Readers Theatre

Some of you may be asking what Readers Theatre is. The Institute for Readers Theatre defines it as “a combination of oral interpretation and conventional theatre utilizing two or more readers . . . to communicate the intellectual, emotional and aesthetic content of the literature to an audience.” It also has been described as theatre of the imagination, for both the actor and the audience. In this form, the actor visualizes the character he is speaking to in a place out beyond the audience. This allows for the audience to be directly involved in the conversation and exchanges between the actors.

Early Readers Theatre presentations were quite formal. The cast often would read in tuxedos and floor length dresses while using the traditional music stands and stools. Today, the stools and stands remain, but for the most part Readers Theatre is done in plain black, often enhanced with occasional costumes, some lighting, sound effects and music. Readers Theatre can be a very flexible form depending on the content and nature of literature that is the focus.

Readers Theatre, now a well-established form, was not always an accepted part of drama. Strong recognition came in the 1950s when the New York Drama Quartet, a Readers Theatre ensemble, was formed. Some of its members were Charles Laughton, Agnes Moorehead, Charles Boyer and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. They toured the U.S. with several hundred performances of G.B. Shaw’s plays, works by Bertold Brecht and many others. With the success of their work, and the strength of the form, many followed in their footsteps; the works of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, and Dylan Thomas are often used in Readers Theatre and A.R. Gurney’s well-known play, Love Letters, is straight Readers Theatre.

Today, besides a growing presence in the theatre world, Readers Theatre is gaining acceptance as a teaching tool at all levels of education. It allows for learning on several levels and can be used as a form to explore many different kinds of literature.