‘Reader’s Theatre’ also known as ‘Chamber’s Theatre’ or ‘Interpretative Theatre’ is:
‘Reader’s Theatre’ also known as ‘Chamber’s Theatre’ or ‘Interpretative Theatre’ is:
• A style of theatre or presentation where ‘readers’ read from a ‘script’ where the parts are divided among the ‘readers’
• A dramatic or moved reading
• The ‘lines’ are not learnt by the reader/performers
• Scripts are held during the presentation
• Sometimes Choral reading or group reading is evident
- easy and quick to rehearse
- reader/performers use the expression in their voices and faces (along with simple gestures)
- no elaborate costumes, lighting or set
- can be done with Primary school children too
The History of Reader’s Theatre
• ‘Reader’s Theatre’ probably had its origins in Ancient Greece 2500 years ago
• It probably progressed during the Enlightenment period (mostly the 18th Century) with an interest in moved literature readings
• During Victorian times Tea Room Readings of plays and Chamber play pieces probably had aspects of ‘reader’s Theatre.
• The proliferation of Radio in the 1920’s meant that many live radio broadcasts or recorders were performed in front of an audience and done as performed moved readings. Radio plays are a form of Readers’ Theatre. The actors perform using scripts. There is no “staging” in this case. This continued to the 1940’s.
• During the late 1940’s, American Leslie Irene Coger invented modern ‘Reader’s Theatre’ and as a professor at Southwest Missouri State University developed ‘Reader’s Theatre’ as a way to develop active literacy skills
• The term ‘Reader’s Theatre’ seems to have probably been used first in 1945 when a professional drama troupe in New York called themselves Readers Theatre Inc., produced Oedipus Rex. The objective of their performance was “to give the people of New York an opportunity to witness performances of great dramatic works which were seldom if ever are produced.”
• In 1951, the Broadway production of Don Juan in Hell brought Readers Theatre to a more mainstream performance audience
• In 1952 Stephen Vincent Benét’s long narrative poem John Brown’s Body, adapted and directed by Charles Laughton, was presented by three readers and a chorus of twenty. Unlike the actors in Don Juan in Hell, who read the part of many different characters, these three actors each represented a single character.
• During the 1960’s the Reader’s Theatre styles such as Chamber Theatre, Theatre of the Mind develop and Dr. Coger writes in her handbook, ‘Readers Theatre’.
• By 1965, Readers’ Theatre had become popular within college theatre departments The 1970’s saw the active adoption of Reader’s Theatre in the training of Primary and Lower Secondary teachers
• The 1990’s saw the shift from Reader’s Theatre as an educational and interpretational tool to a more performance study-based field method
• By the 21st Century Reader’s Theatre also started to become popular in the teaching even of subjects like Science, Geography and History (see Smith 2008)
Style and Conventions in Reader’s Theatre
· Readers can be arranged in a row or a semicircle, standing up or sitting on high stools
· Narrators are placed at one or both ends, and major characters in the centre
· Scripts can be held in hand or set on music stands.
· Readers can look straight out toward the audience or at an angle, rather than at each other. Narrators always look directly at the audience while characters can look at one another
· The ‘lines’ are not learnt by the reader/performers
· Sometimes the characters introduce who they are at the beginning to help the audience
· Sometimes Choral reading or group reading is evident
· Characters portray the action described in the story. Where possible, the portrayal is literal, with characters moving around the stage much as in a play
· Simple mime techniques are used
· Though narrators look mostly at the audience, characters look mostly at each other
· Characters don’t exit (the reader normally turns their back to the audience to exit)
· Scripts in sturdy binders are held in one hand, leaving the other hand free for acting
· At some points a Reader may need to put the script down to add a gesture or movement to help the presentation
Video Examples of Reader’s Theatre
• See if you can see some aspects of Reader’s Theatre and its stage conventions in the video. Play about 1 minute then stop and discuss.
Sample of Reader’s Theatre Script
The Animal Trainer Parts (3 Characters): Narrator, Animal Trainer, Lion
Narrator: La--dies and Gen--tlemen! Welcome to out world renowned lion training act. May I direct your attention to the center wing here under our circus big-top.
Trainer: And now, ladies and gentlemen, I shall do my famous lion act! OK, Joe, open the cage door.
Narrator: Joe, the circus animal handler opens a cage door at the edge of the ring and out leaps a full grown lion.
Lion: [Leaping out of the cage] Just watch and see how well I have this trainer trained!
Trainer: OK, Leo, up on your stand! Lion: [To audience] Now watch me make him crack his whip.
[Sit with hands on chair seat]
Trainer: [Cracks whip] All the way up, Leo... All the way up. Lion: Now watch him bow to everyone.
[Get up on seat of chair with feet.]
Trainer: [Bowing to audience] Thank you. Thank you. And now for my next trick. [Cracks whip again.] Lion: [To audience while getting off chair] Want to see him turn in circles? keep your eyes open! Narrator: The trainer takes the chair and holds it between himself and the lion while cracking his whip. He turns in a small circle and Leo walks in a wide circle around the ring.
Trainer: That's it, Leo, around the cage. There you go! [Keeps Leo at the end of the whip, turning around with him.]
Other Websites with Samples of Scripts
Lesson Plan for Reader’s Theatre
Before the class, you will need to make multiple photocopies of the books or scripts you are using. For more able or advanced groups you can have the students highlight and work out the lines but for a group just starting or a younger group or a less able group, you can highlight the lines before the lesson for them. This does take some time.
Introduction to ‘Readers Theatre’.
For Primary students, start with discussing what reading is, what characters are in a book and who or what a narrator is. Discuss the different ways stories are told.
For Secondary students, read the introduction to this blog, watch the videos and discuss what ‘Reader’s Theatre’ may be. For some groups, you might want to give the lessons a language focus and discuss what ‘direct’ and ‘indirect speech’ are and how we can identify them (i.e. through punctuation clues or through their purpose or function). Talk about why you might want to use Reader’s Theatre. Go over Shepard (2014) Tips for Staging Reader’s Theatre http://www.aaronshep.com/rt/Tips2.html
Students should go over these tips as well as the style and convention features mentioned earlier in this blog.
If students are just doing this as an inquiry unit then they should be made aware of the key questions or areas of inquiry that they will be undertaking. If they are being assessed then the assessment, rubric or evaluation should be introduced (find a sample evaluation sheet below). Introduce the Readers Theatre Rubric and make sure that students are aware of how their performance will be assessed.
Organize the students into groups. You can assign the groups, the books and the roles or the students can do this themselves. Make sure each student is assigned or choses a role and make sure that a competent reader or student is assigned the Narrator.
Hand out the already highlighted scripts or have the students highlight their lines. Using different highlight colours for each character is a good idea and makes it easier for the students. Have students use a highlighter to highlight their roles in the script.
Let the students do a first read through of the scripts. After this read through go over the simple things they can do to make the reading into more ‘Reader’s Theatre’ such as standing in a row or semi-circle, putting the Narrator at the end, stepping forward when they speak, having the narrator talk to the audience but have characters talk to one another, using their voice to create a sense of character or express what is happening, using simple hand gestures and miming.
Have the groups rehearse and then have each group perform for the class. Reflect on what worked well. If the students and you want to take this further, the students can discuss extra staging aspects they could add such as simple costumes, simple set or having students mime different parts of the set.
Possible Reader’s Theatre Assessment or Evaluation Areas
1. The way the group prepared for and rehearsed the Reader’s Theatre.
2. Vocal Expression (Volume, pace, pitch, variation, pronunciation and sense of character)
3. Use of the space, gestures and movement
4. Group effectiveness during the performance
5. Use of any other staging elements such as costumes, folders, simple set etc.
6. Effect of performance or impact on the audience
7. A written statement of intention and or reflection can be also assessed. With younger students this can be done verbally. For very advanced students a program can be made and the intention and cast list can be put in the program.
• Coger, L.I., White, M.R. (1973). Readers Theatre Handbook: A Dramatic Approach to Literature. Revised Edition. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Co.
• Coger, L.I. (1998). "From Elocution to Performance Studies: A Personal History." Future of Performance Studies: Visions and Revisions. Ed. Sheron Dailey. Annadale, VA: National Communication Association, 1998. 110 - 113.
• Henry, L.A. (2016). ‘Reader’s Theater Lesson Plan’. ReadWriteThink Webpage. Newark, Del.: ReadWriteThink Inc.
• Kimbell-Lopez, K. (2003). Just think of the possibilities: Formats for reading instruction in the elementary classroom. Reading Online, 6. http://www.readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=kimbell-lopez/index.html
• Shepard, A. (2014). Tips on Staging (Reader’s Theatre). [Website].
• Smith, R,W. (2008). World History Readers' Theater, Grades 5-8. New York: Teacher Created Resources (May 1, 2008)
• Walker, . (2014). ‘Readers Theatre Presentation.’ Performance History. Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 14 April 2014. Lecture.
• Walker, . (2014). ‘Jump Up - Readers Theatre Presentation. Performance History. Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 14 April 2014. Lecture.
- Reader's Theatre Lesson Plans
- Reader's Theatre Scripts