The play takes place on a rooftop in South Bay, Boston in the late '60s; a group of "lost girls" has formed a family, of sorts, a la the fabled "Peter Pan" tale. The anti-war protests on the streets below can be heard from up above, and the noise bothers the girls. There are drugs, and then, a boy, lured by the lead girl, "Crow." There is madness and mystery and fear and growth...and death.
Oh, and this evocative setting was created simply by using my imagination and watching a group of actors read lines from a script...no set, no costumes, no movement...just standing at their lecterns when it was time for them to read.
The musical takes place in Manhattan. Across generations; in flashbacks; in present day. There is a dilapidated Lower East Side apartment, young love and murder. There are drugs....friendship....disappointment...discarded dreams. There are the Upper East Side moneyed and privileged families~money doesn't buy happiness, right? And there is betrayal.
There goes my imagination again. Aided and abetted by a different group of actors reading lines and singing beautiful songs; without a set, without costumes. But they created the city and the apartment and Washington Square Park with its chess games. And I went with them and became part of their story.
The font of all shifting knowledge, Wikipedia, says that a "staged reading" of a play is "an intermediate phase between a cold reading, with the cast usually sitting around a table, and a full production. A narrator may read stage directions aloud. The purpose is to gauge the effectiveness of the dialogue, pacing and flow, and other dramatic elements that the playwright or director may wish to adjust."
The significant missing elements in a staged reading are the set and costumes. The scenery and ambiance must be created through the simultaneous efforts of the actors and your imagination. It can be the most satisfying part of the event for me!
Because we all had a "very beginning," especially works of theatre. And I'm discovering that being in on that beginning can be extremely satisfying and great fun, even if you're not sure the baby's going to grow up to be "The Book of Mormon," "Wicked," "Death of a Salesman," or "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."
Long before you settle into your seat (and turn off your cell phone and unwrap your hard candy :)) at a big play or musical on Broadway or on tour in your neighborhood, the work you are about to see has had an infancy, a childhood, an adolescence and probably a quite tumultuous trip through puberty. Along the way, various audiences have seen it grow: at workshops, staged readings, small productions and previews. In fact, your seat in that big theatre was only theoretical for a very long time; it may, in fact, never actually exist, if the show doesn't grow up to be that kind of show.
Because not every show is suited to the big stage. Some are best seen in small, intimate spaces; and some are a complete experience with not one bell or whistle, just great dialogue, intriguing characters and a piano, if it's got music. But even the big shows need a small start. That start may include productions that are open to the public in the form of workshops, staged readings, out-of-NYC runs and special performances. And I've had such great experiences at these kinds of events that I find myself hunting for the next opportunity, and the one after that. To my surprise, I don't automatically assume anymore, when I go to NYC with the primary purpose of seeing theatre, that I will be filling up those "show slots" with only Broadway shows. And I now pay particular attention when I see the word "workshop" or "reading" in an announcement from a theatre, whether in NYC or elsewhere.
I love the feeling of returning to a show with actors I love, or songs I love to hear; it's like slipping on a comfy sweater or taking another spin on that roller coaster that made me squeal with delight. But there is true joy in discovering a brand new sweater or twisty new coaster, and that's the joy I find in watching a new story told in a new way, or an old story seen with new eyes or heard with new voices. I like to think that readings/workshops force my imagination to exercise and stay healthy!!
By the way, some pretty cool encounters can be had at readings...in 2005, I attended a reading at Ford's Theatre in DC, of "My Antonia," a play by Scott Schwartz, with music by his dad, Stephen Schwartz...yes, that Stephen Schwartz; the "Pippin," "Godspell," "Working" one. He played the keyboard for the play. I was giddy just to be in the same room; even giddier when he stayed at the keyboard during the break and graciously signed our programs. It was a small audience, a lovely play and an unforgettable evening. I think it was that night that "readings" began to work their magic on me.
I don't know what the future will hold for "The Crow" by Danielle Mohlman [Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival, 9/1/12] or "The Break" by Scott Davenport Richards & Michele Lowe; [Signature Theatre, 9/2/12]; the two shows that provided the impetus for this post, but I can't wait to find out!
So give a reading or workshop a try...you might love it! And your imagination will thank you!!