The Table Read…
As a director, there are three primary things that I want to accomplish at the table read: Communicate broad-brush character ideas to each actor and to the cast as a whole, convey my perspectives on overarching themes of the play and to establish a framework for collaboration.
I want to express to the actors my perspectives of the play’s characters in very general terms. If you give an actor a starting place in terms of broad character aspects they will then apply their talents more effectively and this can accelerate their internal process around creating a character. The caveat is of course is to never attempt to force your idea onto an actor. Ultimately, they have to drive…you’re just the navigator. (I know some directors who would recoil at that but, sorry…it’s the fact of the matter and all the more reason to do your very best at casting!)
The result is that it makes the process of creating character conscious and active early in the process. And, by the way, sometimes it’s just as productive to work with an actor to understand what character aspects aren’t there as opposed to those that are. For instance, a character that doesn’t have empathy is not necessarily calloused. But understanding that emotional deficit can just as strongly help an actor inform their role.
The second thing I want to go for at the table is to articulate thematic elements of the play or production. Sitting around the table discussing these issues is frequently much more conducive than talking about them with the actors on the stage. At a recent read through, for instance, I realized that there are natural “pairings” of characters in the play I was directing…roles that resonate with a “sameness” in terms of character traits or the role of their respective characters within the play. Talking about this with the cast can provide a starting point for actors in terms of how their characters relate to others. And, again, providing a place from which to start is always easier than not knowing where you are.
Also, from a larger story arc we realized that at the beginning of the play the characters are “in for themselves” but at the end are “in it together”. This creates a framework that the actors can ground themselves in and refer to in terms of their relationship with the other characters as the play progresses across the acts to conclusion. This isn’t always written in concrete and it’s likely that you will discover lots of new information through the rehearsal process but it puts everyone on the same page at the onset and keeps the train on the tracks as you build up steam.
Lastly, I want to begin the process of creating camaraderie within the cast. And so I like to have the actors actually sitting physically close to each other. They are going to be working closely throughout the rehearsal process and this, I’ve found, is a great way to begin that journey…elbow to elbow.
After all, we’re all in to together…might as well get cozy from the get-go!