Why All Playwrights Need Table Readings

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble table reading of DROWNING OPHELIA

Last night I had the honor and privilege of listening to members and interns of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, a professional theatre company in Bloomsburg, Pa., do a table reading of my play, Drowning Ophelia. Let me start by saying: IT WAS WONDERFUL.

If you didn’t already know, Drowning Ophelia was the play I wrote for my master’s degree capstone project at Wilkes University. But the play is much more meaningful to me than just a product of my school work.  This is a play I wanted to write for a very long time and I often didn’t know HOW to write it.  (Fortunately, I had Juanita Rockwell to help guide me to the “how.”)  By the time I figured out that my play would include a classic character from Hamlet, a bathtub, and a variety of unusual costume changes, I was feeling pretty good. It almost felt complete. The words were all there on the page, the characters, the plot.  But something was missing; something that is rather important to writing for actors: I NEEDED ACTORS!

This may seem like a “duh” moment, but how many of us realize that needing actors – giving your script a voice – is just as vital to the WRITING process as it is to later performance?  Because it IS SO VITAL.  A play is MEANT to be seen and heard, not just read. I was very fortunate in the early stages of my writing to have friends – even some actor friends – do table readings at a variety of stages in the manuscript. Those early readings helped me discover the need for humor in my play. They made clear (and continue to make clear) my poor, awkward, or cliché wording choices.  They were integral to helping me figure out how the play even ends.

And then the professionals came along.  🙂

Back in December 2010 I had the wonderful experience of a staged reading of Drowning Ophelia in New York City. It was amazing to watch and hear my words come to life, and also very humbling. I listened and watched took notes and made what I thought were minor changes.  And then, aside of sending it out to a few places (no responses yet; such is the life of a writer!), I looked at it very little for about a year.

However…

During the last year or two my husband and I have been cultivating a really nice relationship with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, especially Ensemble member and playwright Jim Goode. He read my play and we had a wonderful dialogue about it. And then he offered up the gracious members of BTE to do a table reading for me. And I said, Yes, absolutely!

And then I got kind of scared.

I love this play. It’s very personal to me. It’s a part of me. It’s (as the saying goes) “my baby.” And I was really afraid that a table reading, this far removed from my writing experience, would suddenly bring to light everything ugly, unrefined, or unworthy about it. That I would finally take off the rose-colored glasses and realize, huh…this is why I haven’t heard anything from the places I sent it. This is why it’s no good.  THIS is why I can’t really call myself a playwright.

Um, any of you writers out there finding these feelings at all familiar?

So I took a minute to get over myself (lol) and kept repeating that this experience was not only necessary, but that it would be good for me. I needed to reconnect to my manuscript. I needed to stop wondering why it hasn’t been accepted by anyone and LOOK for the reasons that might be keeping it out of production. I NEED TO KNOW IF MY BABY IS UGLY.  And who better to tell me than a roomful of thoughtful, artistic professionals?

Last night I went to BTE’s rehearsal room with my husband and a little caravan of supportive friends. I talked to the ensemble members who were present (including my friend and current BTE intern, Katti Mayk!) and we settled in for the read-through.

It was…strange. I hadn’t heard it in so long, it was like listening to a play I knew but not necessarily one I’d written. I watched. I listened. I took notes. And I fell in love all over again…NOT because I think I’m a great writer, by any means, but because I found this part of myself again. The reading brought back to me all the reasons I wrote it — all the reasons I NEEDED to write it — and reminded me that yeah, maybe it needs some polishing up, but that’s OK.  I have it. It is, for now, complete. And now it’s just waiting for the right people to find it (or, more likely, for it to find them!).

Hey!  My baby’s not THAT ugly!!!!  😀

BTE Interns Dan Ford and Katti Mayk and Ensemble member Cassandra Pisieczko

I have to say how grateful I am to BTE.  Ensemble member Cassandra Pisieczko brought Ophelia TO LIFE; her instincts about the character were touching and insightful. I LOVED watching her because she was committed to the role in its entirety, even when just listening and not reading. Katti Mayk, an intern at BTE this year, was perfect as Jane; a character with a special connection to Ophelia. Actually, though Ophelia is the title character, the story is really about Jane. And Katti walked right into the role as if it was written for her. Intern Dan Ford played a very unlikable character with remarkable likability – which is SO important to the part. He gave humanity to someone we don’t want to think of as human.

Ensemble members Andrew Hubatsek and Danny Roth

And Ensemble member Andrew Hubatsek brought out a new and very human side to Edmund, a character we know very little about, but whose relationship with Jane and Ophelia serves as almost a catalyst to the entire story. With Ensemble member Danny Roth lending his elegant voice to the stage directions, the experience last night was more than wonderful. I felt joyful. And I was truly touched by their genuine responses to the piece, their helpful feedback, and just the fact that they would take so much time out of their busy lives to sit and talk with me about my play. Ensemble member Elizabeth Dowd came to listen and comment, her words for which I was incredibly thankful. The things that were said by her, by Danny Roth, by everyone there (including my sweet friends) meant to much to me. Words cannot do justice to how I felt, and still feel about it today.

Writers – especially you playwrights and screenwriters – table readings are necessary. They are your lifeline throughout the writing process. Even when you think the process is “over,” table readings let you know where to keep polishing away. They are the link that connects your page to its next step – the theatre!  If you’re working on a play and you don’t know what to do next or you can’t hear the voices of your characters anymore, find some friends, find some actors, and read the words aloud. Let it come to life. Close your eyes and imagine your set descriptions on a stage. It’s more than worth it; it’s necessary.

Thanks again, BTE.  Think of me as I pursue that big NEXT step!

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About dramachicky

I am a dramachick: a playwright, actress, director, wife, singer, reader, aunt, daughter, student, teacher, and dreamer. My husband has taken to calling me dramachicky. :-) I have my M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing/playwriting from Wilkes University. My husband and I started a small theatre group in northeast Pennsylvania called Ghostlight Productions. I love all things theatre and I am thrilled to launch this blog as a celebration of women playwrights.
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7 Responses to Why All Playwrights Need Table Readings

  1. It was such a great experience! I’m so proud of you Rachel!

  2. juanita says:

    So glad to hear about the continuing journey of this delightful play, Rachel. And props to the wonderful folks of BTE for their part in its development.

  3. James Goode says:

    Rachel, it was a real pleasure hosting the reading. I’m glad the BTE schedule allowed this opportunity for Danny, Sandie, Andy, Katti and Dan to get together around the table, and I loved hearing it aloud. Thank you for sending the script to me, and let me know how the work progresses.

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