We did the semi-staged reading of my play One Bear Lake last night. I say semi-staged reading because it was literally the first complete read-through of the material, and only one of the actors had seen the play in its entirety before hand. A few of the others had seen and performed bits and pieces here and there in various workshop environments. Thankfully, they’re all super talented, and they settled into the material from the opening bell. It was so much fun watching them bring their own little touches to their individual characters. I’ll list them below so they can take their much-deserved bows.
The storyline features three siblings and their spouses, which means beyond being able to competently read and deliver lines, there has to be a chemistry between all the characters in order to make the material believable. I was fortunate to have that kind of group because the overwhelming response from the audience was “this reminds me so much of my family,” or “I could totally see this happening with my family.” Which, given how outrageous and rare the concept of the story is, says a lot about the folks doing the reading. Many thanks to them for lending their talents to my work.
For those of you who’ve never attended a reading before, do it at least once in your life. I go to as many as I can. I find it one of the coolest artistic events ever. It’s a play in its rawest form, and the audience gets to participate in the development of the work. I didn’t get an official count, but I’m guessing we had close to 30 people, counting the cast, at the reading. If you’ve ever seen a behind the scenes show about a sitcom or television drama, you’re probably familiar with the table-read, where the cast and crew sits around and reads the script for an upcoming episode. That’s very much what this is like. After the reading, everyone gives their feedback. You get comments on what worked, and what needs tweaking. People will comment on structure and character. Some in attendance are just fans of theater while others are involved in theater production, so you get a great variety of perspectives on all aspects of the material. I’ve been writing in some capacity for 30-years and this is by far the most rewarding and collaborative writing medium. If you’re a writer, my advice to you is to get involved in a theater/playwright group. You’ll never have more fun putting words to paper.
What I learned from last night’s reading is that the family dynamic of the play works. The humor works. The few dramatic scenes were received well. In fact, it was suggested that I go to the drama a little sooner in the story to give it more balance. Right now, it’s frontloaded with humor and the tearjerker material comes in the last third of the play. The puzzling part about readings is you will get competing opinions. I had a few audience members who told me privately that they liked the current balance between humor and drama, so my job now is to engage my spidey-senses and rewrite accordingly. Frankly, I think it does need an “almost dramatic” scene earlier in the play, for no other reason than to let the audience know that you are going to dive deeper at some point in the story.
My goal was to tell a story that reflects the reality that even though they’re raised in the same family, each sibling goes through their own shit, and they come out of it with completely different childhoods. Thanks to last night’s reading, I know I’m just a few tweaks away from achieving that goal.
The Talented Cast (in order of appearance):
Lily – Blair Cadden
Paul – Ian Bonner
Freddy – Jason Olson
Rachel – Kate Tooley
Tom – Robert Frank
Gayle – Sarah Daniels
And let us not forget the very lovely and talented Mia Ridley reading stage directions impeccably.
Many thanks to all those who braved the cold and attended, and a special thanks to 5th Wall Productions for hosting and facilitating the reading. If you’re in the Charleston area, they have a new play opening on February 19 called Like Drowning by Brian Petti. It was first featured in their Rough Draft Readings program, so when I say “new,” I mean new as in debut. How exciting is that?
BTW – I also got reports that the carrot cake was delicious, so thanks to Publix for their baking skills.