Play readings now part of Door County theater scene

Read highlights from the USA TODAY network article by TAP’s own “Arts Traveller,” Alan Kopischke.

 

When we launched The Big Read Door County in 2008, we also seemed to have launched a tradition — play readings in Door County.

Organizing this for Peninsula Players, I felt it important that our first Big Read, centered on John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” have a significant theater component.

Galati adapted Steinbeck’s classic for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1988 and directed the wildly successful production that played around the world and won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1990. The large cast could accommodate a large number of community members who might like to be involved. I partnered with The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay and taught a four-week class to a group of about 18. We studied the play, decided how to stage it and rehearsed it for public reading.

Play readings can take a variety of forms. They can be unrehearsed or rehearsed. The can be read from chairs and music stands or with actors employing a great deal of interaction and movement. Their purpose can be play development, play evaluation or simply to share with an audience. What they have in common is that actors do not memorize lines but read from the script. Usually, some of the stage directions are read.

In subsequent years, the Big Read Door County (and later, its successor, Door County Reads) presented more such community play readings, as well as readings presented by community company Isadoora Theatre and professionally staged readings by members of Peninsula Players’ company.

When Players transferred organization of The Big Read to Door County Library, the theater company launched The Play’s the Thing, a series of three or four winter play readings per season.

Meanwhile, local theater companies like Isadoora, Theatre M, Third Avenue Playhouse and informal groups of local actors began presenting readings of plays at Woodwalk Gallery, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, TAP and other venues.

The county’s enthusiasm for readings has not waned. Door County Reads featured readings by TAP and Peninsula Players this year; The Play’s the Thing continues at Björklunden in March and April; and TAP revives its play reading series with eight over two weekends this month. That’s 12 readings this winter, not counting at least one other I saw late last fall.

“I think play readings have been such a draw because they are, in essence, pure theater — the simple telling of a story through a playwright’s words, with the audience present using the most magical part of the equation, their imagination,” Peninsula Players artistic director Greg Vinkler said. “Nothing is more powerful or more wonderful. And they’ve helped fill a cultural niche for the county at those times when there are fewer options for gathering people together.”

The Peninsula Players have already moved one play from its reading series to the main stage, and TAP is likely to give several of its reading selections serious consideration for the future. Attending readings is a great chance to see plays you might otherwise not see, and to see early versions of those you might see in full production some day.

“Because readings have no costumes or props or scenery, the audience is drawn into the play only through the words and images written down by the playwright,” TAP co-artistic director Robert Boles said. “The audience’s imagination coupled with the actors’ interpretation brings each play to full life. Readings are the purest form of theater. They are stories told around a campfire, using nothing more than voice and imagination.”

Play readings still to come after this column runs include the last four Winter Play Reading Festival offerings at TAP. You can see “When the World was Green (A Chef’s Fable)” by Joseph Chaikin & Sam Shepard, directed by Mark Moede, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23; “Constellations” by Nick Payne, directed by Richard Carlson, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24; “The Cripple of Inishmaan” by Martin McDonagh, directed by Amy Ensign, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25; and “Stella and Lou” by Bruce Graham, directed by James Valcq, 2 p.m. Feb. 26.

You can see two plays at Björklunden as part of the Players’ series: “Salvage” by Joseph Zettelmaier, March 6, and “Miss Holmes” by Christopher Walsh, April 3.

I hear from a lot of people who look forward to these readings every year. It seems this nearly 10-year tradition will last.

Traveling soon and want to know what arts and culture are available while you’re there? Write the Arts Traveler for guidance.

Alan Kopischke is a university lecturer, actor and arts consultant working with theaters and other cultural organizations around the state. He writes a column on arts experiences outside Door County in which traveling residents might have an interest. Contact Alan at alan.kopischke@gmail.com with “Arts Traveler” in the subject line with suggestions, questions and requests for recommendations for future columns.

 

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