What’s a Play Reading, and Why Is It Cool?

In the dead of winter, long after the curtain has closed on a season of live performances, Door County’s theaters are still hard at work. Door Shakespeare, Peninsula Players, Third Avenue PlayWorks and Rogue Theater will all present play readings as part of Door County Reads. 

But what is a play reading, and why is it one of the most important parts of the theatrical process?

A play reading is the most basic version of a play. Actors deliver their lines directly from the script with minimal direction and movement, but in character and with gusto. There are no technical elements such as props, costumes or lighting, but someone reads the stage directions aloud to give the audience the context for each scene. 

As with any writing, revision is a key part of the process for play scripts. But unlike other types of writing, play scripts are mostly dialogue, so hearing the words read aloud is vital to revising the script. Before the props, costumes or even the blocking, the flow of the words and the delivery of the story must be worked and reworked numerous times; therefore, a play reading is the first step a script takes before becoming a performance.

For theater companies, readings can be a way to preview a play before committing to a full production. A company with a core group of actors might stage a reading to see how well a play works with its dynamic. Sometimes a playwright is commissioned to write a new work for a troupe, and a reading may be the first step in that process.

Last summer, Northern Sky produced The Fisherman’s Daughters as a staged reading – though it was much closer to a full production than a traditional reading – and plans to debut the final play as part of a future season.

For audiences, play readings are a great way to interact with the theatrical process. They serve as a sneak peek at potentially upcoming productions. They’re often more experimental, and not every reading becomes a show, so the audience is always seeing something unusual. And often plays change dramatically from reading to production, so it’s a treat to track that progress along the way. Finally, readings are often free, so they provide a very accessible way to experience theater.

If you’ve never taken in a reading, this month is a great time to start.

Third Avenue PlayWorks will read Mrs. Harrison by R. Eric Thomas on Feb. 19 and The Last Match by Anna Ziegler on Feb. 20. Both will be presented virtually at 7 pm. Peninsula Players will read A Rock Sails By by Sean Grennan on April 4, and it will announce the play for its March 7 reading soon. Rogue Theater will read Population 485: On Stage on Feb 11. 


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