This week there was a staged reading of my play America’s Brightest Star at Play Club West, a group of dedicated actors who meet once a week to read scripts out loud to an audience in a small theater in North Hollywood. They read well known plays, movie and TV scripts, but often try out unproven works. All of their readings are cold, without any advance rehearsal. This is the first time this script has been heard out loud since a full production at Railroad Playhouse in Newburgh, New York over a year ago. It was refreshing to hear it with a completely different group of actors, and being that it was a cold reading, there was no pressure to tweak the script or rehearse. Just pick it up and go.
The reading generally went well. The small audience, as well as much of the cast, laughed throughout, which is good since it is a comedy. Some of the actors were not great, but there were some who were extremely talented and brought a lot of depth to a cold reading. Then, the post show discussion began.
Critique sessions can be very informative, especially once you are able to determine what is good feedback, and what is not. After a reading, people are entitled to offer their opinions. An outside eye is always good. It’s crucial; eventually all work is seen by outside eye exclusively. Critique sessions can be overwhelming, but over time I’ve learned how to immediately recognize what is helpful, and what is not. There are roughly three different types of feedback respondents.
Ignorant commenters, or those unable to see the forest for the trees. Readings can be dull, and certainly hard to visualize. It’s just people talking. Some script details can be easily overlooked. A good portion of feedback are in the form of questions that have already been answered in the text, or in stage direction, but ignored. For example, at this feedback session one person commented that the play needed a moment when the protagonist and her love interest reveal to the audience their desire for each other. In fact, that moment already exists. But it’s unspoken, and the person commenting couldn’t visual it from words on a page. But it most certainly was there, and audiences who saw the show last year had no doubt about the spark between the characters.
The rewriter. This person can be dangerous, unless you recognize it right away. They may like or dislike your script, but they wish it was slightly different and are not afraid to tell you what they would rather see. These people are basically saying “if this was my script, I’d…” Anything said after that point can be ignored…unless you really like where they are taking the script. In that case, have them sign a waiver saying they won’t sue you for a co-writer credit, and make the changes. But generally, those notes aren’t helpful. This isn’t their script. Their idea might be fine, but it’s not mine. One example: a commenter said that all characters other than the three leads should be eliminated. Why? Because that’s the play they would rather see. Well, they can go write that play. It’s not what I want to write.
The dramaturg. These people are why you do readings. Good script dramaturgs at readings can be actors, directors, designers, or…well, actual dramaturgs. Someone makes an insightful comment that makes you look at the script differently. These notes are the ones you need to take to heart when rewriting. A few people commented that the lead character was not invested in her town, the setting of the play. Right on. This is something that I ignored or couldn’t put a finger on throughout the entire production process last year, but to hear a person give this note in a particular way opened my eyes. They didn’t give me the solution and tell me what to write, only pointed out what was missing. Hearing notes like this one proves that the reading process works.
So thanks, Play Club West! You opened my eyes and improved my script. And that’s what this was all about.