table read

Having an Effective Table Read

A table read is a common first rehearsal activity. The director, actors, and stage manager sit around a large table and read through the script. Oftentimes other department heads are there (set design, costume design, props, etc.). Sometimes the department heads will give a design presentation to the cast.

Lots of people do table reads because… well, that’s what one does at the first rehearsal. In this post I’m going to dive in and explain why we do them. And, more importantly, how to have an effective table read to set your production up for success.

The reason for a table read depends on your role in the show.

Directors

Table reads are a great way to hear how the voices are going to blend together. It’s usually the director’s first opportunity to have the whole cast together at the same time.

They’re also the director’s first chance to hear the show out loud from beginning to end. The director probably heard a few scenes during auditions, but never the whole play. Directors spend so much time poring over the script, silently reading to themselves. And it’s inspiring to actually hear the show out loud. It’s a reminder that plays are living things, not just words on a page.

A table read is when the director starts building the community that is going to put on the show. It’s a message to everyone that the director is the leader, but we’re all part of the same team with the same goal.

Lastly, the table read is an opportunity to discover tricky spots. Are some actors going to need more help than others? Are there technical issues that you didn’t consider when you were reading the play?

Actors

I love starting rehearsals with a table read because I’m a nervous actor. I always come to the first rehearsal anxious about the process to come. Am I good enough for this role? For this company? A table read is a very low pressure reassuring process to calm actors’ nerves and to get them accustomed to the fact that they’re there, the role is theirs, they were chosen for a reason, and they’re going to be putting on a show.

The table read is an opportunity to hear the story as a whole and to understand our character’s role in the story. Actors can be pretty self-centered when preparing for a show. They have tunnel vision focus on their role, on their character’s objectives and tactics.That’s perfectly understandable. It’s what the actor is required to do.

The table read is a chance for actors to hear from the other characters in the show, to get a sense of what’s happening outside of our own goals and objectives, and to see the show as a whole.

Lastly, it’s a wake up call that we are here, we are putting on a show, we are a team and we all have to contribute. It’s time to get to work.

Stage Managers

The stage manager’s job begins well in advance of rehearsals and they should be up and running by the time the first rehearsal rolls around. I don’t know how it works in other countries but in Canada, professional theatres must hire stage managers for at least a week before rehearsals. It’s called “prep week” and it’s the stage managers chance to focus solely on preparing for the show without the distractions of rehearsals.

At the high school level I know this is not always possible. Sometimes you get your play sorted out on a Friday and start rehearsals on a Monday!

During the table read, stage managers often read the stage directions aloud. This helps the team to visualize the physical action and to get a better understanding of how the show will come together physically.

Stage managers also use the table read to get a rough timing of the show. The final running time of the show will change quite a bit from the running time of the table read but an experienced stage manager will be able to come up with a pretty accurate estimate.

The table read is an opportunity for the stage manager to clarify the tricky technical aspects of the show.  Are there going to be tight costume changes or scenery changes? Is there likely to be a tight set of cues that weren’t apparent before?

Making the Table Read Effective – Tips for Directors

Here are some tips to make the best possible use of the table read.

Describe your vision for the show. Some of your actors will be nervous. As a director, step up and go first. Describe your vision for the show. Talk about your influences for the direction of this show, why you chose the script, and why you chose this set of actors.

Don’t act. Tell your actors to not “act.” Ask them to just read the script. Focus on clarity. Focus on reading the words on the page. Focus on hearing the story clearly. Coach your cast to slow down if they’re going to fast.  Assure your cast that they have already won the roles. They showed you something in the audition that made you choose them. This is not an audition, this isn’t a show, it’s a reading. This is the team on the starting line. There will be lots of time for acting later.

Have word definitions / pronunciations ready. If you’re working with student actors, it’s likely that they will have not done much homework. Identify unfamiliar words and look up the correct pronunciations and definitions. The actors should be doing this for themselves, but they probably won’t. If you’re ready with the answers (you should know the definitions and pronunciations anyway) then you’ll avoid wasting everyone else’s time at the first rehearsal.

Have fun. But be clear that this is work time. You are building a team. Set a fun relaxed environment for the first meeting. But when it comes to the actual table read, be clear that it’s time to work. Stifle side-chatter during the reading and demand focus on the task at hand.

Click here for a printable PDF of this article.

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Free-Drama-Activity

Sound is a powerful sense. Many objects and actions are clearly identified by the sounds they make. Sound also triggers powerful memories. When I hear a screen door slam, I am instantly brought back to my grandparents’ cottage on a chilly summer morning. The kettle that I use to make my tea each morning has a distinct sound. The beach where I live has a multitude of sounds from the waves lapping on the sand, to the seagulls, to kids squealing playfully in the sand.

How do you express a location using just sound?

  1. Start the exercise with a discussion on sound. What specific sounds happen on a daily basis in your life? What would life be like without sound?
  2. Show a picture of a specific location. Use the picture provided in the download or choose your own.
  3. Ask the class to brainstorm on the different sounds that evoke the location. Have them practice making the sounds using whatever you have on hand. All sounds for the exercise will be manmade.
  4. Divide the class into groups. Each group gets their own picture.
  5. Groups have five minutes to discuss the picture, brainstorm on the possible sounds and come up with five sounds that evoke the location. All these sounds will be made by the students.
  6. Each group presents their sounds for the class. Can the class guess the location just by hearing the sounds? If a group is unsuccessful creating effective sounds, work with them. Get suggestions from the class on how they can refine their sounds.
  7. Have students write a reflection on the exercise.

Click here for a Printable PDF of this exercise including Pictures and Reflection Rubric.

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Episode 96: How to Succeed with a Class Production [REPLAY]

Episode-96

Have you tried to put together a class production and it just didn’t work out? Teacher Rassika Risko shares the successes and challenges of getting 28 grade nines in front of 300 middle school students.

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The Happiness Project Promo Video

The Happiness Project Poster
happinessposter

 

Episode Transcript

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Shakespeare (1)

You hate teaching Shakespeare. It happens. You’re just not one of those people who are beholden to the bard. But he’s in your face. He’s in your classroom. And the only way you’re going to make it through another lesson on Shakespeare is to make it fun.

 

I know it sounds impossible. Shakespeare and fun do not mix.
But it’s totally possible. First off, Shakespeare was never meant to be read or studied. Shakespearean actors didn’t read and study their lines. They got up and they did them. They performed. They acted. They moved. They breathed life into larger-than-life characters.

 

That’s what you have to do too. Get up, get performing, get moving.

 

Click here to download a Shakespeare Insults Handout. Get your students in pairs. They are going to create a short scene, something like this:

 

A: Hey!

B: Hello there.

A: Let me by, I have to cross this bridge.

B: You can’t.

A: Why not?

B: Because.

A: Cause why?

B: Cause there’s a bear on the other

A: Why didn’t you say so?

 

Next they’re going to take the Shakespeare Insults Handout and hand-pick their very own insults for their lines. Let them try a few out, get in a circle and have everyone “insult” each other. Only in Shakespearean language of course.

 

Lastly the pairs rehearse and present their scene complete with Shakespearean Insults a plenty. Hint! Before they start each insult they have to throw in the word thou. Thou means you. Simple as that. So the scene might look like this:

 

A: Hey thou gorbellied, motley-minded hugger-mugger!

B: Hello there thou yeasty clapper-clawed strumpet!

A: Let me by, thou frothy dizzy-eyed maggot pie! I have to cross this bridge.

B: You can’t.

A: Why not?

B: Because thou surly guts gripping harpy!

A: Cause why thou, dankish sheep biting pignut?

B: Cause there’s a bear on the other side thou spleeny fly-bitten varlet!

A: Why didn’t you say so thou mewling swagbellied footlicker?

 

It’s silly, it’s fun and yes, it’s Shakespeare.

 

Click here to download the Insult Handout!

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Observation:
The conversation you can only hear

Observation is my number one tool for finding play ideas. When you observe, you’re not just looking around, skimming the world around you. Observation is the specific looking at people, places and things. You’re looking at the world like a writer. And when you look at the world like a writer, everything becomes a play idea.

Be sure to check out all of our Observation activities:

Complete these exercises with your students. Have them collect their observations in their drama journals. Or you can click below to download the exercise and Observation sheet to print and hand out to your students to fill in. Continue reading

Episode 107: Cross-Curricular in the Drama Classroom [REPLAY]

Teacher Jeff Pinsky will embark on a new cross-curricular journey with his drama curriculum this year. He’ll be incorporating the holocaust into drama exercises, reflections, projects, and more. How do you include such an intense subject into today’s classroom? How do you get students to connect to cross-curricular? What if the exercises fail?

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One Act Plays for Middle School

Choosing one act plays for middle school is not an easy task.

The students are at a very in-between point in their lives. They no longer want to be seen of as “kids” yet many are not quite ready to tackle heavier issues. Play selection is a total “your mileage may vary” situation. It depends on each specific set of kids. Some will be content with fairy tales while others will want intense make-’em-cry dramas.

Here is a direct link to all of our one act plays for middle schools.

I reached out on our Facebook page for some feedback  from middle school teachers: “What are the major factors you need to consider when selecting a one act play for your middle school?” You can read and contribute to the discussion here.

Here are some of the more representative responses we got.


“Large cast size (25-35) for my classes, appropriate for their age, doesn’t focus on typical angst of the MS student, it needs to be mostly funny (they’ll get enough serious stuff at the HS level), and I LOVE vignettes which allow me to cast many kids in roles (The Snow Show).” ~ Jessica Landry Stafford

“It has to have a message. My students don’t like fluff. They want something to sink their teeth into. It also has to have a good ending. I have found most one act plays just drop off and don’t have strong endings.” ~Leslie McKibben

Cast size over 20. Smart script. Age/audience appropriate but not talking down to teenagers. Would love to see more stories that weren’t necessarily anchored in school angst. ~Aidan O’Hara

A play “the cast and crew will care about.” Most middle schoolers are not yet such experienced theatremakers that they’ll enjoy doing any show for any reason–the story needs to engage them pretty quickly for them to commit to the process ~Becky Schlomann

I always think about the talent that I have available at the school and choose a show that will make all their talents shine. I want to pick a show that will both challenge the students, but also engage them and nurture their love for theatre. ~Bethany Kennedy

No more mangling of fairy tales or Shakespeare! Something that they can sink their teeth into without being angsty. Heavier on girls. Boy roles where they don’t have to be ‘manly.’  ~Amy Medina

Opportunity, creative challenges, meaningful and accessible character development.  LOVED Tick Talk for middle schoolers in particular, BTW. ~Jessica Shulman McGettrick


As you can see, the answers are wide and varied. There’s no magic bullet. There’s no “one size fits all” play for a middle school group. Choosing a one act play for middle schools depends heavily on the group of kids that you have at the time.

Here are some of the main factors brought up by our Facebook fans.

Appropriateness

Appropriate is in the eye of the beholder. It would be impossible to say what’s “appropriate” because standards vary.

Our customers request plays that run the gamut between requests to remove all references to dating from a play (a play that doesn’t show a date, it just uses the world) to our most challenging plays, some of which aren’t even on our recommended list of plays for middle schools.

Cast size

This one was almost universal. A large cast size is important. This is particularly tough in a one act play format. Writing a play that has a lot of characters isn’t challenging, but it is challenging to develop them all, to give them individual traits so the actors feel like they can contribute as individuals to the production.

Some of our one act plays that achieve this nicely are:

Students Can Relate to It

The plays we publish and promote for middle schools tend to have the majority of characters of student age (except in the case of literary adaptations). It’s important that the characters and the situations they find themselves in are realistic and relatable. Not necessarily how adults see the middle school student, but how they see themselves.

The Play Stretches the Performers

It’s important that the play stretch them as performers. But “stretch” doesn’t have to mean “a different age, like grandparents” In the professional world, for example, I’ve always played roles that fit my age and every experience I’ve had has stretched me as a performer.

A meek student can be stretched by playing a bully. A straightlaced student can be stretched by playing a troubled kid. Typecasting is lovely and it makes casting easy, but if you’re looking to stretch kids then it’s important to cast against type sometimes. At the end of the day the most important thing in educational theatre is the students’ learning experience.

For example, our newest middle school play The Happiness Shop looks at the issue of Middle School Depression. This is a serious topic and allows middle school students to tackle a big issue in a theatrical manner.

The Fractured Fairytale Debate

Some people on our Facebook post said they love fractured fairytales, others are sick of them. That’s what makes art so wonderful – there are plays to suit every taste.

We don’t have any fractured fairytales but I don’t think there’s a single thing wrong with them besides the fact that it’s very easy to write a bad one. I’ve seen so many come through our submission process that just aren’t theatrical. They are just re-worded versions of fairytales – parodies or spoofs. They are funny on the page and that’s probably the medium they belong in.

The best way to tell if a script is theatrical or not is to ask yourself these questions: How will staging this play (bringing it to life) differ than just reading it? What parts of the script would be enhanced by live performers? Can you visualize the script in action when you read it? Do you see people moving? Are there moments that will affect the audience? If you struggle to answer these questions then there’s probably not much theatre written into the play.

I have no doubt that we’ll publish a fractured fairytale at some point but when we do it will also work as an engaging piece of theatre.

Here are a couple of examples of adaptations/parodies that work as theatre:

  • Drop Dead, Juliet – Juliet tries to change her inevitable death at the end of the play and engages in a battle of wills with William Shakespeare.
  • Circus Olympus – A collection of Greek myths come to life. The script encourages liberal use of circus skills – what’s more theatrical than a Greek myth & circus mashup?
  • Rebootililzation – Not a one act, but this clever play incorporates a ton of fairtytale and literature based characters.

More Girls than Boys

This is a purely logistical issue. More girls audition for middle school shows than boys. Pretty much all of our plays have more girls than boys for this very reason. We also try our best to get some gender-neutral characters in there for casting flexibility.

Bradley Hayward’s Apostrophe’s and Sixteen in Ten Minutes or Less are both fantastic choices for flexible casting.

Simple Staging

In our experience, the middle school budget is limited. The middle school play is more about putting as many students on stage, rather than having the most elaborate staging.  We got you there, too. We always aim for scripts that are easy to stage. Our running joke is that most of our plays can be staged with two chairs and a cube and if you’re really pressed for budget, then one of the chairs could be cut.

Personal Taste

Becky Schlomann  had this to say about what kinds of plays she looks for: “Something I personally like. I’m going to be spending more time with the script than anybody, and if at the beginning of the process I hate it, by the end of the process I’ll be ready to poke my eyes out.

This is a fantastic point, Becky. I couldn’t put it any better myself.

This is the main reason that every play on our website comes with an extensive free excerpt. That way there are no surprises when you order a play for production, and you don’t have to order a dozen perusal scripts based on a catalogue blurb only to end up disappointed that none of them appeal to you.

There are a lot of one act plays for middle schools on our website. If that overwhelms you, feel free to email us through this page. Tell us your likes, dislikes, cast size, and the age of your group. We’re always happy to send recommendations your way.

BONUS! Click here to download a monologue and scene from our most popular Middle School Play HOODIE!