Reading My Own Stage Directions

A couple of months ago, having shown up early for the first rehearsal for the reading of one of my plays at the Great Plains Theater Conference, I passed the time by thinking about all the new people I was shortly going to be meeting and working with: five actors, a director, and someone to read stage directions. Seven new artists in all. By the time we were all gathered, however, we were one person short. The person who’d been assigned to read stage directions simply never showed up. No worries, I told my director, I’ll do it msyelf. I figured the person would show up for the second rehearsal and I could hand over my marked-up script.

No such luck. By the end of the second rehearsal, during which I’d filled in again, my script was thoroughly marked-up in my own esoteric scribble. I suppose I could have sought someone out to step in, then transferred my notes more legibly to another copy of the script, but frankly, I didn’t have the time. It was a busy conference. We had only 45 more minutes in which to rehearse as a group, and I didn’t want to spend the whole time working somebody else in… so I agreed to keep going.

I am SO GLAD that I did. As is my practice, I had removed as many stage directions as I possibly could from the reading script. For each of the play’s eight scenes, I barely had any more to do than read a few sentences at the top and one or two lines during the action, which meant that I could devote most of my attention to doing one incredibly valuable thing: watching the audience watch my play. And the perspective I had, sitting up on stage, was absolutely perfect. I could literally see them leaning forward, note when people were fidgeting, see their faces open with laughter. It was immensely useful.

So useful, in fact, that I think I’m going to try to make it my practice, moving forward. Every playwright has quirks — sitting in the back row during opening night, pacing in the lobby, using only number two pencils for editing, and so on — and this is going to be mine. But maybe, in time, it’ll be more than a quirk. Maybe I’ll start a movement, and we’ll all start doing our own stage directions at readings. What do you say?

Someone tell me why this isn’t a great idea. I’d really like to know. Because I think I’m in love with it.

4 thoughts on “Reading My Own Stage Directions”

  1. Robert Montenegro

    The one downside I’ve experienced from reading my own stage directions is sometimes I find myself spending far too much time worrying about not missing a line and interrupting the flow of the reading when I should be focusing on a number of other things. That may be a Robert thing more than just a universal playwright thing.

  2. Chance Thunderstance

    It can be a great idea, and especially as it is the first time you have had that opportunity, it sounds like it was a great idea for you and your process. Ultimately it depends on the purpose of the reading. Since the playwrights needs can be quite different from reading to reading, it may not always be the best experience to have. There are infinite reasons for an audience to fidget, and many times it is unrelated to the play or that particular moment in the play. Until we invent a machine that reads an audience’s mind, we will always be taking guesses at what the audiences is thinking or feeling.

    However, my understanding of the reading performance, as it related to The Great Plains Festival, is that the plays have been through a significant rewrite process and are perhaps in the kind of shape that would give the playwright a benefit to really see the audience. I have never participated as audience or playwright, so I can only go off what I have heard from others who have attended.

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