A play’s reading is often a chance for authors to hear the words they wrote materialize for the first time as sound and embodied interactions between performers, while a friendly audience is tested for reactions to the dramatic piece. If the playwrights are alive and present, it’s essential for a director and the actors to coordinate with the authors as much as possible in rehearsal and ensure that their meaning, references, and intentions are fully understood and conveyed in performance.
Generally, for a basic reading a director needs to work especially on clarity, rhythm, and the precision of dialogic exchanges. A frequent advice I give performers is to promptly pick up their interlocutor’s cues or otherwise aim for an expressive pause, but avoid otherwise ambiguous interruptions in the textual flow. Even so, I ask them to also build some degree of rapport with their partners and the audience, with their gestures, bodily postures, and frequent glances to the real people in the room.
However, as a creative director, I always approach a staged reading not just as the early concretization of a play beyond the written page but also as an opportunity for some degree of spectacle. All props and objects, such as lecterns, chairs, or scripts and their physical pages should become part of the action, while music or visual projections contextualize the play and operate as imaginative, not literal triggers. I have experimented with various assemblages of verbal and visual cues in my readings for La Micro and its festivals of Chilean and Latin American dramatists.
In some cases, I was able to make the visual component even more interactive, for example when I asked visual artists to perform live the act of drawing the characters described in detail in the stage directions, such as in Pirandello’s The Giants of the Mountain.