Friday, May 15, 2015


I have been sending out posts for seven weeks and I am pleased that readers from eight countries have looked at them.  While you can learn a bit about me from my bio and other internet sources, nothing will tell you how I approach the reading of a play. 

A play for me is a blueprint to create a theatre experience.  No matter how excellent a script may be on the printed page, it is not complete until it is presented in front of an audience. A play goes through a detailed production process with collaborative contributions from many different types of theatre artists in order to arrive at the point of presentation to the public.  The need for the collaborative process is one of the significant activities that differentiates a play from a novel. When reading a novel, the author tells the reader everything one must know and describes each detail that has significance to the plot.  A novel is a communication between two people.  Since a novel conveys a detailed verbal description of everything the reader should know, it contains 100 percent verbal density.   

A play does not have 100 per cent verbal density since it is expected that the audience will gain a significant amount of understanding and information from visual details as it is being presented. The script may contain some descriptions of environment, clothes, social manners, characters’ personal mannerisms, etc., but these details are all further developed by the director, designers and actors for a specific production.  When you see the same play produced by a different theatre company, you will never see the exact details you saw previously.  

No one is attempting to diminish the work of the playwright, but the goal is to add to the work through research and interpretation of the script.  Since the playwright is not the final arbiter of every detail, there is less verbal density than the amount in a novel.   That does not mean all plays have the same fixed amount of verbal density.  The amount of specified details vary from playwright to playwright, period in which the play was written, genre of the play and style of play.  When I use the term genre, I am referring to its designation as a comedy, tragedy, farce, tragicomedy, etc.  By the use of the term style, I refer to “isms” such as romanticism, realism, naturalism, surrealism, expressionism, etc.  

Theatre is a joint creative effort by artists of different types of talents and the playwright is the initial force in the creative process.  So the verbal density depends on the playwright’s style of communication.  There is no prescribed verbal density scale for playwrights to follow.  Obviously it is less than 100 percent, but most plays have at least fifty percent and as much as ninety.

When I read a play for the first time, I am looking for its impact on me intellectually and emotionally. If a play grabs me at particular moments and it makes me feel visceral responses, I want to remember those initial special reactions.  Are the major characters interesting and why? Am I absorbed by the storyline?  Does the play have theatrical elements that I admire?    I always consider whether the story has meaning for our lives today and if so why?  What new insights about living does this play have for me?  

When a play captures my interest, I want to learn more about the playwright.  I am always curious about how the play fits into this individual’s career path, how the play was received by audiences and reviewers initially, plus how the play fits into the period in which it was written.  


In the case of the World War One plays, even one piece of basic information may lead to a valuable amount of knowledge. The date when the play was written allows me to learn if the play relates to a real war incident. It reveals a time when either changing social or political conditions resulting from the war were of a concern. The year when the play was written informs me about how the playwright may be experimenting with the emerging style of expressionism. The date also helps me understand at which point in the playwright’s career the play was written and how it made an impact on it.

Many individuals have told me they find it difficult to read a play.  It takes practice to become at ease with the format. It is important to know which character is speaking at all times since each character’s background, level of education, ideas, speech patterns and expressions reveal a lot of information about the individual.   After reading plays for a while, it becomes no more difficult than reading a novel.  Since many full-length plays adhere to the prescribed time span of normally one and a half to two hours playing time, one may usually finish reading a full-length play within a two hour time span. 

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