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Tips on Reading

By Aaron Shepard

(RT TIPS ~ Part 3)

Part of the booklet Readers on Stage, Shepard Publications, 2003, and also printed in an earlier version in California Reader, Winter 1995

A revised and expanded version can be found in the later, book-length edition of Readers on Stage.


For more reader’s theater, visit Aaron Shepard’s RT Page at
www.aaronshep.com/rt

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose as long as no text is altered or omitted.


Preparing
Rehearsing
Performing

Mumble, mumble,
Stop and stumble.
Pages turn
And readers fumble.

Book cover: Readers on StageIf this sounds like a description of your reader’s theater attempts, try giving your readers the following tips.

Preparing

First, here are instructions your readers can follow—individually or in a group—to prepare their scripts and get familiar with their parts.

  • Highlight your speeches in your copy of the script. Mark only words you will speak—not role tags or stage directions. (Yellow non-fluorescent marker is best.)

  • Underline words that tell about anything you’ll need to act out—words in either the stage directions or other readers’ speeches. If you’re given extra stage directions later, write them in the margin with pencil.

  • Read through your part silently. If there are words you’re not sure of, look them up in a dictionary. If there are words you must remember to stress, underline them. If there are places you’ll need to pause, mark them with a couple of slashes, //. (For instance, you may have to pause so the audience will know there’s a change of scene or time in the story.)

  • Read through your part out loud. If you’re a character, think about how that character would sound. Should you try a funny voice? How would the character feel about what’s happening in the story? Can you speak as if you were feeling that?

  • Get up and read through the script again, trying out faces and actions. Would your character stand or move a special way? Can you do that? If possible, do all this in front of a mirror.

Even before you give your readers their scripts, you can help them by reading to them the script or its source story. Effective modeling will give them a head start against any difficulties. You may also want to discuss the difference between characters and narrators. (“In the story, character parts are inside the quotation marks, and narrator parts are outside.”)

Rehearsing

Here are pointers your readers should remember both in rehearsal and performance.

  • Hold your script at a steady height, but make sure it doesn’t hide your face. If there’s anyone in the audience you can’t see, your script is too high.

  • While you speak, try to look up often, not just at your script. When you do look at it, move just your eyes and keep your head up.

  • Talk slowly. Speak each syllable clearly.

  • Talk loud! You have to be heard by the little old deaf lady in the back row.

  • Talk with feeling. Audiences love a ham!

  • Stand and sit straight. Keep your hands and feet still, if they’re doing nothing useful!

  • If you’re moving around, face the audience as much as you can. When rehearsing, always think about where the audience will be.

  • Characters, remember to be your character even when you’re not speaking.

  • Narrators, make sure you give the characters enough time for their actions.

To help your readers get full vocal power, have them check their breathing by placing their hands on their stomachs and inhaling. If they’re breathing fully, their hands will go out. (The diaphragm muscle pushes down on the stomach to let the lower lungs expand.) If their hands go in, it means they’re breathing with only their upper lungs.

To help your readers hold themselves straight, ask them to imagine a string tied to their chest, pulling up. Tongue twisters and other vocal exercises can help them speak more clearly. In fact, you may want to warm up your readers with vocal exercises and stretches before your rehearsals and performances.

Performing

Before an actual performance, discuss with your readers the “what-ifs.”

  • If the audience laughs, stop speaking until they can hear you again.

  • If someone talks in the audience, don’t pay attention.

  • If someone walks into the room, don’t look.

  • If you make a mistake, pretend it was right.

  • If you drop something, try to leave it at least till the audience is looking somewhere else.

  • If a reader forgets to read, see if you can read their part instead, or make something up, or maybe just skip over it. But don’t whisper to the reader!

  • If a reader falls on their rear end, pretend they didn’t.

Finally, a couple of reminders for the director: Have fun, and tell your readers what they’re doing well!