Once you’ve been cast in a show or named as part of a crew, you’re probably eager to get started. But there’s likely a step between you and the first rehearsal: a table read.

The table read is an opportunity for the whole cast (and, in some cases, crew) to review the show together and identify the most-important themes and scenes. With the crew’s involvement, a table read also helps troubleshoot specific lighting, prop, and costume needs, and highlight difficult transitions, blocking, choreography, and more.

You may have read parts of the script for your audition, either to prepare or during a callback. But a table read outlines the scope of the entire show. It gives everyone important context that they might not otherwise get until a full run-through (which comes much later in the process).

How to Prep for a Table Read

Note that the following advice is for troupes that are about to put on a production. We have a separate article on how a playwright can run a table read when workshopping a new script.

1. Read the whole script ahead of time

You’ll get more from the table read if you walk in with a working knowledge of the script. Read it from cover to cover, including the scenes when your character is not on stage. As you go, take notes on:

  •  Your lines and stage directions
  • When you enter or exit the stage
  • Any props or notes about costumes for your character
  • What other people say about your character: Do they have specific mannerisms or a distinct way of speaking? What do the other characters think of them?
  • Clues in dialogue about your character’s backstory: Where do they come from? How do they see themselves?
  • What songs you’re participating in, including any reprises or interlude

Similarly, crew members should highlight the needs for their department in each scene: props, sound cues, and stage directions about lighting or sets. They should also note any scene, costume, or wig changes, especially those that happen quickly (e.g., that will require a quick-change).

If you’re working with scripts from a licensing company, take any notes in pencil only. The licensing companies require this so any notes can be erased when you return your script.

2. Research the show itself

Learn what you can about the playwright and the time in which the show was written. This might help you pick up on key thematic elements or decide how to approach a character. For example, researching The Crucible by Arthur Miller might reveal how the show was written as an allegory for the Red Scare, adding extra nuance to your performance. Also consider:

  • The genre (e.g., comedy or drama)
  • The time period in which it’s set
  • Dialects and vocabulary its characters would have, given the setting

3. Stay focused

Treat the table read as if it were a performance you’d paid to see, listening to every line and stage direction (even those that don’t directly impact you). The goal is to understand the whole show, which you won’t be able to do if you tune out some of it.

This will better help you to follow your director’s instructions. They might interject with comments about how your company will stage a scene or handle a piece of dialogue. Pay attention, also, to how they talk about characters (yours, as well as others), and what vision they seem to have for the show as a whole. Take notes—this will save you time later.

4. Don’t stress about singing

If you’re putting on a musical, you may or may not sing through the show as part of your table read. The director might provide vocal tracks or a piano arrangement, have the cast speak through the lyrics, or play a recording of the show’s music.

If you’re asked to sing, give it your best effort. But don’t worry if you lack polish. The director will understand that you probably haven’t had rehearsal time yet and may still be learning the music. 

Andrew Koch is a writer and editor from Cincinnati. He always feels a little awkward at table reads because he doesn’t know how much to get into character.

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