Please forward this error screen to sharedip-10718025129. 1994, 1996, 1997, 2014 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and shared for any noncommercial purpose as long as no text is altered or omitted. Reader’s theater is often defined by what it is not—no memorizing, no props, in the next room script pdf costumes, no sets.
All this makes reader’s theater wonderfully convenient. Still, convenience is not its chief asset. Like storytelling, reader’s theater can create images by suggestion that could never be portrayed realistically on stage. Space and time can be shrunk or stretched, fantastic worlds can be created, marvelous journeys can be enacted. Reader’s theater frees the performers and the audience from the physical limitations of conventional theater, letting the imagination soar. Enjoy the magic of reader’s theater! Styles There are many styles of reader’s theater.
Readers are arranged in a row or a semicircle, standing up or sitting on high stools. Typically, narrators are placed at one or both ends, and major characters in the center. Scripts can be held in hand or set on music stands. Readers look straight out toward the audience or at an angle, rather than at each other. A very different style, designed for greater appeal to young audiences, has been developed by Chamber Readers, the group that provided my own start in reader’s theater.
Chamber Readers is a professional, nonprofit reader’s theater company in Humboldt County, California, promoting reading and literature since 1975. For most of its first two decades—including my years with the group—it was directed by Jean Wagner, a founding member. Like traditional reader’s theater, the Chamber Readers style is based on the visible use of scripts and the suggestive power of language—but it adds a good deal of movement as well. Though that takes more effort, it’s also more rewarding and involving for both readers and audience. Characters portray the action described in the story. Where possible, the portrayal is literal, with characters moving around the stage much as in a play.
Where necessary, it’s suggestive, as with simple mime devices like walking in place. Though narrators look mostly at the audience, characters look mostly at each other. Scripts in sturdy binders are held in one hand, leaving the other hand free for acting. A set of low stools and perhaps one or more high stools serve as versatile stage scenery or props. The following tips on staging are based on the Chamber Readers style. But remember, these are suggestions only. I hope you’ll feel free to use or develop whatever style will be most enjoyable to you and your readers.
By the way, stage here refers simply to your performance area—which could be the front of a classroom, or an open space in a one-room library, or one end of a school gym or cafeteria. Equipment For reader’s theater, you really need nothing but scripts. Still, a little basic equipment can add a lot. Whatever you use, make sure the pages turn easily. Onstage the binder may also become a prop, standing in for a book, a notepad, the surface of a table. These give the readers a team look, yet are also neutral—so readers can easily change roles in the minds of the audience. The smock can be a simple rectangle of cloth with a head hole, fastened together at the sides.
Stools of chair height are your most useful props. They must be sturdy enough to stand on! One or two should be enough. These too should be sturdy enough to stand on—if you’ll allow such risk in the pursuit of art. I refer to those freestanding, portable room dividers made of two or more panels hinged together. Though not required or even often seen in reader’s theater, they’re fun to use if available, providing alternative ways to handle entrances, exits, and some special effects.
These can sometimes add nice touches—as when a Pied Piper has a tin whistle to play. Script Handling The trick with scripts is to handle them so they can be referred to easily but don’t seriously restrict movement or distract the audience. The script is held by one hand alone, leaving the other hand free for acting. For a relaxed grip, readers simply let the binder spine rest in the palm. Right-handers hold a script with their left hand, left-handers with their right.
But sometimes a reader might have to switch hands, if a particular hand is needed for stage action, or if looking at the script turns the reader’s face too far from the audience. At times, a reader might even have to put the script down! Though readers don’t need to memorize, they should know their parts well enough to look up from their scripts about half the time. When they do look down, it’s only with the eyes, keeping the head straight up. In general, it’s best to look down when starting a sentence rather than when ending it, since the end is where delivery should be strongest. You will have to be flexible in how scripts are used. A character who has to look steeply upward for much of a scene may have to memorize part of the script.
A narrator who has a long speech may have to run a finger down the page to keep the place. A reader who won’t have a hand free to turn a page when needed can instead place that page backward in the binder to get two pages facing. In reader’s theater, you don’t build sets, but you can suggest them. What the narrator describes is made real by the characters’ movements and mime. If a reader opens a door, we see it.
If readers hang ornaments on a Christmas tree, we know right where it is. Stools are among your chief aids for suggesting sets, as well as being practical props. Three low stools in a semicircle can be a dining room. Two low stools close by each other can be a bench in a park, or a roof ridge atop a house. A single high stool can be a throne room. A high stool with a low stool next to it can be a tree to climb, or a mountain. An area with no stools can be anything at all!