Thursday, November 20, 2008

Readings and stage directions

I have a friend who hates play readings.  He finds them a chore to sit through, and thinks that only those who are obligated agree to attend.

I am having two coming up (Golem Stories Dec 1 and Rudolf II Dec 15), as part of the Prague 1600 program with the Czech Center. Come on down!

I don't hate readings.  I do admit that I find many a chore to sit through.  But I must admit, for all that I love theater, many shows I go to because of obligation I find a chore to sit through.  I know many talented actors, directors, etc, but a truly well written, well directed, well performed play is a hard goal to accomplish, and just because I know one talented person involved doesn't mean the show as a whole will be enjoyable.

To me, a reading is no different.  Yes, it has less visuals and less flash.  But a well done reading can be enjoyable, just as a well done play is.

But a well done reading, to me, means that you must think of the reading as a performance.  Which is one reason I hate hearing stage directions.  I understand why some people feel they are necessary, but I never have.  Unless the reading of the stage directions is a performance in itself (and you do, on occasion, find a playwright who really writes clever stage directions), it is an unnecessary element.  It seems to me much simpler and much better to come up with simple staging solutions that convey the sense of what it happening clearly.  Most playwrights do not write stage directions as dialogue, so it should not be performed as dialogue.

Not that I haven't seen any good reading where the stage directions have been read.  I have.  I know it is an accepted convention.  But as a director, I don't like it much.

For the upcoming reading of Golem Stories (Monday, December 1 at the Bohemian National Hall, if you want to come!) Henry Akona has agreed to make some limited sound cues to get me through the more thorny stage direction issues.  Sound is always the most complicated, and the closest I've gotten to stage directions in  a reading is having someone vocally announce sound effects.  

Most actors who haven't worked with me seem surprised for a moment when I stand them up and start arranging them at music stands (or whatever seems appropriate), and have them move from place to place occasionally.  But they quickly get used to it.  And even having someone stand two music stands over versus at the music stand right next to the character they are speaking to does, I think, make a difference.

Another draw for those who might be thinking of coming to the readings:  Peter Demetz, the author of Prague in Black and Gold, will be there to talk afterwards.  I can think of no one more knowledgeable about the golem or about Rudolf II.  And his book is an amazing resource, for those who haven't read it.

So as I said, come on down!

1 comment:

Kasheri said...

I wish I could be there. I don't attend readings, but I enjoy listening to them on the radio. It is always a pleasure to hear something being truly well read. I rather hate it when authors read their own work for a "book on tape" because they are seldom good at it. (There are, of course, exceptions.) Typically, the author's talent is in the writing. I wish they would let a true talent in the speaking take over for the recording of the tome.