You’ve just survived the painful experience of casting the play and your chosen actors are assembled for the first read through. You would love it if they’ve actually read the play, thought about it and got to know their characters a bit, but just having read it would be ok for now!
You all sit in a circle …. now what? This can be one of the most awkward moments and it’s easy to fill the awkward silence by rabbiting on about your vision, how you see the set and the costumes, what you think it’s all about and many other valuable insights you’ve collected over the months you’ve been working on the play. But don’t do that, it’s really not the right time! People are nervous – get them reading pretty quickly! They don’t want to listen to the director (not too much anyway) – they just hope they don’t sound foolish or pronounce that strange word on page 24 incorrectly (they will – ignore it).
So what is it that you need to achieve on a first read through?
You want to tell them the ground rules (be on time!) and give them the rehearsal schedule
You want your cast to meet each other
Everyone wants to hear the play spoken through in its entirety
You want your cast to start getting an idea of the structure of the play, the characters, the feel of it
It’s an opportunity to break the ice a little – keep it light
You’d love to hear their ideas (assuming they’ve had any)
If you were working with professional actors you certainly would expect some ideas! But with youth groups and amateurs the chances are they haven’t spent much time thinking about it (there are always exceptions to this – thank goodness!) I remember a read through with an amateur adult group years ago where I had prepared some questions to prompt discussion afterwards.Each prompt was greeted with blank looks all round. The idea of actually discussing the play was obviously alien. They must have thought I was mad. The atmosphere went from relief (thank goodness the first read through is out the way) to horror (she wants us to do WHAT?). Eventually I gave up feeling like I’d just committed the terrible sin of taking it all too seriously. But, truth is, if you want a good production you have to think big and deep (as well as having a jolly good time and a lot of fun).
Get the house-keeping out the way first – rules, expectations about time keeping (why is it so hard?) and rehearsal schedule. In fact I usually mention rehearsal nights at audition – this is no time for your lead actor to say ‘but I play darts/ babysit / have singing lessons on a Wednesday’.
If you have a style in mind that is unusual and you cast would benefit at this stage from knowing about it do tell them – but keep it short and sweet!
Get everyone introduced actor + character
Make sure you have a spare person to read in the part of the person who can’t be there because they’re busy tonight (but definitely won’t be after this week)
Have someone read all the stage directions
Don’t read in any parts yourself – just listen
Encourage brief discussion on any important moments after each scene, but not to the point where talking about it becomes a substitute for reading the play! Keep it in check, (but do try and get a general understanding of what the scene was about!)
Someone will invariably say ‘what’s my costume like?’ Don’t be sidetracked! There will be time for that later.
Encourage your cast to go for it! No need to hold back just because it’s ‘only a read-through’.
Have fun, but not at anyone’s expense
Let your cast know exactly what you expect from them in terms of commitment
Talk too much
Start correcting pronunciation or intonation
Embarrass anyone in front of the others
Stop half way – make sure you allow time to get through the play
Sometimes I get the cast to read through whilst walking about the stage. No exits/entrances or blocking (please … no blocking), just walking. It can work better than sitting down, somehow the actors don’t feel so vulnerable. Decide what works best for you.
Phew! You got through it!
It really should be fun, but often is a struggle – it really depends on your cast and how well they know each other.
Make sure they know what happens next …. onwards to Offbeat Directing 7a: Who Does What?