I recently received a table reading for Short North The Musical. I was extremely nervous for this one because it's my first musical based entirely on an original concept, and I'd spent so much time on the plot, I wasn't sure how it would be received.
In the process, though, I remembered back to previous readings and thought it might be time to post about the things no one tells you about a read through of a new script.
So here we go...
1 - Readers/Performers will interpret characters differently than you.
Even with descriptions. To prevent this, a quick rehearsal or writer talk prior to the read through would be helpful.
2 - Key plot points and actions will be missed.
Even with stage directions and visual cues being read aloud, the performers and observers will miss key actions in your story. Unless they are focused on every word spoken, which is extremely tough to do without something to watch, your readers and observers will miss key plot points.
3 - It's too slow and the songs are too long.
You will always receive the comment that songs and pacing of the script is too slow. This is because they are not watching a singer, a dancer or a production number of your song, they are sitting in a plain room listening to a recording. The only way around this is to have a separate team of vocalists that sing each track live. But for a read through, just know that they will believe that even a 1:30 song will be too long.
4 - The readers will be confused.
No matter how clear you write, no matter how descriptive you write - the readers will be confused by the overall script. This is a good thing - they want to understand it, but remember that scripts are meant to be seen on stage, not read and most people cannot convert what they hear into visuals. In addition to that, they are unable to get into your mind to see what you intended and they will throw their own assumptions into the story, assumptions that will not align with yours.
5 - Your ideas will be compared with existing scripts.
Especially with experienced theatre people as readers, your scenes, elements, songs and characters will be compared to other scripts that they are familiar with. We only know what we've seen before right?
6 - Not everyone will like your script.
There will be the ones who are nice and say, "It went well." There will be others that won't speak at all and there will be others that show how they feel about your work on their face without saying a word. It's okay. It may not be your writing - it could be the story subject, it could be that they aren't a visual minded person, it might also be there is something going on at home or work that has distracted them.
7 - Don't start revising right away.
Take some time to digest the comments and the reading. If you dive right in, you risk editing your script to make others happy and not yourself. Take the time to allow the comments to sink in. Most likely, you were already aware of the issues in the script just from hearing it read aloud. Once you've given it some time, prepare a plan of attack - they said this song didn't make any sense - put it on the list for replacement or rewriting. I create a separate document and list all the comments made as well as my own observations and then start revising one by one.
8 - Don't expect anyone to be as excited about your script as you.
They care, but they have nothing at stake. Unless the reading is a knock-out from the start - and they rarely are, no one else will be excited about the reading as you are.
9 - I love it, now change all of it.
There will be two types of comments, the "I love it" comments and the "Change the name of this, rewrite this scene and take out that song" comments. Even performers are sometimes unable to visualize a story on stage and therefore can only comment on the things that they have experience with or the things that felt awkward during the reading. Take each comment with a grain of salt, but dig deeper into it and you'll likely discover a clue to what the real feed back is.
10 - No one cares after the read through.
After the read through - NO ONE will want to talk to you about your work. I've noticed this several times, so this time I was not present for the read-through believing that my prescence may intimidate the readers, so I had the reading recorded to review later. I reached out to several of the readers and none of them had anything useful to say - not even a comment on the reading - just that "I think it went well". This is because they believe that the sole purpose of the read through was to read the script. If you want personal opinions, send out an email survey a week after the reading. Most people will take the time to answer.
None of this is disheartening, but if you didn't know these things, it would be a disheartening experience. Keep these things in mind going in and you'll have an experience that you can use to revise your script!
Alan Saunders, WRITEineer.com
Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.
Check out WRITEineer.com for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!