Playwright Charlotte Keatley brought the latest draft of Émilie's Reason, her play based on the life of the 18th Century French polymath Émilie du Châtelet, to the Reading Group in June 2017. Here in an open letter to all who attended she writes of the energising symbiosis between playwright and actor.
Fantastically helpful and invigorating to hear my current draft of my new play read in one energetic swoop by the Presence Reading Group. Although I always read my scenes aloud as I'm writing, it's obviously never the same as hearing other voices. I always try my play drafts aloud or on their feet with actors as I write drafts, in order to hear the real meaning and subtext (as opposed to what I think I'm writing ... my unconscious is always ahead of me). There's also the crafting: hearing the nuts and bolts of dialogue, images, rhythm and how they may need rewriting or cutting. With the Presence group, hearing my characters rotated around different readers was a great way to hear different dimensions of the characters.
The relationship between playwright and actor is for me the symbiotic heart of making good theatre. It never ceases to enthrall me how I can go over and over some words of mine, testing and questioning them, but it's only when an actor reads them in a way I never thought of doing - with an emphasis I never tried - that I suddenly hear what those words are for. That's the magic-seeming, collaborative complicity of playwright and actor. Sometimes in a reading, it can be the pauses or breaths an actor takes tell me how my play is working or not.
Most of all, hearing my current draft read through without a break allowed me to get a detailed sense of how my new structure is working, or where I need to cut and move scenes, or insert something else ... I often workshop my plays, but invariably there's a pause in a play-reading after some scenes, and people want to talk. Hearing the whole arc with the Reading Group showed me the energy of the play as it is at the moment and as it would reach an audience.
My thanks to every person who read, and listened, and laughed, sighed, gasped, or gave me that silence of when we are collectively moved by something. I'd love to come back with another draft of this or another play to try with you. Most of all you gave me more encouragement than you can realise by turning up, and giving your enthusiastic responses.
So much of playwriting is (for me) about enduring loneliness, confusion, and my sense of failing, though there are of course those good days when I the writing is singing. Finally getting to work with actors is the reward.