9 Analysis without paralysis for Readers Theatre

You’ve chosen your material for your Readers Theatre production.  (See “8  How to choose material for Readers Theatre.”) The next step is to go over it thoroughly, keeping in mind those things that made you choose it in the first place. You want to find things that support your first impressions and decide how you will use them to bring the piece alive for your audience. It is these elements you identify that becomes the analysis. From it, you get a better idea of the meaning, emotion, and vivid characterizations that will help you later in deciding how to create the author’s intentions in the minds of your audience.

Analysis takes place before you can begin the first rehearsal. You do the analysis after your first reading and before you even choose a cast. This is where the piece begins to take shape and from this preliminary analysis (no, analysis never ends!) you will know how to cast it, how to rehearse it, all the while firming up what your vision of it is. What will it look like? Sound like? Feel like?

What you discover in the analysis phase of the Readers Theatre production helps you know what to include and what to edit, what kind of movement, props, and costumes will make it visually appealing, and to decide on what vocal techniques will be effective. This analysis will guide you in bringing out the meaning, intention, and tone of the author’s work.

Some guidelines for analysis

How will you know what to do with your selection? You could just read it out loud. Or, you can interpret it for your audience, which is what a good director does.

Everyone will have their own method of analyzing, so I present these guidelines as something you may want to include. If it isn’t complete enough for you, find more about analysis on the internet. (See “Resources,” below.)

The first reading is key. Always be mindful of how you reacted to this  first reading.  (BTW: There is no “correct” way to feel about it as long as you deal with what is there and what clues the author provides.)

Briefly, here are some points to consider:

o   First impressions

o   Context

o   Plot

o   How do the characters develop? Do they change? How do they change?

o   What is the language like? Is the language vivid? Does it paint pictures for the audience? Can they see the scenes taking place?

o   Is it too long? Can you cut it without destroying the original meaning?

o   Too short? Are there other short pieces you can include with it? (You must have a reason for adding something else. It must help unify the whole program.)


First impressions

We’ve been using The Charge of the Light Brigade as an exercise. (You can read the poem online. It’s fairly short.)  Here are some of the questions I asked my students when I began this project for a workshop I held in a local theater.

HINT: There are no right or wrong answers.

  • As you read the poem, gather your first impressions.
  • How did it make you feel? Were there secondary emotions Mark the script to show where this occurred.
  • What is the author saying? What did he intend?
  • What is the tone? Satiric? Moody? Tragic? Brave? Ironic?
  • What is the author’s point of view? War is a noble enterprise? War is hell? War is a necessary evil? War brings out the brave? War only works when people are willing to follow orders?

Put it in a context

What does it mean – what is the context? The poem didn’t just happen. Something inspired the author to write it. In this case, the context was a Poet Laurette of Britten commemorating the bravery of English soldiers in a losing battle.

In our poem, the context is made up of:

  • Crimean War – 1853-1856 – Battle of Balaclava.
  • One of the last times light cavalry was used in a major war.
  • War fought over the rights of Christians and minorities in the Holy Land.
  • It also was the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, though that is not part of the poem, but it helps to know why this war was fought.
  • It was a major tactical blunder:

o   Miscommunication.

o   They were in a valley and their leader, Lord Raglan, didn’t have the right information. Charge ahead and wipe out the Russians – but they were surrounded and were sitting ducks.

o   Yet the men did what every good and brave soldier does: follows orders. Too bad the orders were wrong.

  • Russians won the battle. The 600 plus in the British light brigade were almost completely wiped out.


What happens in this poem?

o   We want to convey that:

  • they were brave,
  • they followed orders,
  • they took losses,
  • but that they acted like heroes

What is the poem about?

This poem was written by the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom about the 600 plus light cavalry soldiers who fought the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War (1854) against Russian soldiers. Because of miscommunication to their leader, Lord Cardigan, the Russians had the brigade surrounded. Almost all of the soldiers were killed in the Russian victory. The poem commemorated the bravery of these soldiers who followed orders in spite of the outcome.


Studying the language the author uses, the words he or she chose, the rhythms, the imagery, the mood the words convey, is a topic of discussion that is way too long for a short article. Find works written about oral interpretation of literature for more on this subject.


Cadence was interesting to me – cadence in this poem sounds like a horse’s canter

Horse rhythm – conveys movement, relentless movement. Reading at least some of it emphasizing this cadence will help listeners hear the cavalry.

Language and color

Color doesn’t always mean a hue or a shade or a tint, though it can. It can also mean a vivid, colorful background.

  • Cannon booming – Here, it “creates a sense of unrelenting assault, as if every cannon is a soldier meeting a bullet”
  • Cannon echoing off the walls of the valley
  • Repetition – what words and phrases are repeated? Why do you think the author repeated them? To what effect? What would you do to bring out these effects? To bring them alive?


There’s more

Everyone will analyze literature a little differently and the lengths you go to will depend on what you are looking for, how you were taught to analyze, and your temperament. Some people like to “wing it,” others may like to analyze everything over and over. The point is, this article touched only on an abbreviated way to do it, the idea being that some kind of intelligent going over of literature is necessary before you can stage it. Find what works best for you.


Some sources to check out to get you started and to find your own method of analyzing:

Readers Theatre. Fran Averett Tanner. Second edition. Logan, Iowa. Perfection Learning Corporation. 2002.

Readers Theatre Handbook. Leslie Irene Coger and Melvin R. White. Scott, Foresman and Company. 1967.

Readers Theatre: Toward a Grammar of Practice.  Joanna Hawkins Maclay. New York, Random House. 1971.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Thomas C. Foster. New York, HarperCollins. 2003 and 2014.

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