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How to run a Shakespeare play-reading

We encourage people to run Shakespeare play-readings. From our own experience they can be enormous fun, and enrich your understanding of the play.


If you are thinking of running play-readings, we think you should use our MFFEV5 plays online. They’re based on around 10 years experience of running play-readings; they offer innovataive ways of exploring the plays, they’re  easy to run and read, and they’re free.


To run an MFFEV5-based play-reading you need to take the following three steps (to play-reading heaven):


 1.    Select the play you want to read and invite enough people to the play-reading.

First, choose your play from the list of plays shown on our Home Page

Then, choose the number of players. This varies, usually between 6 – 12  players. The following rules-of-thumb are useful:

  • Try to make sure that every player has at least one ‘meaty’ role to play. Do this by looking at  the different cast lists for the play you’ve selected. You’ll find the cast lists in the index of the play, or in the Setup Window of the  script.
  • Try to make sure that no player has an excessive number of parts to play (say 6 or 7 max), and that no player has to speak to himself in different roles too often (shown in the cast list).
  • Invite 2 more people than the perfect number, so that if you get two ‘no-shows’ on the day, you’ll  still be able to run a playreading.
  • For most Shakespeare plays, if you aim for around 10 invitees, you’re probably in the right ball-park. If you want to be more accurate than that, have a look at the cast-lists we’ve published for the play you’re thinking of, and apply the rules-of-thumb above.  You’ll find a list of our MFFEV5 plays at https://players-shakespeare.com

Where do you find people who want to play-read? There’s a number of potential sources:

  • If you’re a drama teacher (school or university) your pupils are an obvious starting point. Other sources include:
  • Community theatre groups
  • Lovers of English Literature
  • Members of University of the 3rd Age groups
  • Commercial theatre loyalty club members
  • etc

You may find people who would like to come, but feel nervous about reading a play in a group. You can help people to gain confidence by:-

  • Exploring monologues with them individually, using “Let’s Explore”
  • Exploring interesting scenes for 2, 3, 4, or more players using “Let’s Play”
  • Only when they’ve gained confidence, move on to involving them in a play-reading. Note that if you want to explore a play seriously, you might encourage members of the group to use “Let’s Explore” and “Let’s Play” to explore monologues and scenes from the play before the play-reading of the complete play.


 2.   Select a location for the play-reading with good broadband access to the internet via wi-fi.

Obviously, you want a room which is big and light enough to hold all the invitees in comfort, where you can serve tea, coffee, water (essential), and as much food as you like. A lavatory or two nearby i is also handy.

Once these human requirements are met, you need to meet the technical requirements:

  •  You’re going to read the play across the internet.
  • Each player is going to need their own laptop / tablet / smartphone.
  • Each player will probably access the internet via a wi-fi connection.
  • All the players will move to the next scene round about the same time, so there’ll be quite a bit of Internet traffic all at the same time, so it’s good if you have a fast internet connection.

Even if you do have a fast connection, it may seem quite slow before everyone has the next scene loaded. Don’t worry too much about that. You’ll maybe spend 10 – 20 minutes reading a scene, so 10 – 30 seconds to load the next scene doesn’t matter too much.


 3.   Everyone turns up with a laptop / tablet / smartphone, each with wi-fi and an internet browser on the right day and time.

If you’re running play-readings professionally, you may supply Internet browsers (e.g. Apple Mini iPads) for your play-readers but in most situations, people will bring along their own laptop / tablet / smartphone.


The first few times you run a play-reading this way, it’s good to have someone vaguely technically competent there, to help people connect to the Wi-fi, find https://players-shakespeare.com, and select the correct play from the home page and cast-list from the index / setup page for the selected play.


Now  you’re ready to read the play:


Before you start, there’s one more thing you need to do – allocate the parts to the players. You know how many people have turned up for the play-reading, so you use the cast list for that number of players.

There are two main ways of allocating the parts to the players:

  • By lot, letting the gods choose who plays whom. (We use dominoes in a bag.) This is the way we normally allocate parts in the Edinburgh play-reading group. It has a number of advantages: people don’t get type-cast; the casting will be gender and age blind; the focus is on the play, rather than the characters in the play; no one carries the can for the casting. (Note that in Edinburgh, occasionally a pair of players will agree to swap roles, and we’re OK with this, but there is no obligation on anyone to agree to swap).
  • Someone takes responsibility for allocating the parts. You can do this at the play-reading, or well before so you have a ‘rehearsed reading’, but everyone needs to turn up for this to work well.

Now the parts are allocated, everyone selects the part they have been allocated from the cast list, in ‘parts and cues’ format, or ‘highlit text’ format, as they prefer. When they select their part, the script of the play appears, starting at Act 1, Scene 1, in the format requested. You can see how to do this with the Help Video below – just click on the arrow in the centre of the image below:



Once you have selected  the player number you’ve been allocated,At the top (and bottom) a script will appear of the play you’re reading starting at A1S1, with your part(s) highlit in different colours. There’s also, a list of buttons of the Acts and Scenes of the play,  and you can change scene by clicking on one of those buttons. You can also change the display of the script to suit your browser and your personal preferences. You can see how to do this by watching the following Help Video:



If you want to know more about how to get started with running a Shakespeare play-reading, check out our post:

How to get started running Shakespeare play-readings


 And now, Let’s play!!!

Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’,
Don’t forget – for feedback on the MFFEV5, post at Player-Shakespeare.com’s Facebook page
If you ‘like’ our Facebook page, you’ll get updates on Facebook on what’s happening.
See more about Parts and Cues on our Playreading Page.

4 Responses to "How to run a Shakespeare play-reading"

  • Phillip Atommel
    June 17, 2017 - 1:57 am Reply

    Wow..I am a Drama Teacher and Community Theater Director. This is such a great resource and I would like to get involved.


  • Richard Forsyth
    June 17, 2017 - 4:30 pm Reply

    Hi Philip,

    Welcome! Consodier yourself involved.

    The first thing to do is to ‘like’ our Facebook page. You can find it at:

    Like it, by clicking on the ‘like’ button at the bottom of the picture of Shakespeare in Party mode. You can post any questions for help, and you’ll get an answer – it may take a day or two, but I do reply.

    You’re a community Theatre Director and your a Drama Teacher, so there’s loads of things you can do already:
    – You can explore the chatracters in Shakespeare’s plays under “Let’s Explore”
    – You can play small scenes from the plays with two, three or four players, under “Let’s Play”
    – You can run a play-reading.

    Might be best to start with something small and then work up to something big. Maybe get 2 or 3 of your players t(with their web-browsers) together and use “Let’s Play” to run a few scenes, and start to get
    used to the software.

    You may have some minor difficulties to begin with, but if you persevere, and ask questiosn when things go wrong, and you’ll soon get the hang of it. We’ve been using the software to read plays for the past 2 years and more, and it works.

    Good luck, and keep me posted as to how it goes.

    Richard F

  • Robert Projansky
    August 17, 2018 - 12:23 am Reply

    Just came across your website. Nice.

    Here’s another way of allocating who reads what, guaranteed to prevent people from getting grumped-out for thinking they are being victimized by favoritism, especially when you have a lot of people reading or when you have no idea how many people will show up — or even if some people come late: you just go around the room and the next person reads the next speech, regardless of who the character is, Hamlet or 1st Messenger, male or female, young or old. It also gives readers a chance to scout ahead a little, figure out what they will be reading, and prepare a little bit. It’s also proof against getting a really bad Prospero or Lear who will ruin the afternoon for everyone. It’s also good if people don’t know each other and there’s no way to know who is good and who isn’t.

    • Richard Forsyth
      September 12, 2018 - 9:00 am Reply

      We call your method of play-reading “Round-tobin Reading”, and we support it. It has a few advantages, particularly if you only have a few readers (maybe 2 – 6), but it suffers one major disadvantage – no-one gets the opportunity to play a whole character’s role, which in our group, is a severe problem – our players like to get to grips with character(s).

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