Today I received an email from a publisher saying that while the theatres are dark it’s an ideal time to start giving reading playscripts a go, as it creates the same experience you’re missing while you’re not able to see a play.
Now, a publisher’s primary responsibility is to sell books, so I understand where they’re coming from in making the best of the situation to create a market for books which probably don’t sell that well to people who don’t work within theatre, but I do think it’s very important to point out that reading a playscript absolutely does not create the same experience we’re missing out on while our theatres sit empty during this crisis.
Obviously, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read playscripts. Reading scripts can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, but it’s vital to remember that reading a script is not how the writer intended you to experience it. If writers saw no difference between writing a script and writing a novel, Dorian Gray would not exist in the format that he does.
In the same way that film adaptations rarely capture the spirit of a book (I’m looking at you One Day and Far From the Madding Crowd), reading a playscript means that you are missing something from the experience. When you see a play on stage, you are seeing the end product of months, often over a year, of the work of a huge group of people, from the director, to the stage manager, to the actors themselves. When an author writes a book, they intend to speak to you, the reader, directly, and your own experiences will shape how you see that book’s world, creating a relationship between you and the author and an experience of that story which is entirely personal to you.
However, when a playwright writes a script, they intend to speak to a director, who speak to actors, who show the story to you. There are so many more layers to the telling of the story. You, as an audience member, play your part by creating the atmosphere that the actors bounce off, leading to the inevitable result of a play’s performance being different every night.
This is not to say that plays are more complicated than books or one experience is superior over the other, it is just important to remember that the intention of the genres is different. Books are meant to be read and plays are meant to be seen. Plays are meant to be played with.
By all means, read some playscripts. You might discover something that you want to see, or even perform, in the future. Even better, get a group of friends together on Zoom or Skype and read one together. Play with it. Do the voices, create scenery in your living rooms, dress up and have fun with them.
But please don’t forget the theatres, with their ghost-lit stages and untrodden boards, sitting quietly waiting for the day when they can once again show you the stories printed on those pages which were never meant to be read by someone sitting alone in silence.
Donna M Day