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Let’s throw a Shakespeare play-reading party

It’s nearly mid-summer (Thursday 21st June), so why don’t you throw a Shakespeare play-reading party of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Because it’s a Thursday, there isn’t time to read the full play in the evening, but we have a 1-hour version (One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream for Young and Old)

We’ve also recently published an overview of Cue Scripts, Cast lists and Highlight Text in ‘plain English’ (see https://players-shakespeare.com/outlining-cue-scripts-cast-lists-and-highlight-text/) and that seems to have helped many of you to understand how you can use them.


Encouraged by the response we thought we’d try another ‘plain English’ article, this time on How to run a Shakespeare play-reading party so here goes, using One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream as the example….


The first thing you have to do is choose the play. The play decides the number of people you should invite to the play-reading. If you go to the index of the play (select (One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream for Young and Old)), you’ll find a section in the index called “Cast Lists”.


You should choose a Cast List which has at least two cast lists for lower numbers of people. Why? Well, sometimes people don’t turn up to a party, and you still want to run the party. We have found that we may get up to two last-minute cancellations, and if we’ve got two cast lists with lower numbers of players, we can still run the play-reading.


For One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream, you’ll see that we’ve got cast lists for 6 to 8 players. So  you should invite 8 people to your party (including yourself), and you can still run a play-reading even if a couple of people don’t show up.


When you invite people, don’t forget to ask them to bring their own smartphone, tablet, or laptop (preferably Apple, though Windows 10 and Android usually work as well). Also make sure that you’ve got a good broadband connection where you’re holding the party,  which your guests can connect to.


The great day arrives – next Thursday – the 21st June – Midsummer Night. Your guests turn up. They all manage to connect to the Internet, and then to Players-Shakespeare.com. What happens now?


You’ve got to cast the play. Assuming that eight people turn up, and you’re play-reading One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream, each of you has to become Player1 to Player8. You can do that in many ways. Conventionally someone, probably you, will ‘cast’ the play. That will work fine, but here in Edinburgh we don’t do that. We cast the play by lot. Its much more fun when your roles are allocated by chance. Everyone gets a chance to play Hamlet (or rather Bottom). There’s no hierarchy to the allocation of parts. Sometimes in our group, if someone feels really uncomfortable playing an iconic role, they can negotiate to swap roles with someone else. There’s usually no shortage of takers.


Seriously, some of our players have said that the best thing about our play-reading is not the technology, but the fact that we cast roles by lot!


So now we have to get started. What happens now? There’s foursteps to get to reading the play:

  • Each reader opens the Cast list for the number of people reading.
  • Each reader selects the Player No. that they’ve been allocated. When they do that, a new page opens up showing the script of the play starting at the first scene of the play. Each person’s script has been tailored, usually in highlight text format, so their lines are highlit in different colours by character.
  • When each reader has got their script, you all start to read the play, after it is formally started: “Beginners on stage…Houselights down…Curtain Up”
  • When you get to the bottom of the scene, your press the appropriate A?S? button to go to the next scene. After a slight pause (to let everyone’s internet browser move to the next scene) you read the next scene, and so on.

If you want help with these steps check out:


An overview of cue scripts, cast lists, and highlight text.


There’s a few other things you should think about for your play-reading:

  • It’s good to start with a cup of tea or coffee for everyone. We have found it’s not a good idea to start with wine or other alcoholic drinks – keep them for the discussion after the play-readings over.
  • It’s good to have glasses of water for everyone
  • You need a pee-break about half way through the play for full-length plays, probably not for a One-Hour play.
  • After the play-s over it’s good to have some sandwiches and more drinks: tea, coffee, alcohol, and leave time for discussion, which may not only cover the play.
  • Allow about 4 hours for most full-length Shakespeare plays, including drinking and discussion time. A One Hour play will probably take over two hours. We find Sunday afternoons a good time to play-read, from 2:00pm to 6:00pm, but whaever suits your group.


That’s it. Enough of talking…..



Let’s play!



Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’

You’ll find other adaptations of Shakespeare plays we’ve published on our Adaptations Page.


2 Responses to "Let’s throw a Shakespeare play-reading party"

  • Bill Parsons
    June 19, 2018 - 6:38 pm Reply

    Live the idea!

    The HS and MS English teachers at our school got together this year and read Midsummer together.

    It was a great preparation for everyone because we all taught the play this year. We’ll be reading The Tempest in January — can’t wait to do it!

    • Richard Forsyth
      June 21, 2018 - 9:06 am Reply


      Great idea, and what enormous fun it is!

      I hope your Tempest goes well in January, but why only once a year???

      Here in Edinburgh we play-read a Shakespeare play once a month from October through May (we get so little summer that we have to spend every minute we can in the sun, so no play-reading from June through September).

      We’ve been doing it for five years now, and the readings are getting better and better as our readers get more familiar with the rhythms of Shakespeare’s texts. (We cast by lot so there can be little preparation apart from reading the play / watching a production.)

      Keep play-reading – and spread the word.

      Richard Forsyth

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