folks that there is this great body of dramatic literature that you can engage with and enjoy,” Janssen said.
It’s literature that’s often overlooked because libraries don’t typically carry copies of individual plays, said Laura Kayacan, adult services librarian and the club’s co-facilitator. Collections of plays are more common, but she’s still had to dig for many of the club’s chosen plays, ordering them from other libraries or accessing them online.
Kayacan finds that it’s worth the extra effort, though, because she’s a theater aficionado herself and knows that play reading will help people better understand the inner workings of the theater companies throughout the peninsula.
“There’s so much theater in Door County, so it seemed like a really good idea,” Kayacan said.
But reading a play isn’t the same as reading a novel, she said. For one, there’s little in the way of description, so it’s sometimes harder for readers to picture what’s going on in the story.
“Really, plays are not meant to be read; they’re meant to be seen,” Kayacan said. “So I think [reading plays] is a challenge to your brain, and it keeps you sharp.”
It’s often helpful for club members to watch bits of the plays on YouTube – or better yet, see them live, as some did when they read Birds of North America and then saw TAP perform it in October 2022.
The play follows the relationship between a father and daughter as they spend years birdwatching together. After reading the script, many club members thought of the characters’ conversations as tense and hostile, but seeing them acted onstage brought out a different, more loving dimension to the father-daughter relationship.
“We read it before the folks saw it, and they were so surprised by the way the actors delivered a lot of the lines,” Janssen said.
That’s not uncommon, he said, because the way actors interpret a script is often vastly different from what readers expect.
“The language you see on the page is just the tip of a gigantic emotional iceberg,” Janssen said. “There’s all of this stuff underneath that language that the actor is drawing up, and that’s the actor’s art.”
While reading a play, he said it’s also easy to fixate on practical aspects – What would the set look like? Where would we get that unusual prop? Is the stage big enough for the number of actors in this scene? – and thus overlook the actual story.
For that reason, Janssen encourages new readers to stay neutral and not rush to analyze the play in terms of doability.
“You might be reading a play and going, ‘Man, that’s going to be very challenging to do onstage,’ but then you get to the end and you go, ‘That’s worth all of the work it’s going to take to make this happen,’” Janssen said.
Budget and space constraints mean that many productions aren’t currently possible for TAP to stage, which is another reason to start reading plays, he said.
“We’re trying to help people understand that there is a big, wide world of plays out there,” he said – beyond the scope of just the plays that can be produced on Door County stages.
The club is also a creative way to get audiences invested in theater.
“We need to develop an audience of people who want to engage with that sort of work, and that means being excited about dramatic literature,” Janssen said.
The play-reading club meets monthly on the third Wednesday, 3:30 pm, at the Sturgeon Bay Library, 107 S. 4th Ave. The next meeting will be held Feb. 15, but the play of the month has not yet been announced.