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Friday, February 10, 2012

“The Play Is the Thing”: Local Theatre Companies Discover the Fun of Play Readings

By Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Gil Reyes and Julane Havens participate in a play
reading for Savage Rose Classical Theatre
Company. Photo by Sylvia Bruton.
Do the words “play reading” conjure up the classroom? Somnambulant individuals with cups of coffee dryly reciting words from a page without the benefit of rehearsals, not to mention costumes, sets, music, etc. Do you imagine it would be fun? Or does your mind immediately go to an event to be endured, the promise of academic credit the only viable carrot to lure you in?

Perhaps I overstate the dour expectation and am not giving enough credit to the general public, but the truth is that I have attended a few play readings in recent months and they mostly draw an audience of theatre insiders, if they draw any audience at all; and each was offered free of charge!

The dirty little secret of such occasions is that they may very well be the best theatre value in town. Three examples illustrate the rewards of taking a chance on material less-practiced but still engaging on so many levels.

Tom Schulz and Tony Prince read for
Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company.
Photo by Sylvia Bruton.
One example was a true “event”:  an October 2011 reading of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, produced to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the original production. Performed by a large cast representing a variety of local theatre groups, but formally organized by Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble and Theatre [502}, it took place on the stage of the Iroquois Amphitheater, a neat bit of synergy since both the amphitheater and the original production 1936, which opened simultaneously in 22 American cities, were both Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) projects. The Iroquois stage has been slightly revamped to serve very effectively as a black box performance space called Parkside Studio, and the staging used the broad length of the room to line up principal players at rostrums facing the audience. It was a fascinating and highly entertaining presentation of a script that spoke to the current political climate, although, in truth, it also sounded at times a bit dated and obvious. Still the all-star cast brought force and conviction to the effort, despite the paucity of formal rehearsal, being inventive and lithe enough to find vitality in the playing. J.R. Stuart, executing the genial but iron-fisted political candidate, was arguably the closest to delivering a fully developed performance, so vivid was his duplicitous rhetoric.

Pandora Productions uses the format to solicit reaction to original material it is considering for full production in the coming season. Staged with some limited rehearsal time at The Bard’s Town, a half-dozen segments, each cut from a full-length script, are prepared by individual directors and presented with some blocking and minimal props, making these the most “produced” of the three examples cited herein, but still well short of finished.  On three dates throughout their current season, audiences have been afforded the opportunity to vote on their favorites and influence which play will be given a complete production in the future.  The writing overall was pretty good, revealing a disciplined process that nonetheless is spontaneous enough in the playing to satisfy and delight audiences.

More rough and tumble is the ongoing “Words, Words, Words” series from Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company. Like Pandora, Artistic Director J. Barrett Cooper is also exploring potential material for productions, having mounted a full production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle one year after a public reading, but, as with It Can’t Happen Here, the material is from another time period. This company’s mission focuses on staging classical theatre ranging from Elizabethan drama and Jacobean tragedies to Edwardian comedies such as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, now in rehearsal for a full rendering opening March 9. Since it began in October 2009, most of the series has taken place at Walden Theatre, where the approach has been loose and improvisatory. The idea that the actors have not spent any time studying the script beforehand has fostered an inventiveness that has often resulted in comic gold, with some ingenious impromptu blocking by keen-eyed thespians discovering the text for the first time. Coffee and other refreshments are usually offered, and all for no charge, although donations are encouraged.

So when the opportunity next arises, I would encourage anyone to give these modest but rewarding enterprises a try. They cost nothing and may just surprise you. Savage Rose is next up, with a reading of Cupid’s Revenge this Sunday night. And Pandora has one more entry in the New Play Project series on April 15. Both offer audiences entertaining insight into the creative process as well as a voice in deciding future productions.

Savage Rose Classical Theatre:  "Words, Words, Words"
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage at Walden Theatre
1123 Payne Street, Louisville, KY 40204
ADMISSION IS FREE
($3-$5 donation encouraged)

Cupid's Revenge
by Beaumont & Fletcher
February 12, 2012 – 7 p.m.

Law Against Lovers
by William Davenant
February 19, 2012 – 7 p.m.

Edward II
by Christopher Marlowe
April 29, 2012 – 7 p.m.
http://new.savagerosetheatre.com/

Pandora Prodouctions' New Play Project
The Bard's Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road
April 15, 2012 – 7:30 p.m.
ADMISSION IS FREE
http://www.pandoraprods.org/OurProductions/20112012SeasonProductions/tabid/956/Default.aspx



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