Anatomy of a Table Read

Posted in Legends, Production Updates
The First Table Read for "Legends (in ten minutes or less)"

The First Table Read

As a director, I like to jump right into working on a play.  Getting actors up and moving before the Table Read.  That is until I encountered an actor who really needed one and for good reason (which I’ll get into later).  Suffice it to say that table reads are important for companies.  For playwrights, table reads are so beneficial that we do two of them at New Play Cafe.

Dramaturge Jessica Ordon

The first one in our process is done with playwrights, directors, producers and a dramaturge when we’re lucky enough to have one.  At this table read, everyone is looking for something different.  Playwrights are often hearing their plays with voices, other than the ones in their heads, for the first time; directors are looking for what works; and producers are concerned with all of that as well as the props, scenery and special effects. Of course, the dramaturge is looking to be the advocate for each play.

At New Play Cafe, we don’t use actors for the first table read.  Not because we don’t like actors but because we don’t have them chosen yet; in some cases, we haven’t chosen the plays yet.  We never want to make promises we can’t keep (bad for actors) or make casting choices too early (bad for playwrights). We think that if a play sounds good with non-actors reading it, then it’s probably in pretty good shape.

Typical Table Read scenario

Typical Table Read scenario

Last week, we put seven playwrights in a room — graciously provided by Carla Nell of InnerMission Productions — to hear plays we were about 90% intent on choosing.  We wanted to hear the words, meet the playwrights, and ask a few questions.  We also wanted to make sure everyone understood the promises we could make — and the ones we couldn’t — about their plays.  As one of our producers said, “we just want everyone to know that no one has two heads before we choose the plays.”

Our Directors discussing which plays they want

Our Directors discussing which plays they want

Theatre is a collaboration and sometimes the playwright has to make the hardest choices about his/her play.  We want to know going in what’s on the table and what the deal-breakers are.  Luckily, there were no  deal breakers last week. The playwrights were excited, the directors impressed, and the producers happy.  Our Dramaturge, Jessica Ordon, was impressed and eager to help.

So we chose all seven plays, one more than we intended on doing (read playwrights’ bios here). We did so because, after the read, we realized how quickly some of the plays moved and had room for a Dark Horse play that was right on the bubble.

In case you’re wondering, we place the plays on a private blog, accessible only to the producers, directors and dramaturge.  Everyone reads the play and, in the comments, writes “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”  The votes are tallied the top plays are invited to the first Table Read.

We’re very happy with the plays and love the playwrights.  We’re eager to now match the actors with the plays and use that particular bit of geometry that includes the order of the plays, the number of actors, the sharing of said actors, and the three toughest things about rehearsing: scheduling, scheduling, and scheduling.

Table Reading

Table Reading

Once we get the whole company chosen, we’re going to do the Table Read again.  The playwrights will have had an opportunity to apply any changes from the first read and the actors will have their first crack at roles roles.  In a production with multiple short plays, it’s important for actors know where they sit in the production and, because we will shortly break up into our individual casts, hear the plays they’re not in.  This is good for tone setting, something that our directors will be doing in the days to come. The other great thing is that actors can ask the playwrights more specific questions about their parts than have been asked to date.

More on this fun process soon!


Kevin Six is a co-founder of New Play Cafe. He works as an actor and writer.