Writing can be a very solitary thing as much of what we do with characters are developed and exist solely in our head. So when we write, it is important that we capture all of the dimensions of these imaginery characters in the written word and get what's inside our mind, outside of our head and onto the page. One of the best ways to see if we have achieved that, is to listen to other people read our work aloud. It gives a distance and a value to each voice, in a way that reading it aloud by yourself cannot provide. For a writer, it is really important to hear how the reading sounds.
For many a wordsmith, the first time their script comes alive is magical. It is also a very, very useful tool. Intimate table reads give an understanding of how the script is working. It is easy to tell if the characters came alive. Did it make sense? Are too many characters saying the same thing? Getting feedback from actors is also helpful and can feed into the development process. I recommend that a writer or writer-director should not take part in the reading but listen and make notes.
I would always recommend doing a table read before casting the script. It doesn’t matter if the script is a short, feature, sitcom or TV drama, hearing the work read aloud will be of enormous value and undoubtedly improve the script.
TEN SCRIPT POINTERS FOR SETTING UP A TABLE READ
- Use the first table read as a development tool rather than a selling tool. Think of it is as a spring clean, would you invite people to watch you clean up? Probably not but you can ask people to help you out. I would advise you to keep the first reading very simple – actors, writer, director and producer and one or two trusted writer-friends.
- Casting actors can seem like the most daunting task begin with, so start with who you know. Do you know any actors? Do your friends know any actors? Ask the actors you know if they know other actors, you can advertise for actors on Shooting People, PCR, call drama schools and ring agents, give them a cast breakdown. Be honest with actors and agents that this is a table reading to help with the development of the script and you would like the feedback of actors. I would advise you not to promise anyone a role yet, as it is very early days, what if that role gets cut? That said, be appreciative of what an actor is bringing to the reading.
- Divide up the roles in advance and send the script to performers so they know what roles they are reading. Assign a strong actor with the role of reading the narration – they will drive the energy. Ask them to read it in a normal voice, without affectation but to keep the energy up. Don’t worry about casting people who do not physically fit the roles, cast an actor who can bring out the personality and emotional depth of the role. Send the script by email to each actor with a list of the parts they are playing. Rocliffe recommends using no more than 6-8 actors including 1 narrator – who only reads the stage directions/action etc. and scene changes. If there is a clear protagonist and antagonist then assign one actor each of these roles. Use two male and two female actors – younger and older and assign each of the roles accordingly – older female, younger female and double up.
- Find a quiet, well lit room. Pubs with music don’t tend to work, however, many central pubs have quiet space and will give you the room. Make the location central for everyone not just central to you. Give clear instructions as to the time, the place and ask them to come 15 minutes early. Organise the reading at least 4 days in advance and confirm details before the day. You can use your home as long as it has room to accommodate everyone.
- Make sure to provide water, coffee, tea as reading can be thirsty work. I would also suggest sweets of some kind - chocolate dries up the throat but boiled sweets can help lubricate the voice. Also supply highlighter and pencil/pens.
- Print out single or double-sided copies for the actors, bind it with ACCO clips (see stationers) so the pages will stay together. You will need a copy of the script for each of the actors reading and yourself. You can email this to them in advance but you not expect actors to print their own copies and they shouldn’t have to share. There is no need to print off pricey copies for anyone other than the writer, director, producers.
- For the first ever table read, the script should be read aloud by actors in a single sitting i.e. without interruption. Do not stop to give notes or acting pointers during the reading. Make notes throughout. Remember to be polite, not bossy - they are there to help you.
- Should you wish to record the reading, always ask the actors in advance if you can record it. This should only be used for your purposes to listen again. Do not distribute this recording as a selling tool.
- Discuss the script with the actors. Ask them what their thoughts are on the characters. They may feel a character is too thin, need more backstory; were the goals, needs, wants of each character clear enough? Does each character have an arc or disappear? Do they feel the characters are thought through enough or under or over written? Write down all the notes you get. Thank the actors in person and then send a follow up thank you in writing (by email), in the email invite them to share with you any thoughts that have occurred to them since.
- Write up your notes that evening or the next morning whilst they are still fresh and make revisions immediately whilst you are still fired up.
"The inner life of the [imagination], and not the personal and tiny experiential resources of the actor, should be elaborated on the stage and shown to the audience. This life is rich and revealing for the audience as well as for the actor himself" ~ Michael ChekhovKeep Writing!