Over the years, you are bound to get many requests from your colleagues and friends to read a script they have written. Personally, I have had this favor asked of me hundreds of times. It is always my instinct to say "yes" because I really want to support my pals, but it takes a lot of time to read a script and then deliver meaningful notes. A few years ago, I mostly stopped saying yes and instead offered up an alternative. I asked if they would let me help them organize a table read.
There are so many benefits to table reads versus a lone person reading a script and giving their individual notes. On every project I produce, I always set up a table read as early as possible. It is a lot of fun and very beneficial if done correctly. The actors get to practice. People get to network. The writer, producer, director can hear the script outloud. You can fill the audience with people whose opinions you respect and have a notes session at the end of the night. Win, win, win! Be sure to capture an audio recording of the reading so that you no longer need to ask anyone to read your script in the future. Now, you can just send them an mp3 file. In Los Angeles, people love being productive in traffic!
Have you ever been to a bad table read? I sure have. It doesn't take much to throw one off. Someone reading stage direction slowly, actors repeatedly missing their cues, the location being too warm, etc. So, I figured I would jot down a few things I have noticed over the years that will help ensure you have a fun and helpful experience.
1. Hire a good actor to read the stage direction. You are going to be hearing this person talk for almost an hour and a half. You want someone who can both connect to the emotion of what is happening and can also keep up the pace.
2. Edit the stage direction down as much as you can to ensure reading goes faster.
3. A single actor should read each leading role. If a character has 15 or fewer lines, you can have actors do up to 5 different roles.
4. Have highlighted scripts for each actor. Having 8 people doing 20 different roles can get confusing. I know it is time consuming, but If you take the time to highlight the lines before the day of the reading, this will go a lot smoother. If you send the script to the actors a couple of days before, they can do this for themself.
5. Give all of the actors something to write with. Since they will be "acting out" the roles, they may offer you great insight as to how to make things feel more real to them.
6. You do not have to take any of the notes you are given, but be thankful for all of the notes you get, even the really stupid (from your perspective) ones! Remember, people are only trying to help.
7. Spend a few bucks on snacks and cold drinks. I don't know if I've ever made it through an entire script reading without eating a energy bar of some kind.
8. Take a group picture! You will really kick yourself later if you don't!
Two nights ago, I enlisted the help of a writers / actors workshop (that I have been a part of for the last 15 years) to do a table read of my next feature film "Dashboard Jesus and Hula Girl." The group is called IMI and I am just now realizing now that I have no idea what "I.M.I" stands for. It is run by a very gifted actor and an all around good guy named Bob Bancroft.
Since actors are usually never credited for these types of things, I figured I would list everyone who participated in our reading below. It was a fun night with some great performances and really good notes!
"Dashboard Jesus and Hula Girl" table read May 14th 2019 at the Complex Theater, Hollywood, CA.
Joe Russell - Dashboard Jesus
Mapuana Makia - Hula Girl
Chris McGahan - Buddy
Lisa Renee - Tammy
Danielle DeWulf - Shelby
Joe Kidawski - Calen
Bob Levitan - Officer Hopper
Bob Bancroft - Tumbleweed
Jenny Abraham - Pele
Bobby Gene - Motel Manager, Calen’s Manager, Sasquatch, Police, Officer
Mary Karcz - Maid, Clerk, Rio, Promoter
Anna Fleury - Stage Manager, Toucan, Sergeant
Andrew Rappo - signs, Elvis, billboards, Lobo
Andrew Boozer - Walleye
Neil Vachani - Nate/Nick, Dillard, Officer