Friday, June 20, 2008

Table reading

Last Wednesday, I held the first of a two part rewrite workshop for writers who submitted scripts to the residency. I had asked some of the writers whom I'd met to go over their submissions to send me a 5 page excerpt from their script to work on during the workshop.

What I hadn't told them was that I was bringing in some actors to read these excerpts aloud. Table reads are a ruthlessly useful tool in script development. Having good actors read not only the dialogue but the stage directions gives you a sense of the flow of the piece, how easy it is to follow and how well things are working.

What I told each writer whose work was being read to do was try to mark in their copy of the script anything that worked with a check mark and anything that didn't with an a x. After the reading, I asked the writer how they felt. Rather than getting into an evaluation of the script, it is important, I think, to examine how we felt through the reading. It was difficult for most of the writers to get in touch with those feelings--other than perhaps terror at unknowingly allowing their work to be read aloud to other writers--but when they could I think it was a useful clue at assessing the script. Once you figure out how you feel, then you can start figuring out what you want to do.

In fact, I feel that's true for all kinds of feedback. It's important not to take it at face value, and especially not to do what someone suggests, until you've figured out what they're actually flagging in your script. Perhaps they felt confused. It's important to know that, before deciding anything else.

It was, I believe, a useful exercise for the writers involved and even the writers whose work wasn't read appreciated the opportunity to get in touch with their own feelings about the scripts. Moreover, the actors' feedback was invaluable. They can tell you so much about how your characters are working, in terms of plausibility, and most importantly PLAYability.

After the readings, I went over what I believe is the next stage in the process, distilling the essence of what you've written in your first draft, to the basic story, which I'll describe in a future post.

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