The person in a rehearsed reading studiously not looking at either the words on the page or the actor speaking, is invariably the writer. As in the photograph above, we are often unconsciously posed like The Thinker, fist to face, gazing out into the middle distance, apparently in a very different space than anyone else in the room. We don’t need to look at the script because we wrote it and so know it already. We don’t need to look at the performer as this is a reading and so we are listening to the rise and fall of the tempo-rhythm, the musicality of the language, the dynamic.
I was given this photograph today by director Phillip Zarrilli. It depicts me amongst the cast of the forthcoming GaitKrash production of Cosy for the Cork Midsummer Festival, 2019. Originally taken during the first read-through last November, never before I have seen so clearly the different roles and relationships of collaborators during this particular part of the creative process. Fanciful, perhaps, but here is the writer as listener, attention pinned to the cadences of the script riding the air; here is the writer with her eye fixed on some imaginary screen, ‘seeing’ the potential future production.
I never follow the lines in a script in a read-through. I will balance the open script on my knee, turning the pages as the performers do, so if I suddenly have a query about anything I hear, I can immediately locate it on the page and make a note. I find following the text on the page as the actors read counter-productive. The words and letters are familiar. It’s likely I’ve seen them scores of times, if not more, and a certain distance and freshness comes when my face is angled away from the page and out into the space. I have never reflected on this process before, nor asked if it is the same for other dramatists. I have, however, heard of novelists who say they read their work aloud to check its flow and sense. Dialogue in plays is of course made specifically for the living voice, so perhaps it makes complete sense to put away the words and focus on listening.
“Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.” –Jeanette Winterson
I am immensely excited to be returning to Cork this week, flying over with performer Sara Beer and director Phillip Zarrilli for an r&d. Sara is the only member of the cast not based in Cork. She was in the Welsh premiere of Cosy in 2016 and will reprise the same role as outsider Maureen. The other cast members will play three generations of the same family – an all female cast with playing ages from 16 to 76. I will be working on the script with the company, revising it so it is Cork-based.
I suspect there will be a lot of gazing into the distance. And listening.