3 Working with a script in Readers Theatre

One of the attractions of our Readers Theatre group is that you get to perform on stage, but you don’t have to memorize your lines. Instead, you carry and read from a script during the performance. Hoo-ha! No memorizing!

My group has embraced carrying a script and we love that we don’t have to learn lines. But before you heave that sigh of relief, know that to be effective, a Readers Theatre production is memorized. There is nothing more deadly on stage than to never see the actor’s face. So the convention is to carry a script but to memorize it so you can use your voice, face, and movement to good effect.

Yes, you get to carry a script, glance at it occasionally, but to be effective, you must memorize a lot of the script. You do this for several reasons:  1) so your face isn’t always turned down while you read, 2) you don’t sound like you are reading, and 3) you use the script as part of the performance.

Definitions of RT points to the script

Carrying the script in Readers Theatre represents the fact that we are reading and the text we are reading is what we want the audience to focus on.

There are many aspects to the definition of Readers Theatre and none so telling, script-wise, than it all boils down to performing text from literature in a way that recreates the author’s intention in the minds of the audience. And the script in hand cues the audience that there is a text involved, and it is literature we are recreating for them. Besides the psychology, the script can also be used as an artistic part of that recreation.

So how do you use scripts in RT?

In one of the most helpful books I found on Readers Theatre, Fran Averett Tanner’s Readers Theatre Fundamentals, Tanner talks about using scripts. I am going to share with you some of her pointers as well some examples of my own.

  • Readers Theatre features the text, so you carry a script as a reminder of that.
  • You don’t need to hold the script all the time.

“  . . its presence is a constant visual reminder that literature is being shared. You can lay them down for a scene with a lot of movement and pick them up later.”

EXAMPLE: In a production I saw of the documentary play, In White America, scripts took the form of documents, books, papers, journals, and diaries, and were piled on a table down center as the play began. Actors crossed to the table, picked up an appropriate document, and read from it as the character the document referred to or was written by.  The actor put the script back on the table when they were finished.

  • Use the script as a prop. It can become the symbol of what a character might be doing.

EXAMPLE: In a reading of The Charge of the Light Brigade, the scripts could become symbolic sabers as they are flashed during battle.

  • The reader, even if the script is memorized, ought to look down and read from it occasionally. If you don’t glance down at it and turn pages, the audience begins to worry that you lost your place.

EXAMPLE: It’s the same principal that says if an actor has a prop, he or she needs to use it.

  • No shiny, light-catching binders to draw attention.
  • Bind the script. To make it easy to hold, try a small size such as 5 1/2¨ x 8 1/2¨. But bind them in a uniform size.
  • Don’t all turn the page at the same time – this can seem funny.
  • Keep scripts high enough so that heads aren’t bobbing. Again, bobbing heads can seem funny. Bring the script up rather than bring the head down.

Scripts are the most obvious signal to the audience that they are listening to literature, and the performers need to use those symbols artfully and as carefully as they would any prop.

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