There are few scarier and more exciting times for a playwright than to hear a new play read for the first time. If you're doing your job, you've probably said the words more than a dozen times, but to hear an actor give voice to them, making choices and interpreting what you write, this moves you to a whole new stage in playwriting.
"You thought the character meant that when I intended the opposite?" "You didn't understand the premise of the play because it's too much in my head and not enough on the page?" "You hated it?" All right, getting "I hated it" as a note doesn't help much of anything, but the other notes (and so many more) do. They should, anyway. The writing is important, but the rewriting, that's where you decide if you're going to be a good writer or not, if you can keep sculpting this piece into all that you want it to be.
Typically, the best way to do this is to get some actors in a room, read it, and talk about it. For me, though, I'm now living far away from many of the very talented actors I know. What to do?
The answer is technology.
In the last two weeks, I've had four separate Google Hangouts* where I read my new play "The Starving." I had actors in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco participating, all from the comfort of their own homes, and it was a fantastic experience! Not only was I able to hear and see the actors reading the play, but by working it online, I was able to have multiple readings with multiple drafts, updating with notes after every hangout.
Once an issue from the first reading was addressed, I could move on to clarifying and refining, doing the real work on my play. Once the changes were made,
I didn't have to take time to find a room, print up scripts, and coordinate actors' schedules; I was able to get immediate feedback on the new draft from a whole new group of actors. It was a full-on workshopping of a play that I could organize with just a few emails at a cost of zero dollars.
Maybe every playwright is doing Google Hangouts* to hear their work read and I'm super late to the party, but the actors for my readings had never done this sort of thing before and many of them told me how much they enjoyed the process.
I agree and I know I'll be doing the same thing with my next few plays. And they'll be better plays for it!
*No, Google Hangouts is not a sponsor of this website. It just worked best for this project!