How to Start a Play Reading Club | Experience the New and the Classics

How to Start a Play Reading Club

Written by on | Acting Tips

Every month of every year I tell myself that I’m going to commit to reading a play each week. And every month of every year I successfully do that about, well, 40% of the time. That is, until I made a life-changing discovery: there’s a local group of actors and writers who gather at my city library to read and talk about plays. I’m proud to announce that since my discovery (and my attendance) I have been reading a play almost every week, which is a marked improvement. Let’s talk about how to start a play reading club.

Starting a play reading club is a terrific way to keep your skills honed as an actor, and to build up your knowledge of the canon. Organisation is key: finding a location, a regular meeting time, a set text and a group of actors to read with. But a well-run club for play reading is not only a place to develop your process, it’s a space where you can uplift your acting community and enrich your social life.

From going to these readings, I’ve learned that there’s no such motivator as community. Even if there aren’t any existing clubs in your local area, setting up your own is surprisingly easy and could be very fruitful. So let’s go over the steps for setting up a play reading club of your very own.

Step One: Pick a Place

Whilst the comfort of your own home is … comfortable, it doesn’t always make for a great “getting things done” space. I can’t count the number of times my friends and I have talked about reading a play every Thursday and caught up at someone’s house only to end up playing board games instead.

A great way of building a strong habit is to associate that habit with a particular time or place. So, for your play reading club, I’d highly recommend a space you can hire. Check out libraries or community centres: they’ll often have rooms you can book for free or for very cheap. Make sure it’s somewhere central, too. Being close to the CBD or town centre will make it easier for people to get to which will increase the likelihood of them coming in the first place.

If you’re feeling particularly bold and enterprising, you could even approach a local indie theatre to ask them about space. It’s not a bad way to turn your club into a sneaky industry event… But eyes on the play reading prize, for now.

Step Two: Pick a Time

Again, consistency is key. It might sound intimidating to schedule a weekly read, it’s much easier to say “We read plays every Thursday night” than “We read plays on the 13th, the 14th and the 27th of each month.” Keep the timing as simple and regular as possible. Pick a day and a time that works for your schedule first, and let other people work around it.

You’ve probably heard before that the best way to build a following online is to post consistently. That logic applies to real life, too. If you do something regularly on a set schedule, word will spread and people will start to associate Thursday nights with play reading night.

Step Three: Pick Some Plays

Once you have a space and a time locked in, pick some plays to read and add them to the schedule. There are a few of things to keep in mind when making your selection.

First, pick plays that correspond to your numbers. Don’t pick anything too small that people end up sitting around, or anything too big so people have multiple parts to keep track of. 

Second, try to diversify the pieces you select. If you’re ever stuck for material, we have a great list of plays to recommend to you. When you select something, try to do a bit of background reading on the play and the playwright before you host. Having some background knowledge to share can really inspire people to keep coming and stay engaged with the material.

Once you get started with the readings, you can ask people for their recommendations and whether or not they have any PDFs they can share. Lastly, always invite writers to your readings. Not only are they a well-connected resource, but they might have a script of their own that they want to hear which could turn your humble club into a casting room for the night.

Step Three-and-a-half: Find Some Plays

Finding scripts can be a little tricky, because you’ll need to find a PDF you can download and send to everyone who is coming to the read. (I’d suggest this over killing a forest each week and printing copies out.) Thankfully, we live in the digital age and there are some great online resources to check out.

Drama Online is a fantastic resource; a membership actually comes free with a StageMilk membership. There are a couple of sites I use called AnyFlip and PDFCoffee which have a wealth of PDFs for viewing and downloading too. Failing all of that, a simple google search of “(Play name here) PDF” can sometimes yield results. 

This is a good time to mention that if you ever go to drama school, download and save every single script they give you. You don’t know how valuable such a thing is until you don’t have access to it. 

Step Four: Spread the Word

My least favourite thing about arranging parties is inviting everyone and then hoping they’ll want to come. You might feel similar about this play reading club, so keep it super simple. Invite your actor friends who you know are suffering from the same commitment issues we were at the start of this article. Regardless of how many of them show up, keep inviting them and reading every week.

The readings will gain traction over time. If you’re consistent, people will start to build their weeks around it as they realise they haven’t been reading plays as much as they should have. Once you’ve got a regular crew of friends reading each week, chances are they’ll ask to invite their friends which is great. The more, the merrier. 

Play Reading Club Itinerary (Example)

  • Start by prepping the space: setting chairs, organising power for laptops/devices, popping the kettle on and putting out the biscuits.
  • Greet people and get your cast comfy. If people are reading particular roles, you might wish to have them sit in certain places.
  • Give a brief introduction about the play and the playwright. Nothing too long, just a little context.
  • Read the play. Don’t forget to have somebody on stage directions, so that the visual aspect of the work isn’t lost.
  • Schedule a short break after the read (or during, if it’s an epic.)
  • Finish up with a discussion. You might like to prepare some questions to ask, or simply let the participants dictate this. Depends on how well you know people in attendance.
  • Kick on to another location? You can always take the discussion to a cafe, or a bar, or a mini golf course. Up to you.

Remember that a good play reading needs structure, but not so much that it loses its sense of fun. If it feels more like a university lecture than a gathering, the club will die out quick smart.

Step Five: Keep It Organised, Keep It Going

As word spreads and more people become interested, you’ll need to get clever about how you arrange the readings. The simple way would be to create a group chat and add everyone to it. Then, when you know what play you’re reading next week, tell the chat which play you’re reading and how many actors you need. First come, first served.

If you want to be more professional, ask for peoples’ emails and create a mailing list. Then, at the start of each month, decide which plays you’re reading each wee and send out an email with the relevant details.

And if the club starts humming along, you can think about opening up management duties to any die-hard attendees. Share the load, ensure that admin doesn’t fall only to you.

Other Clubs To Start

Activities like play reading clubs are hugely beneficial to actors, because they provide structure—something that is all too often lacking from the artist’s life. If you find the regimented reading of plays and meeting up with fellow creatives is helpful, why not think about other gatherings you could run:

  • Scene study. Pick a scene and work on it, either self-directed or by a third party.
  • Self-tape/showreel Club. You know how many drama schools will charge you a fortune to do what you can do with friends for free?
  • Writing Club. Work on a scene, bring it in and have professional actors read and workshop it.
  • Film Club. Watch the classics, discuss cinema and get yourself caught up on the art of screen acting.
  • Complain About The Industry Club. Honestly, this automatically forms with any group of actors.
  • StageMilk Scene Club! Okay, we’ve already started this one. But our online membership includes monthly coaching sessions, tailored feedback and a wealth of acting resources.

Conclusion

There’s a certain level of logistical preparation that goes into creating a play reading club, but the pay-off is incredibly worth it. Not only are you reading plays and talking about what makes them good (or not so good) with likeminded people, you’re building up an address book of local artists who you can collaborate with at a later date. Congratulations on building a great habit and getting out there to meet some cool people.

Hope this helps. See you around the traps!

 

About the Author

Frazer Shepherdson

Frazer (he/him) is a writer, actor and director. He has worked professionally in film, television and theatre since 2016 and graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor in Acting in 2021.

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