Daniel Evans: Why my new year’s resolution is to read more plays
I hope I’m not alone in saying that one of the most challenging aspects of being an artistic director is finding time to read.
Yes, to read articles, to read novels, to read long emails, but most importantly, to read plays. After all, it’s probably the single most critical part of the job.
Even someone with a strong familiarity of the canon might need to brush up on their knowledge of Congreve’s lesser-known plays every now and then, or finally to knuckle down and get through Goethe’s Torquato Tasso or to fill in the gaps in one’s knowledge, say, of black American writers. That’s before tackling the new work – both home-grown and unsolicited. I tell you, reading is a full-time job.
I used to stock up on plays and print them out in an A5 booklet form, so that I could read them on my numerous train journeys.
The best way to read a play is to read it aloud. Not good in any train carriage.
But even that was tricky at first due to the endless distractions: other people’s conversations (whether interesting or not), the beautiful countryside whizzing by, the potentially soporific rhythm of the engine, etc. Even the ‘quiet’ carriages aren’t immune from those interminable, deafening announcements. However, after a while, I learned to zone out and immerse myself in a play.
There was only one issue: I find the best way to read a play is to read it aloud. Not good in any train carriage.
I know other artistic directors who save their reading for bedtime. I tried this and failed – for, perhaps, inevitable reasons. After a busy day, it’s not the best time to focus on new work. Even the most disappointing plays deserve a reader who’s awake. So, I now stay clear of that.
It helps having an office with a door. I found working in an open-plan environment completely unconducive to reading plays. A quiet corner of the foyer was far better. But then, that was also true of answering most phone calls.
Most theatres cannot afford to employ a literary manager or dramaturg, which can feel like a luxury – despite it being a crucial role in truth.
Some theatres employ small armies of readers who earn around £15 per script. But even then, ultimately, the plays that show potential must be read by the artistic director if they are to be considered for production.
It’s not that reading plays isn’t important. As I’ve said, it’s probably the most important part of the job. It’s just that, throughout the day, there are meetings to attend, people to manage, donors to meet, emails to write, actors to cast, workshops to oversee.
And somehow… somehow, one can feel like sitting down and reading a play is not ‘working’.
It’s as if reading was akin to skiving off. So, my new year’s resolution: make time in the calendar every week to shut that office door and have a read.