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  • John Vessels

"What script were you reading?!"

Actors: There are about as many ways to read a script as there are people reading said script. The beauty of approaching a new work is that it's open to some interpretation, and the actor gets a chance to flex their interpretive and creative muscles while tackling the book in front of them.

A few things to consider:

1. Your reading might be different that someone else's. You may both be right.

2. As long as your interpretation of one section of a script does not negate another section of the script, you are on a viable track. Once you have to adjust another part of the script to facilitate your interpretation, you are wandering out of the realm of the actor and into the realm of the writer. If you want to write a play, write a play--but the play in front of you isn't asking for a writer, but instead for an actor.

3. Choices that are atypical but valid are GLORIOUS. If you are able to support an atypical choice with the text before you, do it.

4. Choices that are atypical but unsupported by the text are CONFUSING. If you are unable to support an atypical choice with the text before you, consider another.

5. If you find yourself in need of justifying a choice you are making for an action or a character choice--have page numbers ready. "I feel" is never as useful as "it says on page 76."

6. People will not always agree with your interpretation. That's fine. In the collaborative process, defend your choices AND listen to the voices around you. The director has a vision too. The costumer may have ideas. The time/$$$ constraints may be at play. There are a bunch of reasons your vision my have to adjust to fit the larger picture. Your job is to make a case for its validity within the larger picture--once the larger picture/aesthetic has been articulated to you. Your job is also to take that larger picture/aesthetic into consideration as you decide whether or how to adjust to fit it. You don't have to be right. You don't have to instantly admit someone else is right. You DO have to be willing to have the conversation.

7. Trust your gut. If on the 10th reading of the play, you are still drawn to a particular interpretation of your script, there's something there to follow. If you have this great idea on the first reading, but it pales on each successive reading, there's something to let go.

8. What the playwright meant isn't as important as what the playwright wrote. If a turn of phrase can be seen in two ways, the author has to accept the ambiguity they created. However, a good author will give you hints in the rest of the play about how the character operates. Sometimes, you are lead by the rest of the play away from ambiguity within a single moment. So, stay open to a few line readings until the rest of the work helps to clarify your character's intention. If the rest of the work fails to provide answers, you get to choose.

9. Know that your biases are at play as you interpret a work. What you know, how you are feeling, and everything you have learned to believe is at play as you read a script. You are, however, not beholden to that beyond recognizing it's going on. So read and re-read from as many angles and perspectives as you can manage. Read once with the hero as protagonist. Read again with the villain as the protagonist. Read ABOUT the subject of the play from various perspectives. Be open to have your mind changed.

10. The script is your map to the world you inhabit during the course of the play. You may follow any valid path and still arrive at the destination at the end of the play. Some of us take the straight path directly to the obvious end. Some of us like to take the side roads and see the sights along the way. IF the script is well written--if the map is clear--there's room for all parties to follow it in different ways and end up in the same place at the conclusion. It's my favorite thing about creative works: They can be approached creatively if you so choose.