The Game Changer
The purpose of this first mass missive is to promote Cold Reads as an answer to the monotony of these troubled times—thanks to my recent discovery of ONLINE VIDEO CHATS. They add a whole new dimension to the game—especially now, when all the things that usually gobble up our time are on hold. While we can’t be all together in one place, we can read face-to-(digital)-face with anybody—anywhere in the world, in the comfort of our homes.
Heard It All Before?
I’ve been preaching Cold Reads for over a decade, but all too few of you participate. If you really, frankly, simply “didn’t have the time” before and find yourself now jonesing for something to do, skip this pitch and give it a go.
- Download a play from the Catalog,
- contact some friends to set a time,
- send scripts to those who can attend,
- gather in a chat room, and read.
And PLEASE, give me some feedback.
Better still, join this blog, connect with other readers, become part of our movement to make this game go (dare I say it?) VIRAL. My vision is a world in which all people everywhere read a plays as often as they go to church or play golf.
New to the Game?
You have three options:
Explore this blog. It’s a work in progress, sometimes fragmentary and ridiculously redundant, all in need of pruning—especially Why Read Plays?—but everything you’ll ever need to know about the Cold Reads game is here. Feel free to visit, follow, join, and share events, spread the word. Or…
Read the rambling nutshell pitch below. Or…
- Ignore this missive altogether. If you ask, I’ll remove your name from my Cold Reads contact list.
So What’s a Cold Read?
For starters, click on Hamlet (right) for Albert Dulin’s 3 ½ minute take on Cold Reads, a brilliant introduction to the concept—a silly slideshow that touches all the whys and hows and leads to excerpts from an actual reading of his play, Doctor Rocket’s Last Night On Earth, and winds up with a rousing, symphonic tumble of aptly adulterated images that bring it all home.
The game gets its name from psychic hustlers who “read”people’s lives from subtle tells and signals. Actors (like myself) use it to describe auditions for plays we’ve never read, discovering our characters from clues in the dialogue. Over time its meaning has expanded to apply to all similar circumstances, from reading aloud in school to teleprompted evening news and politics.
Basically, a cold read happens when at least two, up to a dozen like-minded friends (or strangers) get together to read a play—aloud, without rehearsing—for fun and cultural profit, and for no one but ourselves (no audience). In its purest form, our game presumes a play we’ve never read or seen, although that’s not a rule. We assume roles regardless of sex, age, or stereotype, swapping off frequently so everybody reads the leads, and doubling up for crowd scenes. Anyone can interject at any time to ask a question, make an observation, share a thought—sometimes a conversation. At some point someone reads (aloud) the next line in the script, and we continue on. If time runs out (as it usually does) we set a time to finish (or learn what happens on our own).
It’s like a book club, except we share the literary art aloud, collectively, not alone, and talk about it as we go, not some weeks later. A play’s a novel with no narrator.
In normal times, we gather together in one place—living room, coffee shop, school, church, library—anywhere that’s comfy and reasonably quiet (no loud music). These days of “social distancing” are far from normal, but thanks to cutting edge technology, we can still meet face to face on line.
Not only that—we can read with old friends far away (and long ago). And since all the other things we used to do are now suspended, we have time. (How are you suspending yours these days?)
It’s Easy as Pie
All it takes is a computer (equipped with a camera, for video chats) and a few like-minded friends.
Pick a play and contact friends to set a time to read.
Download the play and email it to all readers.
Gather on line and read.
NOTES: All the great plays before the 1930’s, from Aeschylus to Gene O’Neill, can be found on line; since then most are restricted by copyright. Our growing Cold Reads Catalog provides links to a couple of hundred.
A full-length play lasts from 90 minutes to (Shakespeare) three or four hours. Add in time for ad lib interjections, it could be five. Plan at least two times to read.
Tips and guidelines for selecting, scheduling, sharing, and reading appear in tabs under How It Happens.
Try It Now!
Get your feet wet with a 10-minute play, over coffee, with a friend.
Or continue reading, as I launch into all the many reasons reading plays with friends is worth the time and (very little) effort—at no cost—and invite you all to join my grassroots movement, let me simply state my passionate belief that if as many people read plays as often as they go to church (or play golf), the world would be a better place.
Why Read Plays?
There are so many powerful arguments for cold reads that it’s difficult to arrange them all into a cohesive statement. Which is more important? Fun and Games or Save the World? I’ve organized them under four broad headings, addressed at length in Why Read Plays?
- Fun & Games
A play (as the name suggests), is the quintessential parlor game. Instead of playing cards or Scrabble—charades, Twister, Pictionary—we tell ourselves a story, share our thoughts along the way. Sometimes we’re hilarious; sometimes deeply moved. It’s like all other games we play with other people—focused on the goal, the conflict, but digressing, interacting, sharing a work of dramatic art.
- Personal Enrichment
Aside from the scientific proof that reading aloud increases the capacity of the human brain to think (did you know that?), cold reading improves communication skills (reading, listening, speaking, engaging), inspires the imagination, fosters friendships, and re-awakens interest in dramatic art, itself a treasure trove of intellectual and emotional enlightenment and gratification.
- Cultural Heritage
The western world is what it is in very large part because wise men wrote plays that both reflected and profoundly affected their respective lives and times.
Plays are dramatic literature. Along with Poetry and Prose, the classical divisions of creative writing. Yes, plays were written for the stage, but who among us go to see them?
Plays on stage are Spectacle—actors, costumes, scenery—the last and least (or greatest) of Aristotle’s Elements of Drama. Plot, character, language, thought, and mood are all in the playwright’s words.
From the Ancient Greeks till long past Shakespeare, plays were how most people learned about the literary world (they couldn’t read), and their mesmerizing power both informed and moved them, changed their hearts and minds, prompted riots and revolutions, causing church, state, and the upper crust to use (and abuse) them or ban them outright from the stage. If we are to have a future, we must understand the past, and the best source of that knowledge is dramatic literature.
Likewise, dramatists today explore our own post-modern lives and times with plays, the best of which are as wonderful as Sophocles and Shakespeare, and were we to see them properly played as often as we go to the movies (or watch ball games), they’d spark a cultural revolution. Sadly, most of us don’t.
Theatre is secular religion. From its roots in the rites of the Greek god Dionysus, it has always been religious in all ways but one—theatre deals with human beings, here and now; religion is for God (or gods) and the Afterlife.
Both draw us in with spectacle, tell a story, and argue a way of life—one temporal, the other eternal. They’re virtually identical in form: an audience (congregation) gathers in a theatre (house of worship) to see and hear actors (priests) interpret words from plays (holy scriptures) created by a playwright (god), and discover the meaning of life (salvation). Both make use of costumes, props and scenery, music.
Church-goers believe what they cannot see; theatre-goers “willingly suspend their disbelief” in what they can. What’s the difference?
The Human Faith
Theatre—live on stage—is more than drama. It’s poetry and prose in dialogue, sometimes with song and dance, performed by actors (singers, dancers), in collaboration with a company of directors and designers, decorators, carpenters, painters, electricians, craftspeople, clothiers, lighting and sound technicians, and a management team of advertisers, ticket sellers, administrators, and ushers—all working together to produce a single work of entertaining and rewarding art. And when a well-made play’s well-played, this godless religion—this Wholly Human Art—can bring about world peace.
In these hard, cold, digital times, the human race is becoming less and less communal, less humane. Even our diversions veer away from recognition of the one and only thing all people have in common. Plays are always and exclusively about human beings dealing with life’s slings and arrows. They deserve consideration.
Consider this: Throughout history, theatre has always been either intimately entwined with or violently rejected by religion. When they’re in sync, they make the world a better place. Greek drama defined the Golden Age; church drama in the Middle Ages spread Christianity throughout the known world and paved the way for Shakespeare. But when Roman mimes made Jesus the butt of their jokes, the Catholic Emperor Theodosius excommunicated all actors, banned all public performances, and for the next thousand years, throughout the Christian world, plays were proscribed by canon law.
Consider this: of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, only Muslims ban the portrayal of human life in art.
Granted, there’s a fundamental difference between live theatre and a cold read, just as there is between going to church and reading scripture. Readings offer the advantages of interaction among participants (as both actor and audience, simultaneously), the option to review the action (you can’t rewind a play), and the personal and cultural benefits described above, but it can’t compare to the magical mystery that unfolds communally when a well-made play’s well-played—it’s Billy Graham in his prime (maybe even the Super Bowl).
Sadly, well-made plays well-played are rare. Most professional theatre today is more commercial spectacle than drama, and centered in our major cities. Of the one in twelve Americans who sees a single play a year, most are school, church, and community productions, with second or third rate actors in plays picked to draw crowds. Nonetheless, it’s my radical and firm belief that dramatic art on stage is absolutely essential to the human soul, without which homo sapiens becomes inhumane.
I also believe that reading plays with friends is the best first simple step in the ultimate revival of live drama. As we read, we imagine what it would be like to see and hear, and so we go, expecting what our minds conceived. If we’re not satisfied, we make our voices heard, but we go back, because they need the money to survive. We donate with provisions. Some few of us may think we can do better, and perhaps you can—act, direct, write, design, (raise money). As time goes by, as millions read plays once a month or more, perhaps the Wholly Human Art will rise up from the ashes and re-humanize humanity.
Finally, combining all these reasons, is the shameful fact that we—Americans especially, for all too many ingrained reasons and excuses—have turned our backs on what I call the Wholly Human Art. Not only do we not attend (but one in twelve), we’re virtually oblivious to dramatic literature.
Three out of four adult Americans read at least one book a year.
Fewer than one in a thousand ever reads a play.
Let’s Start a Movement
So far my aim has been to persuade each of you to get together with some friends on line and read a play. My slipping mind imagines you’ll have fun, learn something, and do it again, and your friends will do it with other friends who’ll do the same, until cold reading is a popular pastime. That’s grass at its very roots.
So far that hasn’t worked.
I envision cold reads clubs and groups that gather (after this pandemic) every week (month, quarter, now and then).
I see a global network of cold readers sharing ideas and opinions, organizing conclaves and conventions; I see a weekly PBS show with eminent celebrity hosts and several of their celebrated friends who read and chat for an hour, then invite the viewing audience to pickup where they leave off. So many things I see…
And as we read, we come to appreciate not only the value of dramatic literature; we also recognize the human need for well-made plays well-played on stage, and actively involve ourselves in their revival.
The thing is, I’ve been preaching this game for over a decade and it’s still just me.
I NEED HELP
I’m closing in on 80 years, my mind is slipping—and my faith. I’m neither well-connected nor well off, and unlike my father and brother, I’m not a salesman. Surely there are those of you who believe my vision, while highly improbable, is possible—its logic is profoundly sure—and should it materialize, the world would be a better place. Are you among those people?
Some few need to step up and take over, organize, promote, connect, make it happen—while I’m still alive. Who’s good at this sort of thing?
A Little History
In closing, since you’ve read this far, maybe you’re curious about how it all came about.
Just after the turn of the century (2003)—abruptly (and unjustly) unemployed (thanks to Crazy Candace)—my dear late friend and life coach Nathan Frenkel arranged for me to volunteer to lead senior theatre group at the JCC, and every Sunday afternoon for the next five years I met with six or eight to a dozen (of fifty or so through the years) elderly (mostly) ladies to explore the Wholly Human Art in all its aspects—including play reading.
In 2008, we lost our space and met for a few months in the cramped and dingy Green Room at Theatre Charlotte on Thursday mornings. Those who could be there then came, and because they could, we’ve met on Thursday mornings ever since.
It was at this point that we decided to devote ourselves exclusively to reading plays. It was also then that I, like Saul on the road to Damascus, realized that this was way more than an old-fashioned, idle pastime for a minuscule minority, and wondered why more people don’t do it. The more I wondered, the more I understood that—while overt excuses argue all the other things we have (or choose) to do, leaving us no time to read plays—underneath, in our subconsciousness, lie more pernicious sentiments and attitudes that belittle and debase its practice.
To rebut these arguments, I developed a litany of reasons why reading plays with friends is worth the time and (very little) effort—at no cost—beginning with the pleasure of playing the game (Group Storytelling), learning what happens line by line, together. It’s fun.
In 2010 , to test the market, I opened the group to all ages and created Cold Reads/Charlotte, a public Facebook group whose members could create events and invite their friends to read. I invited all my friends to join and recruit others, and over time, the pool of likely readers grew to nearly 300. Sadly, however—inexplicably—except for a handful of “regulars” and occasional drop-ins, most have never played with me, and until very recently, none posted their own events.
in 2014, we went paperless, and I created this blog to upload scripts for readers. As time went by, I added posts to expand the arguments, describe the game, and opened it to the public—Readers of the World, Unite! Always (still) a work in progress, Cold Reads went public in 2016, although I refrained from promoting it until the Why Read Plays material took shape. Sadly, it never did (or so far hasn’t, although I keep trying), and of the few who know its out there, fewer still have joined, and none respond to my posts or post their own. (A lot of people, from all over the world, download my plays, with promises to read with friends—ho-ho).
Maybe with this on-line option . . .
See Cold Reads/Online