Benefits of Understanding Action and Stage Directions

Benefits of Understanding Action and Stage Directions Video

Hi! Welcome to this video on, stage directions and how to read a play!

I’ll be explaining how to read, rather than watch, a play. I’ll give you a handful of tips that will help you understand a play without the context of a director’s performance.

It can be difficult to read a play; after all, the script isn’t intended for you to read, but rather it’s intended to be performed. So the playwright, unlike an author of a novel, doesn’t spend a lot of time world building. But there are a handful of things you can do that will help you understand a play as you read it.

  1. Approach the play with an open mind.
  2. Read with pencil in hand. And use it! Jot down notes on characters, themes, elements, anything you notice. This will help you to not only stay engaged, but it will help you to organize the play and follow along as you read.
  3. Make a note of all the stage directions. There will be a few – and likely only a few. Get as much out of them as you can. As a reader, you have the advantage of being able to imagine anything and everything, a luxury a director does not have.
    • Stage directions are given from the perspective of actors on the stage. “Stage right” is on the audience’s left. Upstage is the back of the stage, farthest from the audience, and downstage is nearest the audience.
    • Here’s a list of a few major directions you may encounter:
      1. Act: A subsection of a play. There are often three acts to a play.
      2. Aside: When an actor breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience, and not other characters on stage.
      3. Fourth wall: The invisible “wall” between the stage and the characters. Generally, nothing is supposed to cross this wall. Next we have the
      4. Chorus: in Greek theatre, the chorus is a group of people who comment on or advance the plot.

  4. The fourth thing that you can do that will help you understand a play as you read it is to visualize! Add voices and costumes to the characters as best as you can. You may not have too much to go on, but a good play will resonate with you in some way – can you empathize with the situation a character is in? Do you have a similar story? This may help you to convey what the character is communicating.
  5. Direct the play in your head. What costumes would you have the characters wear? What’s the mood – is it dark, happy, mysterious? What are the people like? Tall, short, fat, haughty, timid, loud? These considerations will help flesh out the story line.
  6. Research the setting and historical context. The playwright may have intended the play to be set in a certain time and place, such as Ancient Greece, Victorian England, the back alleys of New York City. Oftentimes, art is meant to criticize or instruct. What is the playwright suggesting about people or a particular place in time? The copy or translation you’re reading may include notes – be sure to read those as well.
  7. Our seventh and final point, go watch the play performed! I know that’s not necessarily helpful when you’re trying to learn how to READ a play, but plays were meant to entertain and be performed. The more plays you can watch, even if it’s your local community theatre, will help you understand theatre better as a whole. If you can, do all of the above steps first so that you walk into the performance with as much information as possible. Or don’t – it’s performance art after all, so try doing this process in the opposite order. Watch the play first, then do all of your research. The more exposure you give yourself, the better.

And if you find yourself getting frustrated or not enjoying theatre, that’s okay. Try different genres to see if there’s something you enjoy more. So don’t let anyone judge you if you don’t love the Bard.

Thanks for watching! We hope this video on stage directions and how to read a play leaves you feeling prepped and empowered!


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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: January 19, 2024