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Answer: Table reads are employed in several different acting scenarios, from plays to episodic television to films and even, on occasion… (continued in David’s answer below)
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Answer: Table reads are employed in several different acting scenarios, from plays to episodic television to films and even, on occasion, commercials, when actors are gathered together, around a table, to read the script aloud and give the producers an idea of what the final production will sound like.
When a writer begins the process of putting the script together, the only voice he hears in his head is his own. All the characters use his speech patterns, accent, pitch and rhythm. Once the script is working shape, and before it’s finalized, one of the things the writer might want to consider is to hold a table read.
A table read gathers together actors to sit around a table, open the script, read not only the lines, but also the stage directions and narration, and see what happens. It doesn’t have to be around a table – I’ve done many table reads that consist of gathering chairs around couches in a lobby or office space and reading the script.
In the early stages of a script’s life, a table read can be very useful to the production team. It can assure that a scene actually plays, with real people, the way the team thinks it should. And it can also, very quickly, expose the flaws in a scene’s timing, words, emotional level and context.
You might be called in to a table read to help the writer flesh out something not quite clear to him, or, you might be called in as a simple favor to a casting director or producer. Bear in mind that being called in for a table read is not a booking, is usually unpaid work, and doesn’t assure that you’ll even audition for the part that you are reading. But – it’s exposure to several production team members that might use you for that project, or remember you for a project in the future.
Table reads also are used for stage productions. Usually, the table read of a play still being workshopped is a read that is similar to what I’ve already described – to help the production team work out the kinks. But later, as the play is cast, the table read begins the process of melding the cast together, getting reads and timing down, generating performance notes from the director and so on, long before the piece gets up on it’s feet.
With film and television episodic production, there may be a table read before the script and the cast is even auditioned. But once the script is approved for production and the cast is finalized, a table read is often the very first production item. On a film, the table read might occur on the first day’s production, or long before, or not at all. It might occur in a separate location – and usually, you’re paid for that work.
With episodic television, table reads are also an initial effort, for which you are usually paid. You may not be invited to the table read if your part is small – they’ll just have an assistant read your lines. But bear in mind that at any time, you can be shown the exit door – including after you’re cast, before and after the table read, in production or in the performance. Table read etiquette, especially if you’re a guest cast member, is important: be nice, be quiet, be helpful, but don’t be a pest or brash or loud. Treat the cast members with quiet joviality, and don’t do anything different (unless directed to) from what you did in the audition that got you the call back and the call back that got you the work.
Finally, you’re never really hired for a production until you sign your contract, shoot the project, get the check and see yourself on-screen. And at any point along the way, including at the table read, you can potentially get fired from the production. The table read is not the time to try new things, throw your weight around, upend the intent of the character and the way you portrayed it. In addition to the notes on behavior above, know that you can be fired before, during or after a table read. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. Don’t let it happen to you.
What’s your answer to this acting question? Let me know in the comments below.
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This was very helpful. I wasn’t exactly sure of what a table read was but I am very well informed because of the information provided. Thanks!
This truly was helpful; thank you so much for posting. After submitting a video audition for a mini-series I was told I’m being very seriously considered and was invited to the first table read for that role even though auditions are still under way. The table read is three weeks away. Would it be out of my place, or is it too early, to ask them if I may read the script before the table read?
Yes, it would. Don’t be a pain – let them manage this process, and be accessible without being needy. They’ll get you the script when they need/want to. Just let things flow.
Thanks so much for the comments- I was invited to do a table read, and was not completely sure of what to expect. You cleared that up quickly. Thanks again
I am wrting a script for a play and was told that a table read would be useful when it is complete, but I did not understand the purpose of it. You explained it quite well. Thank you!
Table reading is a necessary part of the project preparation. We shoot a comedy series about independent filmmaking and one of our episodes is about the table read
Hilarious! “What size are you based on this chart?”
I have a table read this weekend and my character has a couple of lines where I’m supposed to be crying at one point and one where I let out a blood curling scream. Do I go all out on these directions or just be a bit more emotional?
Every table read is different – for sitcoms, the leads try to make each other laugh. For hour-long dramas and procedurals, everyone is usually running at about 50-75% full throttle – just trying to examine the script, not perform for each other. I’d ask the director what s/he’s expecting – let him/her know about your concerns and hear what s/he has to say. Most likely, not full bore.
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