Today marks a career first for me, Constant Reader. (“Today” being Monday, October 24, the day this post first goes live.) This evening, I’ll be performing in a staged reading, for which I’ll receive a small stipend. This part isn’t the career first; I’ve done lots of these throughout my time as an actor, and given the difficulties involved in mounting full productions nowadays I expect to be doing plenty more staged readings in the future. No, the new and noteworthy aspect to tonight’s reading is that I’m serving as the narrator. For the first time, I’ll be paid to read stage directions.
It’s about damn time, if you ask me.
I first started reading stage directions on a regular basis when I began attending the Tuesdays at Nine series of cold readings, several years ago now. (How long ago? I’ve lost track, but I’ve served as the co-Creative Director of this series for the past three years, so it’s got to be a little bit longer than that.) Given the large number of performers in attendance in any given evening, the stage directions provide a convenient way to hear the voices of newcomers, and get a sense of how else it might be possible to cast them.
In my case, I kept getting cast as the narrator. Not that other parts weren’t available – some of which I might have been right for, most of which I was not. No, what I came to realize, after a period of time, was that other writers were specifically asking for me to read their stage directions.
Apparently I’m good at it.
It’s strange to think of being good at reading stage directions – not because it can’t be challenging or demanding at times (try reading some George Bernard Shaw stage directions some time, if you really want to give yourself a workout) but because the skills involved are the basic building blocks of performing. You need to be heard – able to project and articulate. You need to know how to tell a story. And you need to bring your own personality to the proceedings – not so much as to overwhelm the material, but just enough to give it some life. That’s it. If you’re a stage actor, these are the main tools in your proverbial tool box, right?
And yet. There are so many actors who only come to life when hiding behind a specific character, or when gushing forth a great torrent of emotions. It seems strange that such basic storytelling would hinder them, and yet I’ve seen it happen too many times to discount it. It’s a weird skill to trumpet oneself as having, it’s not the most marketable skill in the world, but it’s a skill I evidently possess – and am now getting paid for.
Feel free to consider me for all your narrator needs at your next birthday, wedding, or bar mitzvah.