By Paul Bedard
Learn more about our 10 year commemoration here
Early in 2015, while preparing to apply to be a Drama League Directing Fellow, I was devouring scripts and trying to come up with brilliant production ideas to include in my application. Daunted by the amount of reading and the often-dispiriting notion of having brilliant ideas alone, some friends and I began meeting to read and discuss plays together. This was in the basement of the indoor kids playground where I worked at the time, and the casual gathering quickly grew into one of Theater in Asylum’s most successful and enduring programs.
Six years and 90 plays later, the Cold Reading series remains one of my favorite things. For those who have never been, we gather with no preparation to read and then discuss a play. For years, Katie or I facilitated each Cold Reading, but about a year ago we started commissioning guest facilitators, which opened up the curation of plays and has been so wonderful. This year our playwrights Gethsemane Herron-Coward and Willie Johnson, playwright and director Ran Xia, and actors Kara Hankard, Jonas Cohen, and Manuela Sosa all facilitated. Our Community Engagement Manager Hilarie Spangler has also been facilitating. We’ve assembled quite the team to pick plays and run readings!
Looking back on all the plays we’ve read, however, some interesting trends emerge. The two eras we’ve read from the most are the 1990s and the 1930s. After the United States, the country whose plays we’ve read the most is Germany, followed by the UK. Our most repeated playwrights are Bertolt Brecht and Caryl Churchill. The oldest plays we read are by Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, who lived from 935-1001. The newest plays we’ve read are from this year, written in quarantine by dozens of playwrights, commissioned by the Play at Home series.
When New York went into quarantine earlier this year, we shifted our monthly in-person gatherings to weekly online gatherings. Our community grew both in number and geographical reach, with people outside of New York newly able to participate. We now regularly have readers from multiple states, countries, and even continents. The discussions have also grown. While we nearly always discuss questions like, “What stood out?” and “What challenges would arise in producing this today?”, the pandemic, the uprising for Black lives, and the upcoming election have brought tremendous urgency to the issues of societal responsibility, equity, representation, power, and protest. These have supercharged our discussions recently and brought necessary lenses to work new and old.
Looking ahead, we’ll reach our 100th Cold Reading this December and I couldn’t be more proud and grateful. Cold Readings began as a place to share an overwhelming stack of plays to read for an application (which succeeded, by the way), but has since grown to something so much more valuable. I cherish my Wednesday nights and look forward to the plays, the completely unprepared performances, and the thrilling discussions with friends.
Theater in Asylum (TIA) is a New York-based theater company founded in 2010 to challenge and empower our community. TIA joyfully pursues a rigorous research and an ensemble-driven approach to theater-making. We create performances to investigate our past, interpret our present, and imagine our future. We prize space to process, space to question—asylum—for ourselves and our community.