For most art, audiences don’t get to experience it until it’s “done”. Painters and sculptors don’t usually Instagram their rough sketches or let people wander around their studios. Composers don’t usually play and sing bits of their new works for lucky fans. Sometimes at a fan convention an author might read a chapter of a new book, or there might be a screening of a film trailer, but probably not an unedited reel. But theatre depends on how the text sounds when a group of actors is speaking it, and live theatre also depends on audiences responding to the text. So it’s common in play development to have a reading – maybe a private workshop with actors hired to sit around a table and read from a new script, and then maybe a reading on stage for an audience. No set and costume, no actions, no music and lights – just the voices of the characters, bringing a story to life.
The next chance to hear readings of new scripts in Edmonton is Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre’s Springboards Festival, which runs March 22-26th at the Gateway Theatre (you might remember it as the Roxy on Gateway or C103 or the hottest Fringe venue around…). Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre (as the name suggests) has a mandate of supporting new play development. The schedule of plays for this festival sounds exciting! Not only is there new work by established playwrights Conni Massing (The Aberhart Summer, The Invention of Love) and Stephen Massicotte (Mary’s Wedding), and award winner James Odin Wade, on Wednesday Mar 22 there are five ten-minute scripts selected from the EdmonTEN play competition, and on Sunday Mar 26th there’s a Cabaret-style sampling of work from eleven more writers, from emerging to acclaimed. Heather Inglis and Darrin Hagen are curators and dramaturges for the festival
Jake Tkaczyk, actor, performance creator, and graduate student, will be one of the performers for James Odin Wade’s new work Everyone Is Doing Fine on Thursday Mar 23rd. Jake’s experience with play readings includes working on Bright Burning, (later titled I Hope My Heart Burns First) which Colleen Murphy wrote for his graduating class, and participating in public reading events including Script Salon and Skirts Afire. I asked Jake a few questions about readings and new play development.
“As an actor, how do you benefit from participating in a private workshop reading?”
“If I know I’ll be doing a public performance, I love getting the chance to work on the script, ask the playwright to clarify their motivations, and spend more time than a normal rehearsal process. We get more chances to try things out. ”
“Why do you do staged readings for the public?”
“Play readings are a chance for the writer to really have their work understood. As an actor, I am there to service the playwright. A public reading gives the writer a chance to hear what’s landing, what does the audience find comedic or not find comedic – are there moments when the room goes still. The writer gets to hear it read and hear it heard. And without all the design elements contributing to the experience, the audience is just paying attention to the words. Does the text work in that order? Is the plot making sense? Is there anything that needs to be explained more … or less?”
As an emerging playwright myself, I’ve had the chance to experience what he describes. Earlier this month my short script Book Club 2021 was read as part of Walterdale Theatre’s From Cradle to Stage festival, along with twelve other new plays. Hearing actors read my script, and being surrounded by audience members responding to those actors, made me so grateful that theatre is a collaborative art. We need each other to share stories. _______________________________________________________________________________________
Springboards Festival runs Mar 22-26 at Gateway Theatre with performances at 7:30 every evening. Tickets for each evening are $15 in advance and pay-what-you-wish at the door.