Having a staged reading of your play is amazing. I learned so much about my own play, about the theater, and about the process.
What I expected
I wanted audience feedback, both from theater professionals and from civilians. I wanted to make the play better. After the reading, we held a talkback session. I had prepared a list of questions, but I didn't need them too much. Without much prompting the audience was very forthcoming in their praise, criticism, and questions. All the feedback was enormously helpful. Were the characters believable and likable? What wasn't coming through? Was the humor overwhelming the suspense? Were the shocks realistic? Not only did the audience respond, but many of them emailed me the next day with comments and advice.
What I found out about the process
My husband and I go to the theater a lot. Every year we subscribe to at least 2 theaters and see every show they produce that year. We also get tickets to most of the major plays and musicals on Broadway. We try to see all the Tony winners and most of the nominees each season. We see a lot of excellent plays, and, of course, a few that don't work.
But nothing prepared me for the thrill of seeing a play--particularly my play--come to life. I was lucky to work with an excellent director who kept me involved in every step. Casting, staging, rehearsals, and, of course, the reading itself. From the first run-throughs, I watched as the play evolved, the actors morphed into the characters I had created, and the stage directions came to life. We were lucky enough to enlist a professional stage manager so we had the necessary light cues and sound.
I did some re-working of the script during the rehearsal phase, and will do much more once I have evaluated all the feedback. One of my questions--the one I cared about the most--was about making the one-act play into a full-length one. Several audience members not only thought it was possible, but had ideas about how it could be done.
What I recommend
For the one-night-only staged reading of my one-act play, the director and I agreed that we should give it as much attention and detail as possible, within Equity guidelines for a staged reading. We rented a good theater in the heart of New York's theater district. Actors performed script-in-hand per Equity rules, but we added props, costumes, and as much staging as possible. Our rule was to make the reading as much like an actual production as possible.
A professional art director I know designed a terrific logo. I created a website: murderonthemainline.com and a poster and a Playbill (thanks to PlayBuilder.com). Another friend, a professional photographer, came to the last dress run-through and took excellent production stills. All this helped the audience see the play in as much of a professional setting as possible.
The one-act play is scheduled to have another staged reading in a few months--this time in Philadelphia. It will be a stronger script by then.
I can't wait!