How to Read a Play

How to Read a Play


UNIT 3: How to Read a Play

In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Introduction
- Tips on How To Read a Play
- How to Read a Play
- Conclusion

Reading a play is not like reading a novel, short story, or a poem. What makes reading play different from other genres is that plays contain dialogues with a lot of stage directions.

The following are most important tips to consider when one wants to read a play successfully:
(1) Read a play with a pencil on your hand. This helps in marking the important sections, sentences, and phrases while reading.  Also when you have a pencil, you can jot down notes and questions about a particular scene or act. The students who read a play with a pencil can remember the characters and events easily than those who do not mark as they read.
(2) Visualize the characters. A reader needs to use stage directions to visualize the characters. He/she should visualize how characters look at the stage and how they act at a particular moment.
(3) Contemplate the setting. This is also important. The setting in plays is mostly shown in stage directions, so the reader needs to pay attention to how stage directions look like so that he/she can visualize the setting well. The reader should imagine also the costumes (dressing style) of the characters. This helps to visualize where the story might have been happening.
(4) Research the historical context. The reader needs to understand the historical details about the time and place the play is set for. For example, the reader who reads the play ‘Kinjeketile’, he/she needs to study about the historical details of the event that is associated with the play. However, the historical details are just helpful in understanding the text, and the play itself should be analysed as a literary text not as an historical document. This also involves the reading of the background of the playwright.
(5) Think like a director of the play or imagine as if you are sitting in Director’s chair. When you visualize the position and what could be the instructions of the director, you can understand the play well. A reader must imagine the cast (characters), the set, time, and the movements.

To read a play, you are required to have a theatrical imagination that helps you to realize the dramatic actions on the stage:
The following are the aspects that can help you read and understand the play well:
(1) Imagine the physical environment (setting) of the play.
Ask yourself;
When is the play set?
Where is the play set?
What are the main markers in that location (for example, a door, a dining room, a hoe, a hut)
(2) Imagine the scenic environment
Ask yourself the following;
What are the specific physical layouts of the particular scenes?
Which characters are present in the particular scenes?
How do they move?
(3) Imagine each character’s appearance.
Ask yourself;
What do they look like?
What do they wear?
How do they move?
(4) Imagine the language of the play.
Consider the following;
The spoken text ( that is, dialogue, literally what the characters say to each other)
The action text (that is, the physical language of the play; the gestures and movements and movements and shape of our understanding of the play)
The subtext (that is, the unspoken thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the characters)
(5) Imagine the production elements of the play
Ask yourself these;
How light of the play changes?
What are the costumes of the play?
What is the general design of the play?
What is the design of the play's stage?

The play should be read as if the reader were right there at the theatre. You should look for the places where a role, a scene, or a verbal exchange may be performed in different ways and make choices as to how such components might be interested in the theatre of your mind.
 These Reading Skills Will Make Your Students Good Readers and Critics of Plays.
As Literature teacher, collaborate with students to create posters on this topic and sick them on the Walls of the Classroom, on Classroom noticeboard, or in the school library for students to check as reminders and for more understanding!

(1) Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

(2) Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

(3) Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.


Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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