What happens in my imagination…

We’re in the process (with our research partner Professor Jon Rogers) of writing and designing  a book that documents how we made the UNeditions platform – a new way of publishing play scripts that incorporates sound and lighting design. The following is a very lovely piece that Clare has written for the book about how she imagines when reading…

Reading a play is different to seeing it: It’s an obvious thing to note, but sometimes it’s useful to state the obvious, if only as a starting point. As a playwright and theatre maker I am very used to reading scripts. I read plays with the part of me I trained to read plays. I don’t even notice I’m doing it. These are some of the things I do when I read plays: I memorize the characters or I keep my finger or a bookmark on the page of cast or characters at the front of the book. I might read the stage directions very diligently or totally ignore them, depending on how I want to engage with the play in that reading. I can guess when a play was written within probably about 10-15 years just by the way the way the text is set out and almost certainly by the style of stage directions. The feeling of the age of the play informs my reading. It makes me think of the kind of theatre the play was written for and the other things that were happening in the world when the play was written. Of course these things are not foremost in my mind as I read, but they are there, informing my experience of reading the play and imagining it.

What happens then in my imagination? I think there are at least two kinds of imagining. I see the play as a play. I direct it in the dark playing space of my mind. I imagine a room with light and sound, an audience enter, talk, becoming quiet as the lights go down or are interrupted by a break in that particular convention. I imagine stage left and right, up and down stage. I imagine actors I know who would deliver heart-stopping performances. In all of these imaginings I am in the audience watching and listening and feeling with other warm bodies around me. The other kind of imagining is more like a film or a dream where I am looking at the world through the eyes of the characters and I feel with them what they are feeling.

So this reading business is a similarly creative process as the writing business. When we write plays Jon, Chris and I talk at great length about how that play will appear on stage and how we hope that audience will experience it. We also imagine what it is to walk in the shoes of our characters so that we can dramatize their story.

How then with all the new digital technologies at our fingertips can we publish a play, our play, in a way that connects a reader with the show we made for our live audience and still give the reader the space to imagine their own version of the play and imagine the inner life of that world and those characters? These were the core questions that we talked about with the community lab at the first workshop. It was very clear that those readers and theatre goers wanted both. They wanted to be able to ‘just’ read the text and imagine their own show but they also wanted to have some indications of how we had imagined. So the exciting potential for this project was born in my imagination that there might be a way of offering a reader a ‘directed’ reading experience, which could also be turned off either entirely or in part.

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