Now that you know to go virtual (check out my last blog post here) do you know the steps of development? Are you making the most out of your readings?

As a professional theater maker, you need to know what must happen at each step of your script’s developmental journey, and how to get the right audience into the [virtual] room.

What’s the Goal?

If you don’t know the goal, any step will take you there – but you’ll spend way too much money trying to figure it out if you don’t plan out a strategy at the very beginning.

Know your goals before taking the first step, but also know the NEXT step before planning this one.

Usually a table reading is a good first step. It is necessary to “hear” your play read by others, and listen to the feedback afterward. Does it “work”? What are some specific questions that you have – can your readers help you with them? At this stage you’re checking for resonance and engagement. Resist the temptation to listen to each piece of “advice” unless at least three people comment on the same thing, and do a quick “gut check” to see if you agree with them. Important: record the feedback to analyze later.

What would be the next step after this? Another table reading to see if the changes made the script better.

Staged Readings

Staged readings can take place online or in person. Zoom readings are more efficient (and cheaper) and have the added convenience of assembling a team from around the world. If you have a “star” actor or director, this is a good choice, and your online reading should be recorded and shared for archival purposes (more on that later). Check with your AEA representative first regarding union rules of recording readings, since they may have changed.

For musicals, edited staged readings that include prerecorded songs are best. Make sure that you have permission to add your video clips to your website, social media and YouTube accounts.

Sometimes it’s best to produce an in person staged reading. Online readings are tricky for scripts that require a lot of physical comedy and/or lots of physical action. An in person staged reading can make your musical come to life if you arrange your music stands in groups that accommodate “blocking” and can even convey a sense of movement that approximates choreography. Also, for musicals it’s often easier for audiences to feel for the protagonist when they’re “live” (physically in the same room) than when distanced over the internet. However, because of the much greater expense you should only plan an in person staged reading when you’re sure your script “works” by testing it over a few zoom readings.

Plan for this at least four months ahead, as planning is critical. Casting, reserving studio/theatre space, and cultivating the right audience to show up is critical! Don’t underestimate the amount of time, promotion and expense that this may entail. It’s best if you have an interested producing partner (theater, producer, relative) to share the burdens of planning and expenses.

Common goals for a staged reading are:

  • Find out something about the script, music, dance ( the performative elements)
  • Promote your show for a higher level of audience (producers, ADs, possible investors)
  • Use the reading to get a better sizzle reel to show off your work online (YouTube, website, social media)
  • Use the reading as a chance to “test out” a director or lead actor to see if you want to include them on your ongoing team or to see if they “get” your work,

Do NOT plan a staged reading if your show needs editing or if you know there are still “problems.” An in person reading should only be used if you think your show is “good to go” and want to get it in front on influential people. Otherwise, stick to table reads, where the real work can be done.

Don’t forget to engage a videographer to record your reading for archival purposes! It will help you move to the “next step.”

Final Developmental Readings

Do the best quality staged reading you can afford when you believe you are ready to be produced. After the “29-hour” staged readings above, AEA tiers are used for the development of new works (especially musicals) usually prior to an intended planned production. These tier agreements replace what used to be called the Staged Reading Contract, the Developmental Lab and the Workshop agreements. Although these readings are pricey, they allow for video recordings. Usually these Tier AEA readings would only be held if there is a production already in the works, with a commercial producer or regional theater taking the lead.

This is the top of the development chain, and it means your next step is a full production. Although plays may also use the tiers, I find that they are more useful in the development of new musicals.

New plays are new musicals that are not represented by a commercial producer or a regional theater may still move on to a full production, but these are usually developmental productions like those using an AEA Showcase Code and/or those shows in a Festival.

More on Showcases and Festivals next week!

Have questions? Comment below!