Haven’t Read a Play since High School?
one in a thousand
EVER reads a play!
There are so many reasons,
from simple unawareness
(“Who reads plays?”)
and all our other pastimes
to the cancer in our culture that derides and stigmatizes
theatre—the wholly human art.
“Plays are written for the stage!”
(but who goes to the theatre?)
All these reasons are examined and debunked by CR/I and countered by just as many more profound and startling arguments for this amazing game in Why Read Plays?)
What’s a Cold Read?
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 haven’t read. Over time its meaning has expanded to apply to all such circumstances, from reading aloud in grammar school to teleprompted politicians—anytime one learns what one is saying as one reads.
In our case, a cold read happens any time a group of people gets together to read and talk about a work of dramatic art.
In its simplest and most flexible form, a cold read begins when the Host announces the name of the play, its author, characters, and setting, and reads the opening stage directions. Someone else—anyone, regardless of gender, age, or type—reads the first line of dialogue and assumes that role; another anyone reads the second line and does likewise, and they read back and forth until another character appears, read by anyone else, and so on, doubling up for crowd scenes and swapping roles to share the major roles. 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 often does) we set a time to finish (or learn what happens on our own).
It’s like a book club, except we share the literature aloud, collectively, and talk about it as we go, not some weeks later. A play’s a novel with no narrative, just conversation. Tailor-made for quality time with friends.
It’s Fun. (It is a “play.”) It’s very easy. It doesn’t take much time; novels can gobble up days. There’s no prep or cleanup. And it’s absolutely free.
When you add in all the personal, social, and cultural benefits one gains from reading plays with friends, one wonders why so few people—one in more than a thousand adult Americans—ever do it. Three out of four read at least one book a year. Why not plays? Who do you know that reads plays?
I’ve been doing it at least once or twice a week for a dozen years.
Cold Reads on Facebook
Until the COVID-19 plague, we met all over town, in living rooms and coffee houses, theater lobbies, galleries, pubs and diners—anywhere that was comfortable, without a lot of noise, and few distractions. We can’t do that now.
What we can do, thanks to ZOOM and its competitors, is gather in a chat room, face-to-digital face, online—which which lets us read with friends in far-off places.
To expand the scope of the game, I recently created CR/I on Facebook , a companion to this blog, open to the world at large for the sharing of thoughts and doings, interacting with others who read plays (we are so few), and eventually launching a cultural revolution.
I also created the Cold Reads/Online Facebook group to take advantage of the new technology. Membership is open, free of charge, to likely readers anywhere in the world, any one of whom can post Cold Reads events and invite their Facebook friends.
My quick overview begins with a startling discovery . Did you know that Science proves beyond all doubt:
is Good for the
And what better to read aloud than a play?
After all, what is a play?
a novel with no narrative—just people (characters)
engaged in conversation (dialogue).
Tailor-made for quality time with friends.
A cold read is a parlor game, like playing cards or Clue. We play (a play on words) a play; we read the lines we’re dealt, in turn, to tell ourselves a story. As we read, we talk about it and ourselves, the world—we socialize. Sometimes we’re hilarious, other times profoundly moved. Like any game, the more we play, the better we get. Unlike most, nobody loses; everybody wins.
Anyone can cold read anywhere, for twenty minutes to three (or more) hours, with any one or two to a dozen friends (or total strangers)—all it takes is a digital reader. Simply download a play and start reading. Tips and guidelines on selecting plays, acquiring scripts, and gathering a group are posted in How It Happens, along with protocols for convivial reading.
WE DON’T ACT, although can be fun to play with words. Acting takes talent and training and weeks of hard work. We simply read, assuming roles regardless of gender, age, or type, and double up for crowd scenes, swap around so everybody reads the leads. WE INTER-ACT. Now and then we stop and reflect, recap, share insights. socialize. If time runs out before the end, we set a time to finish (or see how it ends on our own.
WE DON’T REHEARSE. We read “cold,” finding out what happens as we go.
WE DON’T PERFORM. It’s only us; no audience. No stressful stage fright.
NO PREP, NO CLEAN-UP. All you need is a tablet, phone, or laptop to acquire and display the script. Online readers will also need access to the designated chat room.
And That’s Not All
Cold reads enhance our lives in many very different ways. We exercise and improve our reading skills, enunciation, conversation, as we come to appreciate literary Drama (Poetry and/or Prose as dialog) and develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and humankind. By doing it together, we share a common literary bond. We exercise our collective imagination, gain insights into other times and places, walk in other people’s shoes, and discover that playwrights are as literary, wise, and witty as novelists, as lyrical as poets, and we take pride in dropping their names at parties. We Know Drama.
The Time was WHEN
For the first two thousand years of western civilization, most people couldn’t read. Anything they knew of the world they learned from personal experience or word of mouth, from priests and criers, politicians, storytellers, troubadours and minstrels, poets, and—by far most popular and influential—actors on a stage in plays by Sophocles and Shakespeare. The profound and lasting impact of live theatre on the world we know is addressed in The Wholly Human Art.
The Time is NOW
For the first time in human history, reading plays aloud in groups is free and easy, thanks to the internet. Think about that. (See E-Reading.)
Poetry, Prose, and Drama
Plays are one of the three main forms of literature. Until the Industrial Revolution (c. 1760-1840) they were the only form most people knew. Then paper mills made paper cheap, people learned to read, and Dickens wrote romantic novels (in prose), which they enjoyed at home—often read aloud, to the family, But they still went to the theater for Drama. Why read plays? They played parlor games instead, read poetry and prose. Then the movies came along, and Drama fell by the wayside.
Most of what we read these days is prose; poetry is rarely read but omnipresent in our ears (song lyrics), but unless we go to the theatre (and we don’t), We Don’t Know Drama.
Time an Issue?
Start out with 10-minute play; work up to one-acts.
Most contemporary full-length plays run roughly 90 minutes, Add 30-60 more for intermittent conversation and a wrap—two and a half hours, in and out. Shakespeare, on the other hand, can take three hours just to read, in which case we set two dates and times.
It’s All Inside
This site explores these and other personal and societal benefits of reading cold in Why Read Plays?). If you need more convincing, start there.
About Us explains exactly who we are, what we do, and how we do it (with lots of options), and it urges people everywhere to do likewise—download scripts from our growing catalog, post feedback, and join our revolutionary grassroots movement.
Tabs beneath the banner at the top of every page open pages that address the topic; hover over the tabs to reveal sub-topics. Internal links, Categories, Search, and other functions are addressed in Navigation Tips.
So Do It!
Just for fun, if nothing else. If you like it, do it again (and again). You owe it to yourself to give it a try.
And after you read, if you have time, post us some Feedback.
If it gets to be a habit, Start a Group.
Better still, Join CR/I, and spread the word.
We’re Here to Help
When People Gather to Read Plays
as Often as They do to Pray (or Slay)
the World Will Be a Better Place to live