The Dynamics of Classroom Playwriting and Reading Aloud, Part II

Play writing offers various challenges.
Play writing offers various challenges.
Playwriting requires students develop various language arts skills.

In the first part of this two part series, we discussed some of the benefits of playwriting in the classroom, how teachers can get basic playwriting training and how to use playwriting exercises when teaching. Plays by their very nature aren’t really plays, or at least their true potential cannot be realized, until they are given a reading by actors or a production.

The reading aloud of plays can be tricky as many students have no or little experience in reading dramatic texts aloud. In this article, we’ll discuss how to utilize the process of reading aloud and the subsequent discussion that follows a reading.

Preparing for Reading

With play writing students are challenged to envision an active scene that can be played out by actors.
With playwriting students are challenged to envision an active scene that can be played out by actors.

You may have to do some basic preparation with your students to ensure that you have a successful reading process. Basic instruction and practice using the scripts written in class is usually in order. You may want to first use published contemporary scripts or scenes to see what strengths each student is bringing to the process.
Before having students read aloud assign them scenes and parts and have them rehearse aloud. Be sure to spend some time with each group, offering them suggestions on how to say the lines. Then have them read the scenes aloud. This will give you some ideas regarding who are the stronger readers and those who find the activity more challenging.

Reading Requirements

In order to enjoy the best possible reading experience, you’ll need to have the following:

  1. A copy of each student written scene for each reader and one for yourself
  2. A person to read stage directions
  3. Scripts properly formatted

Rehearsing Aloud

Once parts are assigned students will rehearse each scene. It’s essential to stress that this is a play reading and that clarity and volume are very important. Make sure all significant stage directions are assigned to be read. If students have questions about the play, a character or any lines, they should ask the playwright for clarification. Scenes will normally run two to five minutes. These should be sit- down readings, which are done without any movement or blocking. It will take about 8 to 10 minutes to rehearse each scene.

The Reading

With rehearsed readings where the focus is on the language, plays start to come to life.
With rehearsed readings where the focus is on the language, plays start to come to life.

Readings are performed with students seated on chairs or on stools in front of the class. It’s a good idea to tell students that the readings are like another rehearsal. In other words, if there’s a mistake made that’s okay. Also, tell them that you may ask them to stop and repeat something during the reading. (This helps alleviate the pressure they may be feeling of “I have to be perfect” in performance.) Also, remind them to sit up straight, use clear diction and strong volume.

Discussing the Play

After each reading take some time to discuss what’s been heard. There are a few things to stress regarding discussion. First, you need two to three positive things said about the play before anything negative is said. Also, when someone offers criticism of a scene, it should be constructive.

As an example, “I don’t like the dialogue” or “I think that character is stupid” are not very helpful comments. However comments such as “I think you can make the dialogue stronger by cutting some excess words” or “Do you think the character would act that way in the situation they’re in?” can be helpful. Questions should be phrased to make playwrights think about their work. Another good thing to do is to offer a positive observation with the criticism such as “I think this part of your dialogue where they argue is strong because you’ve chosen the words well. You might want to consider word choices at the beginning of the scene.”

If a playwright responds, it should be to ask for clarification from the person commenting or to clarify what they were trying to do with a character, action or moment. It’s important that teachers monitor and guide the discussion so that it’s useful and everyone is learning through the ongoing commentary.

Process and Growth

In the classroom, playwriting can be a wonderful and enlightening way for students to express themselves as writers and during the reading process, as actors. Writing, reading, interpretive and collaborative skills are developed in the process. This type of classroom exercise offers students great potential for Individual growth and the opportunity to develop group dynamics.

  • This Author:

    Paul Mroczka

    Paul Mroczka has served Theatre By the Sea as associate director and playwright-in-residence. He has directed for companies including North Country Center for the Arts, Pontine Movement Theatre, The Theatre of Newburyport and the Palace Theatre. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow in playwriting, he has also garnered a Shubert Fellowship, the Jason Miller Award and has received grants from the New Hampshire Council for the Humanities. His plays have been performed at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria, Nat Horne Theatre, and Manhattan Punchline Theatre, among others. His interactive planetarium show, Pathfinders, is running at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. Recent directorial assignments include Good People, Steel Magnolias, and The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) at The Barnstormers Playhouse in New Hampshire, and Rumors, Orpheus in the Underworld, and The Glass Menagerie at PSU. This summer Paul finished an initial draft of his new play, Smart Money ... Read Full
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