Sarah Bloom, Randy Ryan and Rozie Bacchi reading an excerpt from the play "Medicine, Man" by Jeffrey Stanley at Naked Angels' Tuesday Night Reading Series, 12/3/02.
 
 

 

FEATURE: NYC READING GROUPS
By Craig Quakenbush
(excerpt)
The process of mounting a play is one that requires several pivotal steps.  From inception to execution, the work can experience many transformations.  One of the methods a playwright might use to hone their craft is to get involved with a reading group to see if the words flow, the characters mesh and the plot moves along. Generally, the writer does not want to toil in obscurity, where oftentimes the creator of a play forgets that it is to be performed in front of an audience.  Therefore, the process of finishing the writing and having it someday put into production can seem an arduous journey.

As an actor, the likelihood of getting work through collaboration is much more plausible than just showing up to an open-call audition. Reading groups are a good way to get seen on a consistent basis and stay active with your craft. Remember that contemporary playwrights and screenwriters have a process too…and becoming involved with the development of a new work allows you to gain experience that may become a stepping stone to future projects.  Furthermore, you may be inspired to dabble in writing your own dialogues.

In New York, there are a variety of reading groups in existence, each with their own procedures and practices that encourage playwrights and expose, and hopefully enhance, the writer’s labor of love.

NEW YORK READING GROUPS
Let’s first address the basic root question: What exactly is a reading group? Sure, there are the people who all read the same novel, finish at roughly the same time and gather to discuss it. A reading group for a theatrical play runs a similar course. A group of actors gather for an informal read-through of the work, often in front of an audience, and voila, a reading group for the play has formed. Of course, what the playwright hears in his head or reads to himself when writing can seem quite dissimilar once heard aloud. It's therefore advisable to select a group who responds to your work, and likewise you respond to theirs.

Naked Angels (http://www.nakedangels.com) is an esteemed downtown theater company, founded in 1986 "by a handful of restless and ambitious writers, actors, directors, designers and producers who were hungry for a different brand of theater." At its birth, this different brand of theater sought by Naked Angels was something that would be relevant to their experiences. Yet they found their concerns seldom addressed when offered work.

Naked Angels has developed a reputation for embracing the upcoming artist, and for the development and production of outstanding, innovative plays. For the past sixteen years they have produced hundreds of readings, workshops and full productions. Furthermore, the Naked Angels School offers classes in acting and writing for the emerging artist. Weekly sessions are often taught by working professionals from Naked Angels, the same people who continue to define the cutting edge of New York Theater (Tape, Snakebit, Sideman, Shyster, This is Our Youth, Chelsea Walls and The Substance of Fire). Rather than focus on a solitary technique, students learn how to find their way to dynamic and honest choices in all circumstances, styles and media.

One of the Naked Angels' developmental programs is Tuesdays@9, which is the cornerstone of their writers' curriculum. According to the Naked Angels website, "Tuesdays@9 is a weekly session of new writing that attracts over a hundred participants each week who gather to listen and participate in cold readings of scenes, short new plays, fiction, nonfiction and poetry, often fresh from the printer." Tuesdays@9 is just one of the Naked Angels programs that offer the world its first taste of new works by both recognized artists and innovative new voices. It is also a prime example of a successful and vibrant reading group. Naked Angels states that "writers have their new text read aloud by professional actors in a public forum. In this simplicity lies its success. Three of the most vital and important components of theater are satisfied: The playwright can hear the dialogue spoken in a performance setting, the actor can approach the new material with an instinctual voice, and the audience, by merely attending and responding, can become part of the evolution of a play, thereby helping the playwright refine the work."

FROM PAGE TO STAGE
Tuesdays@9 not only  assists in the development of performance works (such as Kenneth Lonergan's Academy Award-nominated film You Can Count On Me), but several works of fiction have also emerged from the series, including Time on Fire by Evan Handler and Pluto Animal Lover by Lauren Stover. Recently two workshops of Tuesdays@9 were held as part of the Nantucket Film Festival and at Miami Dade College.

To submit material to Tuesdays@9, bring a hard copy to the reading. It is important to remember their submission guidelines. Plays and screenplays should be a maximum of ten pages to be considered, in a 12-point font and reasonably formatted.  Fiction, essays, monologues, poetry and any other work should be kept to a maximum of five pages to be considered, also in a 12-point font, with at least 1.5 line spacing. Contact information such as phone number and e-mail should of course be included. If a submission is selected, they will contact the writer. Also, Tuesdays@9 is a facilitating program, not a dramaturgical one, so feedback cannot be given.

No reservation is necessary, but seating is limited.

THE WRITE STUFF
The theatrical reading group is obviously an important facet of the development of a play. A forum of collaboration and feedback is always beneficial for the playwright, as well as the actor. A reading could simply involve a playwright gathering friends or novice actors for a sit-down.  Conversely, a more advantageous scenario would be the writer seeking out one of these specialized reading groups in order to further the play within the world of professional theater. Keeping an eye on ads and listings, looking on the internet or networking within the theatrical community might present valid and possibly worthwhile leads and open otherwise unknown doors. And for the actor, becoming a member of an active reading group increases networking opportunities. An opportunity to read allows for visibility you never know who is sitting in that audience. And working with new writers offers a chance at valuable collaboration, where early involvement in new projects may pay off later.

Perhaps Naked Angels summarizes it most fittingly: "By joining forces, we could work on projects that inspired us, see a vision through from inception to production, and do it all in a passionate, supportive atmosphere."