As someone who was one of the very first producers presenting Zoom readings in 2020 and who was able to raise hundreds of dollars for smaller theaters across the country, I’ll be the first one to tell you that Zoom readings can be a cost-efficient way to develop a script. But it’s not 2020 anymore. There are a few things to think about before setting one up.
Zoom Readings Are Live
A Zoom Reading is a great way to get your script heard. Until you get out of your head and hear your words interpreted by someone else, you won’t really know your next step. Should you rewrite the opening with a different point of attack? Does your climax feature a secondary character instead of your protagonist? Is it clear what your script is about?
By scheduling a live Zoom reading, you’ll get feedback immediately. Listen to your audience and your actors. Did the audience react and laugh when you expected them to laugh? Were they confused about whose journey they were on? Did they “get it”?
I always like to weigh my options when developing a new script. Zoom readings can offer advantages to both playwrights and producers in the early days.
- Cost-Efficient – With a “Pro” subscription of only 14.99/mo, the Zoom platform is hard to beat. You can easily cast friends to gather for a cold table reading (no need to cast to type) by sending them your latest draft, and then to stay afterward to discuss.
- Convenient – Since your goal is to get the smartest people (or the most well-connected) into the room to give you feedback, you make it easy for them to participate – all you’re asking is for them to make time to listen, from the comfort of their own home.
- Build an Audience – The convenience of Zoom gives you the ability to also invite potential investors, producers, artistic directors, and other members of the theater community to be on board with you as you develop the script. If people are interested in you or your show, they appreciate the opportunity to become part of the creative process.
- Build a Fan Base – Similarly, online Zoom readings give you the ability to develop and then gather a group of “raving fans” to be part your audience. One of my writers did this, and now he can depend on this dedicated group of fans to regularly show up to see his show whenever he presents it. Followers count!
- Raising Money – The knowledge of who your target audience is not only helps you to market and promote your shows, it will also help you successfully raise money – both directly and indirectly. Potential investors or donors can be sent a recording of your reading afterward.
Zoom Fatigue and Technical Limitations
After two years some Zoom fatigue has set in. “Oh please, not another Zoom reading,” some say. But try to invite producers to an in-person reading, and many still are reluctant to attend. It’s all about safety – and we need to keep each other safe.
I know, we’re all Zoomed out. We long for the way we did things in 2019, but until covid is a thing of the past (which it still isn’t in 2022) Zoom helps to keep theater alive and moving forward safely. I know some artistic directors who would prefer to listen to a Zoom reading in their car instead of having to take the time to read a script.
There are some times when you shouldn’t plan a Zoom reading.
Zoom can be decidedly NOT helpful if your script contains a lot of action. Stage directions are a poor representation of comic moments, for example. We once tried to produce a Zoom reading for a madcap comedy dependent on hilarious mishaps. It fell flat, dependent upon a reader reading stage directions instead of watching talented actors demonstrate comic timing and physical comedy. Also, the missing laughter from other audience members enjoying the moment did not give permission for others to laugh along. (Hint: always encourage the audience to react in the chat space, also some find that irritating.
Especially when developing a musical, Zoom technology doesn’t allow us to learn as much as we need. It is famously not set up for the overlapping of voices and the underscoring of music, unless first recorded and then edited. (Note: I believe some other platforms now do this.) The musical experience is limited in a zoom reading. Even if you play a demo track, what does your audience see onscreen? It’s disconcerting not to see the characters sing – and lip syncing is even worse. The best choice may be to see slides with lyrics written out, but that can be distancing for the audience. Some cannot integrate the binary experience of dialogue and inserted songs enough to feel a powerful catharsis.
For a successful Zoom reading to advance development you may need to do some extensive editing. In this competitive environment, potential producers or producing partners may request to see your best work visually before they can “see” it on stage. Professionally edited Zoom readings have become an acceptable way for busy artistic directors, investors and producers to experience a show on their device without needing to read an entire script and listen to demos, and can be a definite asset.
Use the Technology to Your Advantage
At CreateTheater I find Zoom to be an indispensable tool for development, no matter what stage a script is in. Since the writing process is often more “re-writing,” a company of theater professionals experienced in new play development is indispensable. When we trust the feedback and those giving it, the opportunity to present a Zoom reading, re-write and present again inexpensively is tremendously helpful.
Zoom isn’t going away anytime soon. The key is to make it work to your advantage.