Fun and French, in a Cold Read

I spent the past two nights getting together with large groups of actors and reading aloud a couple plays. It was an informal gathering put together to explore these scripts as possible candidates for production. We were all assigned multiple parts, had some drinks and snacks, sat in a circle and dug in.

The first night’s play included numerous dialects, some singing and some foreign language. (This was a cold read for most of us, so there was some foreign language faking going on.) Last night’s was much tamer in that regard.

The fun of it, of course, was the discovery and the challenge. Other than the title and the authors’ names, I wasn’t familiar with either script, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Cold readings can be difficult – having to make quick choices, on the spot, about intention, attitude, relationships, character, all only based on what’s in front of you at the moment, not knowing where anything’s going.

Some times that’s a good thing. Some times you choose incorrectly.

After the readings we discussed it all – what we liked, what we didn’t, how produce-able it might be, what kind of audience it might garner, whether it’s right for this company and their audience, etc….. Lots and lots of opinions were thrown out, but there was also much agreement, and good discussion within the group. The conversation was cordial, professional and productive. There were no egos, no arguments and nothing personal.

(I’m not surprised by any of that behavior, I’m only reminded that I see it so little elsewhere.)

I learned a couple things through this exercise.

I learned I can’t always think on my feet well enough to sound clear and smart at the same time in group discussions. (I feel I usually can, but these couple night’s challenged that notion.) Life might move too fast for me, and I like to consider and explore materials when reading them. Or perhaps my mind moves too quickly, jumping to ideas, and I inadvertently skim things I shouldn’t. Or maybe I’m not as bright as I think. No…that’s not it.

Also, I learned, or re-learned, that I have a pretty solid skill of doing some accents, and many I can just toss out, on the fly, without thinking about them. While this includes a few British, Irish, Italian, Russian, Chicago, New York, ranges of Southern US and perhaps a few others, it does not include French. I don’t know why, but I can’t just jump into a French accent unless I’m improvising dialogue. On night one I had to read a character with a “slight French accent” and I started trying one, but as soon as I heard it fluctuate to some Eastern European (probably to a country that no longer exists) I gave up. I couldn’t read and accent at the same time.

But mostly I learned that this kind of thing should happen more often. At any given time I probably know several dozen actors who could be available on a Tuesday night to get together to read a script. Even if people aren’t right for the part, it doesn’t matter. Hearing a script out loud is how scripts are supposed to be heard. Hearing actors put some life (even incomplete, or slightly off-the-mark-in-a-cold-reading life) into the playwright’s words is illuminating. And getting together to practice, discuss and enjoy the process isn’t so bad either.

Every time an opportunity like this comes up I wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. Perhaps it’s time it does.

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