Thursday, 18 July 2013

Preparing your script for a First Reading

written by Toksvig

When we do First Readings, it's really useful for us if your script is set out clearly on the page.

For some advice about how you might do this, see this blog post on How To Format Your Script.

In addition to that, it's really useful for us if you take a good look at your stage directions.

Usually, a stage direction is aimed at a director, to help them prepare a production, or at performers, to help them understand what your intentions are for their character at that moment.

They both have plenty of time to read a stage direction as they're going through a script, but in a First Reading, we won't ever have seen the script before.

So what tends to happen is that we're reading at a pace that seems to suit the scene, and then suddenly there's a big stage direction. Everyone stops reading the dialogue out loud, to scan the stage direction and see what it's telling them.

(We could ask someone to read out the stage directions, and then we have to wait while that information goes by. We don't really like asking someone to read out stage directions, because it puts another vocal character into the room, who wouldn't normally be in the show. It can change the natural pace of a scene, which is something we would much rather avoid.)

When preparing a script for a First Reading, it's incredibly helpful if you pare down the stage directions to the bare minimum. That means being extra-strict with yourself, and bearing in mind that you're only losing stage directions for the purposes of this one reading. Afterwards, you can put them all back in again if you want.

(Although you may find that you don't want. That's another great thing which can come out of a First Reading: you might find that you just don't want or need a lot of the stage directions you had put in.)

Here's an example of what this means:

You can take out anything that describes what kind of move a character makes, which is not vital to understanding their intention in the scene. For example, if your script reads:

John: Sheila, I'm not going to tell you again!

John picks up the gun and points it at Sheila, moving towards her with a menacing look in his eye.

Sheila: Don't be ridiculous, John. You're not going to shoot me.

You might want to rework it like this:

John picks up the gun.

John: Sheila, I'm not going to tell you again!

Sheila: Don't be ridiculous, John. You're not going to shoot me.

The actor can just skim the stage direction before they speak, and mime a gun as they say their line, which means there is no loss of pace and we're all very clear what's happening. (Arguably, because of Sheila's line, John's actions are clear even without the stage direction.)

You might also want to think about stage directions that do what the dialogue is already doing, or stage directions that describe location in more than a few words, and so on.

Leave us with just enough to understand, and no more. Because if the dialogue isn't making it clear what's going on in the scene, that is a really useful thing to discover from a First Reading.

Once you get the hang of editing stage directions like this, it's a very quick and easy thing to do, and it will make the reading so much easier for us, and more successful for you.

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