How to Direct Readers' Theatre

Four Methods:Organizing the Readers' TheatrePromoting your Readers' TheatreRunning the Readers' TheatreHolding a Readers' Theatre show

Acting is chief of stage skills, and it's fun to use for helping others develop interests and some amazing talents. Many actors start out in children's theatre and even work towards professional status some day. Once you've graduated from all your training, you might be thinking of teaching a small class, and to get a feel for directing. If so, Readers' Theatre is perfect for you!

Readers' Theatre is a forum where actors read a script created from a book and bring literature to life. In order to get started, this article provides some help on good ways to create and direct Readers' Theatre to ensure that it's both a useful and enjoyable experience.

Method 1
Organizing the Readers' Theatre

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    Organize your Readers' Theatre. You're going to need a practice location, a set practice time, scripts, and the director.
    • Have an application for parents to fill out and sign including a disclaimer of certain legalities (give the parent or responsible adult a copy). Have warning signs to post for safety.
    • If you have only been asked to direct, you can also offer to help organize and publicize the theatre group.
    • It's recommended that you get an assistant director, if you have more than 15 people; above this number you will usually need to split the actors into separate groups to undertake separate practices so as to avoid having people sit around being bored and creating discipline problems. If you're already well immersed in acting, chances are, you know other people around town who are familiar with acting and directing and would be willing to help out. Call them up and explain to them what they would be doing and what benefits they'd get from being involved: Readers' Theatre is a popular choice for parents, educators and groups looking to encourage participation and nurture the creative spirit.
    • Think up a name for your Readers' Theatre. It can be very simple (like the name of the town/city where you live) or something to do with theatre arts.
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    Set your location. Look for any small buildings for rent (drive around, look online, ask people, etc.). Narrow down your choice to three suitable places, and go to see them, walk through them and get a good feel for them. What you're looking for is a nice, wide-open space able to accommodate any stunts or running around, and that has a few chairs, a bathroom and a break room. Check that it has suitably bright lights, so the actors can get used to acting in this environment. Ask about an especially low cost, the availability and consider security.
    • Look at community centres, university/college spaces, high schools, etc., and anywhere else where they may be able to loan you the space for free or next-to-nothing after you've explained what you're doing. This is especially useful when you're just starting out and you're stretched for funds.
    • Ask about empty stores -- in an old shopping center, or on the main street in a small town -- that have remained unoccupied for some time. The owner may be happy to let you use it for nothing, if rental chances are low; your system could even end up featured as a local newspaper story that can help the landlord! Check that it's properly insured and safe though. Providing your own insurance may be very expensive. If you can, then incorporate (such as LLC), to limit personal liability for the event of accident or other problems.
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    Set your practice time. Make the practice time conveniently fit between meal hours and school hours (if it's for kids), being sure it's a "relaxing" time (like the afternoon, or early evening). Every other day may work (like Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Decide what is realistic in terms of time commitment, too. Some people might not be able to commit to three practices a week but could manage one or two. You'll need to account for this and occasionally schedule a theatre group accordingly.
    • You may need to be flexible about changing the chosen practice time after a while, if it becomes clear that people find the time difficult for one reason or another. Set an initial time, then be prepared to revise it later, if a majority of the group thinks that a change in time would be beneficial for all.
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    Decide whether you will need to charge fees or not. Perhaps you'll charge a nominal fee to cover expenses and treat the actors as volunteers. Or perhaps you'll charge fees and treat the actors as pupils. This might be organized in cooperation with a church or a city community/civic center. If you do intend on charging fees, have evidence of your qualifications to show potential actors that you are genuine and capable. In either case, people will be keen to know what qualifies you to direct Readers' Theatre, so have a nice spiel written and practiced about your training and experience, for both print and conversation.

Method 2
Promoting your Readers' Theatre

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    Advertise your Readers' Theatre. This step is important as it lets people know what you're doing and to come and join in. Before you advertise, it's a good idea to have a catchy name and descriptive phrase and a distinctive graphic design for your Theatre's name. Use colors that stand out, to grab people's attention. And have an email address and phone number ready for taking messages so that these can be included with the advertising materials. It's a good idea to encourage people to join early, so that you can begin to get an idea of numbers; to this end, try to include an early joining incentive as part of your advertising, such as a discount, if you're charging fees or an extra ticket for family for the final show. Some ways to advertise include:
    • A good way to advertise is to get a magnetic giant sticker with your organization's name, phone number and your goal for actors (short, like a catchy motto), and put it on your car. Every time you drive, people will see it.
    • Put a classified ad in the newspaper. It will cost a little more, but a lot of people may see it. Ask whether this is also repeated in the online version of the newspaper––classifieds often are now.
    • Get picket signs with your key information printed on them and put them up around town (with permission) to advertise.
    • Make small posters and flyers. Place these in strategic locations like local shop windows (ask first), library bulletin boards, school message boards, washateria board, church boards, etc. Wherever people gather in a community space is a good place to advertise.
    • Set up a Twitter and Facebook account. Share the links with friends and ask them to pass it on. Leave useful information on both accounts and update regularly to keep people noticing your presence.
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    Emphasize that Readers' Theatre plays promote confidence, reading skills and good study habits using simple scripts for plays such as books, holiday themes and classics such as Cinderella that are appropriate an d fun for children to perform.

Method 3
Running the Readers' Theatre

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    Get everything ready. Preparation is a large part of running a theatre and directing actors. Your own confidence will stem from making sure that you have everything that's needed to keep each practice running smoothly. Some things you'll need to prepare include:
    • Make your script. Reader's Theatre is essentially about selecting a book to either (1) type out part of it from the book -- or (2), instead, copy and paste parts of the text, if you find a book on line that will work that way (some are not in text form). Then (3) organize that into a play-script format. It will take you a while, but that's what you would have to do -- unless someone has made some scripts already that you can borrow or download and use.
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    Consider using short stories for creating your scripts as with books, to make a series of plays to create a diversity of roles for the people who turn up; this will also allow you to place people into different groups by story.
    • Print out your scripts and staple them.
    • Print 10 extra scripts above what you think you'd regularly need. Someone will always forget his or her script and newcomers may turn up when you least expect it.
    • Get together anything else needed, such as a portable music player and music playlist, highlighters for the scripts, water and cups for refreshing parched throats, etc.
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    Get your practice place ready. It should be an open space with chairs surrounding the area. If you can, put a few mirrors on the walls. It will help the actors practice their facial expressions and posture, allowing them to make changes as needed when their actions are reflected back at them. Affordable portable mirrors can often be found in thrift stores; they don't need to be beautiful, just functional.
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    Keep a list of people who have said they'll come and any details such as email contact or phone number. Be ready to field queries from interested people by having all the details sorted in your mind; this will help you to sound professional and will encourage them to join in. If you've done everything listed above, then all you need is the actors and to wait for the day you set.
    • If you've made electronic copies of the script, you might consider emailing this to interested people before they turn up. You can make it clear that you'll provide paper copies but this lets them get a head start on understanding the script.
    • Send confirmation details by email or mail to those who "enroll" or "join" the Readers' Theatre. This helps to create a sense of belonging and encourages turning up. Use this opportunity to ask them to friend you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter as well.
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    Meet the first day: Start the theatre, having the scripts handy, along with the extras for unexpected participants and for those who forget.

    Have everyone stand in a circle and give them each a script. Explain what you will be doing and "audition" people for the parts. Always have the actors warm up.Teach the actors to use their big voice, not the small "3 foot (0.9 m) voice" which is used in classroom group work.
    • Teach and insist on safety, in all aspects. Teach your 5 or 6 rules and instruct new procedures anytime, as needed.
    • Keep a clipboard handy. Write or print out each person's name and put a little box next to it. Have each actor read the parts you're thinking they would be good for. If they meet your expectations, put an "x" for "good" next to their name; if not, then put an '*' and move on to the next person. Using the asterisk, "*", is not such an obvious bad-mark and using "x as the good-mark" lessens the set notions of being judged...
      • If you have more than two plays (or books/short stories), this will ensure that everyone gets a part; and a second chance if they weren't what you were looking for when they did their first audition.
      • If you're auditioning children, be more forgiving about who seems "right" for a role. The purpose of acting for children is to learn how to grow into the roles and to improve in time. Indeed, acting often teaches children confidence and resilience, and giving them a chance to prove themselves will often surprise you (and their parents)!
    • If you have a person who auditions and seems totally unsuitable for any part, try to find this person something else to do to keep them involved. Part of a director's role, especially with passionate performers, is to make sure that those keen to take part have something they can do. Take into account the fact that just by turning up, such a person showed enthusiasm and you might give them a chance to be an understudy, manager of props or chief usher at the show, etc.
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    Once everyone has had a chance to audition, give each of them their script with their name marked on it. Make a plan to meet back at the chosen location on the set dates.
    • Be on time to unlock the building; it's a good idea to be there about 30 minutes before anyone is supposed to arrive. If you're using a set of any kind, and/or properties (props), put these in place so that the "stage" is set when your actors arrive.
      • If you have no set, then use chairs or crates to form a basic set.
    • When people arrive, have them sit and encourage them to practice their lines.
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    Decide which play you're going to practice first (if you have more than one). If one play doesn't involve certain people, have your assistant take them to a separate area to practice their lines (and do character work) while you're working on the current play. Alternatively, if it's just the one play, have those not in a particular scene break off and practice something different with the assistant director.
    • Learn how to critique acting. If you see something you think could be fixed, then tell the actors kindly. This is where your directing instinct should kick in. It will take some practice to perfect your own style but provided you let the actors know you're learning and that you're open to being taught too, this is a fine opportunity to hone your directing skills.

      Always assume that you're working with people who want to achieve their best and focus on praising the results you want and downplaying the things you don't want from them.
    • Spend some time reading about directors and directing skills to get good suggestions for improving your own techniques.
    • Don't be hesitant about explaining what you'd prefer an actor to do. Acting is about being ready to conform to the expectations of people who have some distance and can see what is needed; the actor is in the middle of the action -- but as a director, you're able to see the bigger picture, and it is important that you learn to convey this professionally and clearly.
    • It can sometimes help to video people as they act. Email them the video after the practice session with pointers for making changes. Having actors able to see themselves in the privacy of their own homes and digest the constructive feedback you've offered should see them return with renewed vigor!

Method 4
Holding a Readers' Theatre show

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    When you think your actors are ready, set a show date. Choose the middle of the week or a weekend. Evenings are good for adults, matinees (late morning or early afternoon) for children. In some cases, especially with children, it might be sensible to use the same time as the practice time, as parents will be more likely to have this time set aside in their calendars.
    • Be sure to ask your actors first if they're happy to perform a show. If they have understood this to be the outcome of all their hard work from the start, then it'll be easy to get them to perform. On the other hand, if your group has never acted before and was only interested in learning the skills, it's important to ask whether they want to put their skills on public display before assuming that this is what they expected. Talking about holding a show from the very start of the practice sessions is recommended as a way to know from the beginning how your actors feel.
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    Find a venue. Your practice place may not be suitable for holding the actual show; if not, you'll need to look for a suitable one, hopefully with a stage. If you can get a church to help sponsor you, or a school with a stage, it would be easier on the pocketbook.
    • Make sure your venue has good lighting, curtains and a bathroom. If you can get tables and chairs for seating, that would be the most comfortable for your audience.
    • If you want to make it more enjoyable for your audience, serve snacks or a dessert. You'll probably have to charge admission for this, but it will draw more people in. Alternatively, if you're keeping this part very informal and only inviting the friends and families of those participating, ask them to bring a plate for a shared supper. This saves costs and brings everyone together after the show.
    • Set a time and date and advertise. Get custom made tickets and printed programs for your show. Put another classified ad in the newspaper promoting it and encourage people to share links online through sites such as Facebook and Twitter. For advertising, be sure to include the show's name, the time and date, the location, and if you have passable actors, add a "Featuring" to it, listing the cast.
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    Decide whether you want to make it a full "Theatre" experience. If so, include makeup and full costumes for the actors. Given you're most likely on a budget, ask the actors to assist here by bringing their own costume skills to the task. Thrift stores and online auctions are other great places to find cheap costume items. Don't be afraid to experiment with all sorts of things and to use simple sewing, gluing and stapling to achieve the looks needed––nobody will be looking too closely.
    • If you're directing children, parents and grandparents are often only too happy to pitch in and help with costume and makeup skills. Ask nicely and some parents or grandparents are likely to come forward, and if you're really blessed, you can assign the most enthusiastic one with a title like "Head of Costumes" -- and he or she will take charge for you. This may also work for adult actors, if you work out who is most keen in the costume, creative department!
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    Hold your show. Make sure the actors are ready, the venue is ready and everything is looking good. If you only have small props or costume pieces (like hats, scarves, shoes), then use those rather than full costumes. It's a good idea to have some friends help out with the last minute setting up and with ushering in the audience. You can't expect the actors to be involved in this part. Perhaps also ask former colleagues from your old acting school to come and lend a hand; it's all good experience and fun for them.
    • Hand out programs to people at the doors. Take their money/ticket and have them go in.
    • Have music playing in the background. Ensure that the music is free to be played in public; if unsure, stick to music that has clearance for playing in public (even old songs may have copyright on the arrangements).
    • Dim the audience/house lights and start the show!


  • Get highlighters to mark actor's lines with.
  • Make sure you get a place that has good plumbing and a lavatory, maybe a sink. Have a water-fountain, if you can; it's a good idea to keep your actors, and yourself, hydrated. Never neglect the need for a bathroom.
  • If you're planning on making a profit from the readers' theatre, making admission pricing on the cheaper side will probably get you more people; if you make it at a higher price-range, then you'll have to make the theatre really good/have expertise. However, if you're a novice, just aim to hold the show rather than seek profit. The experience is invaluable.
  • When you become a well-known director, then you can expect people to come to your theatre to act and just watch. Until then, be prepared to do a lot of running around and advertising to drum up support!
  • Have some open practices. While practicing in private is probably the best for most of the preparation, it may be good to have an "open" practice at the start. Invite people who are interested so they can see what readers' theatre is like. It's good to get people into your theatre, if they have any doubts.
  • Make business cards. You can make business cards as well as car stickers using online companies or local print stores.
  • Have your spare scripts for people who lose theirs; so that, you can give them another.


  • The whole process is very time-consuming. Although worth it, you probably would only want to make this an annual show.
  • You will always have to pay royalties for any plays you do, unless they're original or the copyright has expired. Read up on how much it may cost and ask for advice from a person qualified to give it, such as a copyright lawyer or entertainment industry adviser.
  • Prepare for people to say, "No.", if you're just starting out, or not very well-known. As you build your career in directing in your community, more people will come to your theatre. This is why starting out small and beginning with children can be a good way to get your foot in. Be humble and be prepared to work hard.

Things You'll Need

  • Suitable practice and show venues
  • Scripts, suitable book (take care to heed royalty payments as required)
  • Printer
  • Email and social media accounts
  • Advertising materials
  • Portable music player capable of high volume
  • Lighting
  • Water for all participants (bring their own, or tap water at a minimum)
  • Props
  • Costumes
  • Highlighters
  • Notebook and pen for taking notes
  • Video camera (optional but potentially useful; always ask permission before filming participants)

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