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Play reading focuses on the power of words

It is my express hope that the Play Reading group will get to a place where we are hosting a new play reading every few weeks with a rotating group of interested thespians from the community. 
Anna Russell.

“The theatre is the place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one’s office for a job.” -Tennessee Williams

Do you ever look at “readers” and wonder what their secret is? How they manage to bend time, ignore that little voice inside that is screaming “just wait for the movie,” and sit still for hours and hours to read a four-hundred-page story?

As a person who loves stories and tells them as part of my living, I will admit I have always been a little jealous of those who manage to follow through with novels. My last novel experience involved waiting in line outside a Chapters store with muggles holding wands, waiting for the latest release. Those days are long gone. My costume is too small and my calendar is too full.

But recently I have been re-introduced to the ideal solution. Plays. 

Theatre NorthWest has hired three Artistic Associates (of which I am one), and you may have heard we are making it our mission to open the stage door to the community. One iteration of this mission is a new Play Reading group. It is my express hope that the group will get to a place where we are hosting a new play reading every few weeks with a rotating group of interested thespians from the community. 

You may be wondering how an admitted “non-bookworm” such as myself manages to facilitate and ENJOY a Play Reading group. First, there is no homework. Unlike your typical book club, you actually don’t need to do any reading before attending a play reading. You will know the play title and are welcome to do some research, but you do not need to spend days reading and studying a book to be prepared. Second, it’s more social than your regular book club because we all read and interact TOGETHER! At last, an activity that allows you to be semi-social with a minimal time commitment. The whole thing is about acting and reacting (verbally) to the choices of the other readers (all while safely seated and masked) And finally, it’s just shorter. A full-length play is about 100 pages including stage directions, making it a much more manageable experience if you are short on time or have a wandering attention span like myself.

But plays are for watching, you say. Well yes – admittedly something is lost in a reading. But if we use Aristotle’s six elements of a play as guidance (plot, character, theme, language, rhythm and spectacle), a play reading really only omits the latter. We should all be so lucky to be able to take in a new, live theatre production, in the flesh, with full scale spectacle every two weeks, but I can tell you, it takes much more than a few weeks to pull something like that together and chances are I am not next in line to play Hamlet, so a play reading might also let me explore things I would not otherwise be destined to experience.

So, what are the perks of getting into a room with a bunch of really fun, interesting people and reading out loud like it’s Grade 10 biology all over again? For myself as an arts practitioner and a person who simply enjoys being entertained, the value lies in gaining perspective from the group. I sincerely feel that exposure to what we read in dramatic literature makes us more well-rounded, serviceable people (see Tennessee Williams’ quote above). I love hearing how people interpret and speak certain lines. I love discussing how great (or terrible) a plot twist was, and I love hearing how certain themes resonate with people here in Prince George. Because that is the value of having art in our community. It represents us where we are and where we are going.

- Anna Russell is one of three new Artistic Associates at Theatre NorthWest. She is also a local actor, director and choreographer. Anna is a certified ballet teacher through the Royal Academy of Dance and holds a diploma in the Performing Arts. This fall Anna will be choreographing and assistant directing the Theatre NorthWest musical The Marvelous Wonderettes and will be acting in the comedy Mom’s the Word in Spring 2022.