So, you’ve done it! You’ve written your first (or third… or eighth…) play! A table read is the next step in the development process on the path to production. This is a simple read-through of the script with actors. Table reads help the playwright to hear their work out loud, and to identify problem spots in the script. Here is how to create an unforgettable first reading of your newest play.

Prepare thoroughly for the table read

Make sure you are 100 percent comfortable with the script being put into the world before the first table read. If the story is not complete, it becomes easier for others’ opinions to influence you and shape the script in a way that might not follow your original vision. This does not mean that the script must be perfect, but it should be complete enough that you know what how the story unfolds.

Above all else, pump yourself up as much as you can! Hearing your work come alive is one of the most exciting things that happens to a playwright. If you feel any nerves beforehand, which is completely normal, try to reframe those jitters in your mind. Those nerves are a form of excitement. Your eagerness gets you in the right mindset for an exceptional read-through.

Cast intentionally

Next, assign actors to parts. One thing to keep in mind is that the table read will likely be the first time you have ever heard your work performed out loud, so casting is very important. Try to identify actors with emotional ranges that fit the emotional range of your script. For example, an actor that you know who usually plays father figures would be good to cast as the father figure of your script.

Casting according to how actors have performed in past parts does not limit them, but rather, assures that there will not be any surprises during the performance. In the days before the reading, send the script to actors in case they want to review it beforehand. This gives them the ability to ask you questions about the plot or characters to sharpen their own understanding. Having peace of mind in terms of how actors will predictably perform allows you to focus on your writing during the table read.

Host the table read

The next step is to find a place to do the read-through, which is much easier than you might think. Fantastic table reads have been hosted on Zoom, in the conference room of local coffee shops, and even on backyard patios. The most important thing is that the space is quiet enough for everyone involved to concentrate.

It helps to invite someone extra while doing the read-through, like a crew member, who will read stage directions out loud so that you do not have to do it. This frees you up to concentrate on the story as you are hearing it.

One tactic during the reading is to follow along in your own script and highlight lines that land especially well and have strong impact. Use another color to highlight lines that fall flat. Even in the first reading of a script, it’s easy to identify which lines create energy and which lines kill the energy. These highlights will prepare you for the next step and provide a map for which parts need to be revised after the read-through.

Reflect well after the table read

When the actors are done reading the script, that is the time to ask questions about their experience with the story. Actors are especially attuned to shifts in the energy as they perform, so it is helpful to ask them at which moments in the story they felt the energy and tension dipping and rising. You can also ask actors which moments energized them as they performed. You will likely find that their responses line up perfectly with the lines you highlighted! This question is always a great encouragement as you look at the whole story.

Next, it is a good strategy to ask actors which characters were the most and least likeable and engaging because this gives you a sense of which characters will resonate with the audience. No matter what, it is important to understand that you know the story the best. You can choose which pieces of feedback to follow, or not, because the script is yours and you have the clearest sense of what it should be.

Kindness Counts

In the days after the reading, one more kind touch is to send actors a thank-you note to show that you appreciate their time. You will be remembered as a playwright who is gracious. Following these tips is a strong first step toward a table read that is both useful and exhilarating as you watch your work being spoken aloud for the first time. 

Dylan Malloy is a playwright and director whose first play, The Rocket Man, was adapted from a short story by Ray Bradbury and premiered in March, 2021. She attends Emory University as a playwriting major, with a double major in business on the arts administration track. You can find her on Instagram @dylan_writes.


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