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Reading Scripts to Improve Your Skills

By • Jul 21st, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

People sometimes ask me how many play scripts I read. My answer is usually “Not enough.”

I say that because an actor can’t ever really read enough scripts. Ideally an actor would always be at some stage of reading one script or another. But for the community player that isn’t always practical. I know that I don’t reach that lofty standard myself.

I have no formula for how much time an actor should spending reading scripts, other than to simply say “often.” But I can mention how I think they ought to be read, based on what I do when I read them. (All in an effort to keep my theatrical mindset sharp, as it were.)

For starters, I always read a script with a stage in mind. Some may be able to read a script purely for the enjoyment of the story, just as they do a novel. That is great if possible, but as an actor stage conventions are too ingrained in me to ignore them. So when I read, I envision the script being played out on a stage. There are endless possibilities for what stage type, but I am always cognizant that I am reading a play meant for the stage. This keeps me on my toes a bit, especially if specific blocking is not included in the script. (It usually isn’t.) So by visualizing the whole experience of a script, (set, costumes, blocking, lights, audience) I am keeping myself fluent in theatrical language if you will. It keeps me grounded to the medium in which the story was intended to be told.

I also invariably imagine myself playing any, or even all of the characters within a script. Not because I am seeking the next good role for myself. I may of course discover a new dream role in the process, but being able to ever play it is contingent on a local company producing it. No, the bigger advantage to visualizing myself portraying a character when I read a script is broadening my scope. I may not have even the slightest desire to actually play these roles, but by thinking about how I might do so, at least in certain scenes, my theatrical imagination is stretched. Even if all I discover is that I would never want to play such a role, I have still learned something about myself as an actor.

And finally I make sure to read modern as well as older scripts. Reading many scripts from many different eras provides the actor with an informal refresher on the history of theatre. The conventions, structures, plots, devices, language. Even the technology. All are at least somewhat different, and sometimes radically different from generation to generation. By maintaining a familiarity with plays of all eras, (even the lousy ones) I hope to remain flexible, and more able to step into a role in any number of genres from any number of theatrical eras. It is tempting to say “acting is acting,” but if all you read is David Mamet day in and day out, and haven’t picked up a Greek tragedy since high school, you probably won’t find it as easy as you think to step into Antigone.

If it sounds like I am trying to take all the fun out of reading a script, I apologize. That is not my direct intent. However, for the actor, reading a script really can never be just about pure pleasure. After all, chances are if you are reading scripts regularly you have some solid connection to the stage. And based on that connection you probably will end up viewing the material differently than a casual reader even if you don’t intend to.

So my advice is to accept that about yourself when you read your many scripts, and turn that propensity to “study” a script to your advantage. The fun you may miss out on as a reader will certainly by made up for by the amount of fun you have the next time you hit the stage with all of your accumulated knowledge.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

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