A few weeks ago I wrote a post for From The Mixed-Up Files about Readers Theater and frankly I was shocked by the reaction! SO MANY PEOPLE (teachers and authors included) had never heard of Readers Theater! Teachers were excited about trying it out as soon as school starts in the fall. And writers emailed, called, and even tracked me down at a book festival to ask how to write a Readers Theater script of their own.
What is Readers Theater? I covered that in the earlier post and I won’t go into detail again here, but basically it’s a script that dramatizes a scene in your book. Picture books make great readers theater but so do YA novels. There are no limits! I’ve even put on Readers Theater for my biography SOAR, ELINOR! Nonfiction isn’t out of bounds– a dramatic performance of a real life story can bring musty dusty history to life.
SOOOOOO, you say, how do I get in on this Readers Theater thing? My publisher hasn’t offered to write one and I’m no playwright. Don’t sweat it. Writing Readers Theater is easy! WAY easier than writing the book in the first place.
There are two “genre’s” of Readers Theater– scripts that stick to the actual words printed in your book or adaptive scripts that stick to the spirit of the work but perhaps skip over some of the narration and tell the story with more dialog.
Christopher Paul Curtis’ script for Bud, Not Buddy is a great example of one that sticks close to the original. Since most of the scene dramatized is narrated the writer chose to use a whole cast of “actor narrators” to tell the story along with actors portraying Bud and the librarian. If a group is reading the novel along with performing a Readers Theater piece and being attached to the text is important this is definitely the way to go– especially when a book has a super strong voice like Bud, Not Buddy.
Other times you might chose to move a little “off the page,” summarizing some backstory and punching up the dialog lines to make a tight, fun to perform script. This was how I chose to write the Readers Theater- THE MAP OF ME. I perform it at signings and book festivals where the audience is unlikely to have the book’s text right in front of them, and my goal is to convey a tantalizing taste of my book rather than a detailed study. Result? Every time I perform my Readers Theater the audience seems to love it. And they buy the book to read more!
Here are a few tips for writing your own Readers Theater-
* Chose a great scene. Readers Theater is short and sweet so you’ve got to pack a dramatic punch from the first line. The best way to do that is with an iconic scene from your book.
* Consider cast size. There are eight actors in the Bud, Not Buddy script. That’s wonderful if the Readers Theater is produced in a classroom– the more participants the better, plus there will be practice time. But if you’re putting on a show at a signing simple is probably better. My script features my two main characters and a narrator.
* Keep the lines short and easy to read. Most of the time you’ll use child reader/actors and they might see the script for the first time as they are performing. Don’t embarrass your actors (or yourself) with tangled language and leave the solilquys to Shakespeare.
*Color code the parts. I printed three custom scripts for my actors- with the text of each actor’s lines printed in red on his own script. It’s easier to keep on track with your lines stand out. And since I saved the files I can print out more colorful custom copies any time I want.
* Keep the whole darn thing short! This isn’t supposed to be an epic reenactment of The Odyssey. It’s just a glimpse. Don’t give your audience a chance to get bored.
* Props/No Props? The simpler the better, although a couple of fun things can bring your scene to life in a hurry. I bought an inexpensive toy steering wheel and a crown for THE MAP OF ME’s Readers Theater so from the start audiences know Peep is a “pretty little princess” and Margie is in the drivers seat!
*Have fun! Don’t treat this as a movie screen test or a Broadway performance. The book is the thing… this is just for fun!
Do you have any favorite Readers Theater scripts? What tips and tricks have you used to show your book off “on the boards”????
~Tami Lewis Brown