Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Staged Reading.

Monday we start rehearsals for Bachelor's Graveyard in earnest.  And I sincerely hope Earnest doesn't mind.  Ba dump bump. 

It will be the very first public viewing of work mounted by theGathering.

Anyway, staged readings are an animal unto themselves.  Far different from directing a play.  I can trace my knowledge back to creating staged readings to the late Leslie Irene Coger who, quite literally, wrote the book on oral interpretation.  Oral Interp, as we called it, is fast becoming a lost art in academia.

Dr, Coger was a giant among the oral interp crowd in the country.  She took a number of us to several 'festivals' during my two years with her (before she retired).  It was enormously exciting.  In essence, taking great literature and turning it into performance.  But the ideas incorporated in oral interp work perfectly for staged readings, chamber theatre and reader's theatre.

Staged readings are sort of the PBS of theatre.  If done properly they can be really a lot of fun.  If done badly they can be tantamount to watching grass grow.  I have seen and been involved on both ends of that spectrum.

One thing I've discovered about staged readings is this:  regardless what the purists might say, there are no hard and fast rules.  I plan on using music and economic lighting.  I think this elevates the reading to something else, something between full production and 'sit and read.'  It changes the dynamic of the evening and pulls the audience in.  The other thing I know is this:  it must be theatrical.  Stage cannot hope to compete with other forms of entertainment unless we rely heavily on the theatrical.  Once the imagination of the audience is engaged, the theatre is a world of vast possibilities.  Even larger than, dare I say, film. 

There is a sense of explosive energy in the theatre when the imagination is tapped.  The ephemeral quality, often maligned, can be our greatest strength if harnassed correctly.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the usually misused art of 'the reading.'

I remember, years ago, one of the most exciting moments I've ever experienced in a theatre was at an 'oral interp festival' in, of all places, Terre Haute, Indiana.   An actress, older lady, did about forty five minutes of Flannery O'Conner, a southern, darkly comic, almost gothic, writer.  It was mesmerising and excruciatingly funny.  My sides hurt from laughing so much during that reading.  The actress, herself a teacher as I recall, played all the characters, expertly dividing them by a simple slight turn of the head and change of vocal tone.  Absolutely riveting. 

One of the difficult things about staged readings (and if done correctly, most exciting) is the employment of economy of movement.  It is paramount to keep the actors tightly focused.  It is taking what could be a performance liability and turning it into a performance asset.  The actors (in this case, four young and, quite probably, inexperienced reader's theatre actors) must be made aware of this and the importance of it stamped indelibly on their psyche.  Every gesture, every vocal choice, every nuance is a piece of lightning in a setting like this.  Complete control over the material must be exercised.

In many ways, it's much more difficult than acting in or directing a full production.  What's more, very few people understand it.  I have seen far, far too many deadly boring staged readings because of this.  Just a shocking degree of ignorance on the part of the director about what can and cannot be done in a staged reading.  On the other hand, once in a blue moon, I see one that's in capable hands and am absolutely transported. 

The upshot of all this is that staged readings can be, in the right hands, some of the most exciting theatre one is ever likely to see.  And I have every intention of making this one precisely that.

See you tomorrow.