Thursday, November 21, 2013

Raising the Curtain on the Script in Hand Readings

by Chad Kinsman, Artistic and Management Coordinator

Lights up on a messy desk scattered with papers, post-its, envelopes, and a few abandoned cups of coffee.

Since starting as in intern in 2008, it’s hard to think of a job I haven’t done at the Playhouse. I’ve worked on the crew for two shows, appeared in a small, non-speaking role, worked in the box office, the concessions stand, helped run a board meeting, and planned and managed crafts during a children’s show or two, just to name a few. However, one of my absolute favorite roles is reading the stage directions for our Script in Hand readings.

The minute I get the script from our amazing curator and director Annie Keefe, I go to work. Annie has already done all the heavy lifting by first going through the script and cutting the stage directions to the minimum, the visuals and actions the audience needs to know that aren’t revealed in the dialogue or that the actors can’t do themselves. As we rehearse the afternoon before the performance, we might cut more stage directions as we learn what the actors can mime or convey, or we might add something back in order to make a moment clearer for the audience. Annie’s biggest consideration is what moves the story along clearly but doesn’t get in the actors’ way.

In Mister Roberts, the entire first page is a description of the set, the amidships section of a navy cargo ship. I found a few pictures, including a wonderful design by Andrew Jackness (who designed sets here for Lips Together, Teeth Apart and the world premiere of Harbor) at Lincoln Center, which helped me understand what was what and what leads where.

While speaking the stage directions is an accepted convention of readings, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be flat. I think of it as playing a character, the narrator. In Mister Roberts, two of the big, climatic moments were entirely action based, meaning it was up to me to not only convey the action clearly but also try and impart some of the emotions. It really takes focus to follow the tempo and the score of the play. I feel a little like a stage manager. After a particularly emotional scene, I try and read the moment, careful not to jump in too soon with “Blackout.” I also always appreciate when the stage directions get a laugh, or when the audience vocally responds to them because I’ve done my part successfully in making the stage business clear and easy to visualize. I realize this all sounds a little overly romantic, but I love these readings, and anytime you’re in front of an audience, especially when Annie Keefe asks you to be, they deserve your best.

It’s also an honor to work with great actors, many of whom have been on our stage before and whose work I really respect. I worked with Mark Shanahan on a production of Around the World in 80 Days in 2009, and this is my second reading with Jake Robards, who appeared in The Dining Room earlier this season. I also enjoyed seeing a few guys from Room Service back on our stage so soon. Although I’m not a professional actor, being a part of the Script in Hand readings keeps me connected to why I started doing theater in the first place, working with a great group of people on a project that we’re all excited about. That’s what the Playhouse is all about, whether you’re on stage or on staff.

Lights fade out. End of article. 

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