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Teleprompter Script Readings
I’m playing with using a teleprompter as a low cost, less fussy way to present dynamic, engaging and insightful play readings for performance and development.
Scripts - especially play scripts - are first and foremost a proxy for speech. It’s very difficult to tell whether a play ‘works’ on the page. Some people are good playreaders, and/but it’s a highly specialised skill. I know that my plays aren’t ready for further development or performance until they’ve had readings. Things get more complex with screenplays - because screen is primarily a visual medium. But I believe scripts for film and TV also benefit from readings.
Audiences love play readings. There’s a sense of electricity - a new play born before your ears - or an old play rediscovered. Producers love play readings because they cost virtually nothing compared to a production and you can still charge a few bucks a seat and get a decent crowd. Actors love them because they get to exercise their performance muscles, hang out with other actors, and perhaps get cast in the show if it goes ahead. Play readings are a win-win-win.
I experience three problems with play readings that I feel are worth solving.
When actors are reading their eye-lines are often on the page, rather than out to the audience or each other - so I think there’s room for performance augmentation
When audiences watch a traditional playreading, they can see the stack of pages slowly going down, leading to a sense of time watching: ‘we’re only half way through!’ - I think there’s room to help them get lost in the story
Most scripts are 90+ pages and multi-character - that’s a lot of paper, printing takes time and costs a surprising amount of money, then you have to transport those scripts, then it’s hard to make script changes and filter them through to everyone (‘grab your pens’)
I think I have a fun solution for all these problems: teleprompter script readings using low-cost, consumer grade technology. This could help me present a variety and volume of play readings in a way that’s easier to produce, more fun to act and better to watch.
I spent a few days at Barbarian’s May Ruckus workshop in Wellington, testing something cool.
Here’s what I’ve done so far and how.
I want to take this further myself. And/but as a playwright, my job is to make and repair play in ways that are accessible to others. If this technology or process could be useful to you, here’s where I’m at.
I bought the Prompt-it Flex Prompter here: for NZ$549 incl GST
It’s made by a cool Australian company. Here’s their website.
It attaches to a standard mic stand with a ¼ inch thread (they say tripod, but I suggest a skinny mic-stand will make things easier for you)
You need a tablet - I use an iPad Pro, but it doesn’t have to be that fancy. You can pick up second hand ones that will do the job for <NZD$50
I use an AirTurn Duo BT-200 foot pedal NZ$235 from the Rockshop so the actor can operate the teleprompter handsfree.
e.g. Stop and start the scrolling, and speed up or slow down the text
I use Teleprompter Pro via App store (~$30/year)
Their website is here
Airturn Manager App so I can program commands into the foot pedals - it’s free
What I’ve tested so far
Getting scripts from PDF or device images into telepromptable format
It’s a copy and paste job. You won’t need to type. My iPad is amazing at grabbing text from an image. I just take a photo of the page and then a button lets me copy the text on the page
I keep a script master on Word or GoogleDocs and paste it into the teleprompter from there (rather than trying to do text editing in the teleprompter app)
Text is best center-aligned, with paragraph breaks between sentences
In find and replace, ^p = paragraph - so you can add paragraphs after every full stop with a click using ‘find and replace’
You can slow/speed up the scroll, but a good rule of thumb is that people speak/hear at about 120 WPM
Live performance - 1 prompter is fine, the ideal is maybe 2
Solo works an absolute treat
Lighting should be from the side
It’s best for people to sit off-centre to watch, but they can sit directly in front of the prompter too
It’s possible to use 1 prompter for 2-3 actors, but if you really want to jazz up the performance, it’ll take banks of 2 teleprompters, angled in from the side - presidential style
My hunch is that you won’t need 1 prompter per actor, 4 should be able to serve a relatively large cast
But I only have one prompter, so haven’t tested that
Works very well using smartphone on a velcro mount (included in prompter kit) that shoots through the glass - the prompter I bought has designed things very thoughtfully compared to others on the market which require you use multiple tripods (one for prompter another for camera etc)
But you need good audio for people to stick with the livestream - that may be the room or it may be the mic - I only had time to test with my inbuilt device mic in a hall, so it didn’t sound great
The prompting app on a device and a good mic in a studio is likely all you need
It doesn’t require the use of the prompter, but that could be fun and makes it easier for performers to stand up, which I think lends the best energy to the read when it’s possible
I’ve only experimented with a single prompter.
In future, I will be looking to experiment with 2+ for both single reader (presidential style) and multi-cast readings
I have to test whether its best to have the script scrolling simultaneously on all the prompters. That’s possible with some simple tech, but may be unnecessary.
Public script readings and book readings
I’m going to start with myself and do some solo work
I’m thinking libraries, pubs and gallery spaces might be nice places for actors to come and for audiences to engage with this stuff
Funnily enough, my first instinct is not theatres. I wonder why not? Maybe it’s because I’m envisioning something more casual?
Closed-studio script development
Self-taping auditions for actors
Livestream performances of scripts and other texts
Video and audio recordings of the same
I’m very excited about playing with this simple, low-cost technology. My next step is to introduce it to colleagues, actors and audiences.
Watch this space.