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How to read "Cursed Child" (or any play, for that matter)

How to read "Cursed Child" (or any play, for that matter)

It's been years since I last read a play. There was Shakespeare and Hedda Gabler and more in high school, then required novels and short stories in college. When I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last week, it was the first play I can remember picking up in about a decade.

And I bet I'm not alone.

Play-reading is a different experience than book-reading. It requires the reader to fill in more descriptive blanks, to envision a stage rather than an entire world, to rely more on dialogue than anything else.

Imagination — and particularly theatrical imagination — is a key skill if you want to enjoy reading a play. Try to imagine when and where a play is set, what the characters look like and how they move in the space, as well as how they speak and what they leave unsaid.

Remember to read into dramatic pauses. They're dramatic for a reason.

Don't be afraid to read lines out loud. That is how they are intended to be received. Experiment with intonation and pace. Speaking the lines can help reveal their meaning.

Consider how "theatre" would transform the story. How would a chilling voice piped in from the rear back the hair on the back of your neck stand? What sort of chaos would dementors rising above the audience create? How would music create mood, and lighting create movement? All of these are unwritten factors that bring the play to life.

"When reading a play we imagine as much as possible about a performance of that play -- to see the play in the 'mind's eye,'" writes theatre professor Lary Opitz of Skidmore College. "The playwright's stage directions and the description of the stage setting help us to begin the process of imagining the performance, but they are severely limited."

It's like reading about a painting instead of looking at it, Opitz says.

With so much left off the page, is it worth it to read plays? If you're interested in them, of course it is. It's the only way to apply your desired lighting, music, costumes and sets to your own personal performance. Any play you view comes through someone else's filter.

"Was seeing … plays in performance a different experience than seeing them through reading them? Of course," writes Edward Albee, an American playwright. "Was it a more complete, more fulfilling experience? No, I don't think so."

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