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How to Read a Play

Ways to read a script


BY SARAH GARVEY




hink you know how to read a play? Well, have you ever been in a conversation — or worse, a classroom discussion — where other people read the same play as you sounded like Einstein and you sounded, well, not like Einstein? Yeah, been there, felt that way. The truth is that the people who sound so smart have developed a way of organizing their response to a play. You can do this, too!

With the right tools, your insights have a stronger foundation and stand out more clearly in the gallery of public opinion. Read on; help is on the way!


HOW TO READ A PLAY: DRAMATIC ACTION What is the overall action of the play? What is the central conflict, what do the characters want, what do they do to get it, and at what cost? When expressed, the dramatic action (e.g., to be happy, to exact revenge, to find freedom) needs to encompass all the characters’ pursuits in order to be useful. (Note: This is another way of saying: “The play is about people who …”)

HOW TO READ A PLAY: THEMATIC FOCUS What might the play mean? It’s useful to consider many meanings before focusing on central and orbiting themes. The theme and dramatic action should interrelate — they are two ways of thinking about the same thing. Dramatic action describes characters in conflict; thematic focus describes the meaning extracted from that action and its results. (Note: This is another way of saying: “This is a play about … [fill in the noun, but don’t use “people”].)

HOW TO READ A PLAY: CHARACTER JOURNEY AND RELATIONSHIP Drama is about characters who change. Sometimes characters are driven by a desire for change, other times change is forced upon them. Either way, an effective way to understand a play is to ask, “How, where, and why are the main characters changed from the beginning to the end of the play?” Onstage, relationship is the best way to measure change, impact, and meaning in a play. If relationships don’t change, does anything happen, has anything been affected?




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