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Reader's Theater

If you ask a dozen theater arts types what Reader's Theater is you'll get about 12 different answers.  Reader's Theater is like that: a lot of things to a lot of different people.  That's one of its strengths.

Reader's Theater was started primarily as a way of introducing kids to theater concepts in a way that was easy to immediately grasp and enjoy.  Kids who don't understand any theater concepts such as staging or reacting, and find it difficult to memorize lines can be perfect performers in quick order using Reader's Theater.

Of course, the same things that makes it attractive and easy for kids makes it something that any adult, no matter how much or little theater experience they have, can pick up and become quite expert at.  And it's something that can be enjoyed for a lifetime by all, regardless of age or physical ability.

How it's different

Reader's Theater differs from a "normal" theater experience in a number of ways, all driven by the fact that the readers (or performers) are actually reading their parts during the performance.

bulletNo memorization is required.  While some readers will memorize all or portions of their reading, it is not required and usually not done.  Readers will read their parts until they become comfortable with them, learning the nuances and ideas behind the reading, but otherwise will not need to go over the readings nearly as much as an actor needs to learn their lines.  This means the time required to participate is much less than in other forms of theater, with much less "rehearsal".
bulletNo physical movements are performed.  Other than perhaps the slight movement of readers as they position themselves for the readings, no body movements are required nor desired.  This means that even those in wheelchairs or with other physical difficulties can perform as well as anyone.
bulletThe reader is not the character.  This is somewhat difficult to conceptualize, since many readings will have one reader "perform" only one part, but because the physical element is not present and because the listeners are asked to suspend their disbelief (as most readings would not, in Real Life, simply be people sitting around in chairs talking) it is not only possible but quite often that a reader will read a part for which they may not have the right physical characteristics.  Someone who is much younger may read the part of a very old person, and someone older may read a young person's part.  Even sex roles may be crossed, with women reading men's parts and vice versa. A reader can also read multiple parts with only a change in voice to indicate the difference. 
bulletReadings do not have to be plays, or even parts of plays (although they can).  A reading can come from nearly anywhere --  a poem, speech, short story or excerpted novel are all possible sources.  When the reading comes from a source that contains narrative or stage directions, there is often one reader who serves as the narrator.
bulletReader's Theater can be done in a traditional theater setting, but it can also be done almost anywhere there are listeners.  Performing in hospitals or nursing homes offers great rewards.  Often readings are recorded and then can be listened to by people in their cars, at home, or (with the advent of podcasting) on portable listening devices.

How it's the same

bulletWhile costumes are not necessary they can be used.  More often simple props such as a hat or other held prop to indicate which character a reader is reading will be used, particularly if that reader is reading multiple parts.
bulletLighting can be used as well, although it's seldom as elaborate as traditional stage lightning.  Most important, of course, is that there be enough light to read by, but blackouts and other stage effects can enhance a performance.
bulletSound effects and music can be incorporated into the performance -- it's often very necessary to "set the stage" which otherwise is normally bare.
bulletWhile sets are not needed, there are times when a simple set can be used to put the listeners in the proper mood.

Typically a Reader’s Theater “performance” will consist of a series of readings, and may or may not share a common theme.  The sky is the limit when it comes to putting together an entertaining evening of readings.


Whether your interest is performing or understanding literary works, whether you are young or old, whether you want to make a lifetime hobby of it or whether you want to use it as a stepping stone for advancing into full theater work, Reader’s Theater has something for everyone!



Here are some readings that we've been doing at our Legacy Reader's Theater Group.  They are either in the public domain or were written by us.  If the latter they have some restrictions on how they may be used.

Written by Mike Kelley

bulletRussian Moon
bulletThe Foot of God
bulletThe Amazing Colossal James Whitmore
bulletThe Wellington Strumpet Mystery
bulletThe Fighting Females of the Forty-Fourth
bulletThe Man from Mars
bulletAnd Then There Were None
bulletIndiana Jones and the Search for the Lost Walker
bullet12 Weeks to a Different Body

 Creative Commons License
The above works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Written by Mark Twain (Adapted by Mike Kelley)

bulletThe Diaries of Adam and Eve
bulletJim Baker

Written by O. Henry

bulletThe Ransom of Red Chief











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