A comedy read-through

The show was cast and the agonising task of putting together the rehearsal schedule was done, so that could mean only one thing: the dreaded read-through.

I say dreaded because, for most actors, the read-through is a necessary evil. For others it is an unnecessary tradition. For our director of the Comedy of Errors, Vin, it’s somewhere in between. A tradition that no show would feel properly started without, a chance to formally kick off the rehearsal process, and an important opportunity for the whole cast to get together. For some of us, this will be the only time we see certain members of the cast until the first full run-through, particularly if we don’t have any scenes together.

Comedy of Errors

Many actors dread the read-through because that’s just what it is: reading. Sight-reading is a far cry from actually acting, and requires many different skills altogether. I have seen actors who can deliver the most commanding performance on stage being reduced to a gibbering wreck in a read-through, tripping over their words until they end up lying in a heap of jumbled letters.

Although everyone did admirably well last night, we did have a few giggles here and there. Accidentally substituting prostrate with prostate got a good laugh.

The read-through also has another very important function. It gives everyone an overall flavour of the play, which can be difficult to get from individual rehearsals. Even if we don’t meet your character until the third act, it is important that they have a backstory, and what happens and is said in the previous two acts can inform this backstory.

It is also important that each actor’s interpretation of their character fits in to the journey of the play, rather than being a standalone element, so having the chance to hear the whole play read through in this way gives each actor that sense of how their character fits in.

I’m playing the Courtesan, who doesn’t make an appearance until the second half of the play, but is mentioned by other characters earlier on. Despite her limited stage time, she is a strong character and hopefully, in our version at least, a memorable one, so getting a feel for the world of the play in which she exists will help me bring to the stage a fuller and more rounded performance rather than something flat which exists solely in that moment on stage.

Rehearsals start this week, where we’ll be working on a big ensemble scene. With plentiful laughs in this wonderful Shakespearean farce, it promises to be a lot of fun.

The Comedy of Errors, performed by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, runs from 13 to 16 November 2013 at the Station Theatre, Hayling Island.

A new play – the read-through

Steve Blackham, a director I had the chance to work with earlier this year when the SSA did The Venetian Twins, sent me an email the other week telling me of a new play, written by a local writer. He asked if I would be interested in doing a read-through, and naturally I said yes. He would be playing a sort of directorial role in the exploration of the part, and once Steve has directed you one time, you’d jump at a second chance. He has a knack of bringing out the best in each actor, giving them the room and freedom to explore their character on their own terms and play with the characterisation, encouraging them to delve within and see what they bring back up to the surface. Often, the results can be both surprising and extremely useful. He watches and listens intently, and can pick up on the tiniest of things that you never even knew you did, and then help you to incorporate them into the part. If it works, you keep it, if not, you let go of it and explore some more. Experimentation and fluidity is encouraged throughout the rehearsal process, a directing style that I find to be the most conducive to getting the best creative results.

Anyway, enough of that – Steve’s a rather modest chap and would be horrified if he read all of this adoration babble. The script for the new play arrived in my inbox and I eagerly started reading. I devoured it in one sitting and sat back, breathless and moved and in awe. One word could sum it up: beautiful. I read a lot of plays and to be honest I read a lot of crap (though it’s a little unfair to make a proper judgment on a play until you’ve seen it performed), but this was just so bloody good it was a pleasure to read. I mouthed a silent ‘thank you!’ to the empty room.

We had the first group read-through of the play last week, sans the writer so that we had a chance to work through any questions the play arose ourselves, as actors, rather than simply referring back to her straight away. One should do a little thinking for themselves! It was wonderful to see two other members of the SSA family – Patrick (Pat) and Sue – on board, who are always a pleasure to work with, not to mention great fun. With a few glasses of Hardy’s at hand, we read through the play twice, getting it on its feet the second time, which naturally makes it more alive. Just from that session we uncovered so many new elements that we hadn’t noticed when just reading it through privately, and the energy in some of the scenes is already beginning to build.

Steve ended the session with talks of a performance in the near future, which got the excitement buzzing through me – the thought of being able to bring this script fully to life is a thrilling prospect. We left the read-through with thoughts of our characters, the new discoveries and the next step in the journey. Excitement all round!