What is “Readers’ Theater”?
From the preface to Lance Davis’ adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol”
“I held off doing ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Parson’s Nose for a number of years because there were so many good productions already being done, and I wasn’t sure what Parson’s Nose could offer that was unique. Then in 2008 the economy, and arts funding in particular, took a dive, and PNT had to reinvent its way of fulfilling its mission.
While I was a theater student at Notre Dame our wonderful Professor Fred Syburg introduced us to a fascinating form called “Readers’ Theater”, now very popular in educational theater. It had originated in the 1930s in various forms, and had been revived after World War II due to its emphasis on simplicity – actors simply reading wonderful works in front of an audience – no long rehearsals, no sets, no costumes, just “essential” theater – actor, text, audience and imagination.
I felt PNT had something new to deliver to the local theater scene. We booked an intimate space – Jameson Brown Coffee in Pasadena – set up folding chairs, outlined a stage at one end of the room, and began a tradition.
The key attraction, as I said, is simplicity. It’s a lot like radio. My friend Dan Besen calls it “theater unplugged”. The actors sit along the back of the stage, coming forward to play as needed. They hold their scripts, but are familiar enough with their lines to lift heads and make contact with their partners and the audience. For our “Christmas Carol” the actors sing the carols and create the sound effects. A “thundersheet” can be bought at Home Depot for $10. We add another PNT touch in that our adaptation emphasizes our two narrators who drive the action of the play, emphasizing Dickens’ delicious descriptions – the bits often overlooked when we were in school and had to have a hundred pages read by Monday, but are now able to savor, such as onions on grocer shelves winking at girls who pass by.
I hope you have fun. It’s become a welcomed chance for our company and our audience to get together every year. It’s always a mixed bag as to who’s available, so there are inevitably fun assignments – women play men and vice versa (Mrs. Fezziwig), young play old and old play young. However it falls it brings us, by evening’s end, into the spirit of Christmas. And we’ve brought our second-greatest English writer’s work into the spotlight to boot.
I’d like to thank all those who make Parson’s Nose so vibrant. Our professional company, our board, our volunteers, our donors – especially Terry Perl, Eileen Davis and Mario and Therese Molina – you, our audience without whom “live” theater would not be “live”. And most especially my wife Mary Chalon and our daughter Jemma Davis. Merry Christmas. – LD”
We’re selling out, but you can try to get tickets for this year’s readings at https://parsonsnose.tix.com/Schedule.aspx?OrgNum=1475
To order a copy of “A Christmas Carol Adapted for Readers’ Theater by Lance Davis” go to https://www.amazon.com/dp/1729465978/ref=rdr_ext_tmb