Reading Plays in Book Clubs
To inject a bit of fun and novelty into your book club, why not try reading a play? In fact, although they are often passed over in favour of novels, plays can also provide wonderful learning and discussion opportunities. And as they were designed to be performed and not just read, they often incorporate literary devices which help the reader comprehend better. In addition, readers are often compelled to focus more closely on the text in order to translate the words into the dramatic actions on stage.
How to Read it?
In addition to asking members to read the play themselves, it can be great fun to assign characters to each member and then to spend part of each meeting reading different sections of the play aloud, with different book club members playing different parts. This way you can “hear” the play better and thus discuss the playwright’s intentions with the words he/she used, as well as possible alternative ways of performing the lines. You can even employ a common drama technique and ask the performing members to “freeze” mid-action while the rest of the club discusses and interprets the meanings in the play at that point.Things to look at when reading plays include:
- The interaction between language and action.
- The characters – their backgrounds, burdens, motivations, quirks.
- The imagery.
- The flow of events. (eg. how do the basic plot points build up to the climax?)
- Any stage directions and how this contributes to overall interpretation and understanding.
- The form and function. (eg. what decides the breaks between scenes?)
How to Discuss it?
Plays offer a wealth of material for discussion. Aside from a straight discussion of the words, you can also talk about the characters; their motivations and how their past or personal quirks affect their choices. Like a novel, you can discuss the underlying themes and the imagery used. It can also be interesting to examine the different perspectives from the different characters and how that affects the interpretation of the story. Looking at the overall genre of play is also interesting (is it a comedy? Tragedy? Romance?) and how things might have been different if it had been written in a different form (eg. a satire, musical, classical Greek tragedy, etc.)
People may also enjoy imagining how they would react if they were in the character’s position or perhaps members can discuss how they would each interpret the characters differently if they were performing the play on stage.Lastly, many plays come in a critical edition including essays that discuss the points above – this can be a very good starting point for discussion, particularly to see if club members agree or disagree with the critique.
The play can provide a launch pad for exploration in many other areas – for example, how about reading books about the history of Scotland, following on from ‘Macbeth’? Would a foray into the Greek myths enhance a reading of one of the famous Greek tragedies? You could also look at what other famous works of literature may have influenced or inspired the play and read those, trying to find the links between them.
Of course, the most obvious and probably most popular activity would be to stage the play yourselves, provided that there are enough members in the book club to take on the roles. This can be great fun and provide further learning opportunities in management, communication, organisation and public speaking, as well as general confidence-building.