Tuesday, April 19, 2011

“Scripteasers”: Experienced Actors Meet New Scripts

Group Has Done “Cold Readings,” Play Critiques Since 1948


Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Photo caption: Scripteasers host Jonathan Dunn-Rankin (right) stands with guest Alan Cruz, 21 before some of the host’s massive and wildly colorful art collection. Photo by Leo E. Laurence.

Some of the area’s finest experienced actors, directors, playwrights and guests get together every other Friday in the elegant hilltop home of Jonathan Dunn-Rankin, an experienced actor in the theatre and television.

They are called “Scripteasers,” and they meet to hear cold readings of stage plays where the ac-tors have never seen the script, and there are no rehearsals.

Curiously, after the cold reading, the whole group of about 30 or more people tear apart the script, many with an experienced eye, in a unique open discussion by everyone.

They aggressively probe the play, questioning whether the author’s premise is clear. Are the characters clearly defined and developed?

Is the dialogue effective and realistic? Did you hear trite words and phrases?

Did the script hold your interest, and why?

Are their staging or production problems?

Is the script marketable as it is?

After the people at Scripteasers have torn apart the new script in every technical and artistic way, the play’s author is giving a short opportunity to respond graciously.


“The ‘Scripteasers’ was formed on May 5, 1948 as The Dramatists’ Workshop to give script-writer members and guests the opportunity to hear their works read aloud by (experienced) local actors,” says their Web site, www.scripteasers.org

“At the group’s Silver Anniversary celebration in 1973, Hazel Burrows, the founding president, recalled how the name change (to Scripteasers) occurred during ‘an interminable meeting’ where such appellations as The Dramatists’ Guild were bandied about.

“Finally Aubrey Rankin, half in jest, threw out Scripteasers. It caught everyone’s fancy … ” the unique group’s Web site adds.

“For the past 63 years, the (Scripteasers) have been meeting on alternate Fridays in members’ homes to give unrehearsed ‘cold’ readings of new works, followed by a period of (in depth) con-structive discussion to aid writers in developing their craft,” the Web site explains.

The evenings are “topped off” with a popular period of light refreshments, when many roam about and enjoy the host’s fabulous art collection.

For years, Scripteasers have been meeting in Dunn-Rankin’s elegant hilltop home overlooking the bay and airport. Inside, all high walls are totally covered by brilliantly colored in modern art. One guest, Alan Cruz, 21, was fascinated by a hanging painting that uses oddly converging geomet-rical lines to change the image as the viewer changes position.

Large coffee tables and side pieces are filled with stunning sculpture.

Hanging above everyone's heads are several huge “mobile” sculptures hanging from high ceilings.

Attending a Scripteasers meeting in Dunn-Rankin’s large home is literally enveloping yourself in very brightly-colored art gallery.

Participants often arrive early to have time to look over Dunn-Rankin’s huge art collection.

Some of those who regularly attend Scripteasers are Mary Boersma, Tom Turner, Tom Furth and Nina Ternsaky.


The late Ruth Purkey, whom Dunn-Rankin called a “prolific writer,” was one of the local script-writers whose works withstood the critical, sometimes brutal and often hilarious hard-core test of the Scripteasers.

“Her works were carried in the Baker & French catalogue” — the standard source for theatres looking to produce copyrighted plays — he reported.

Another author who made it through the Scripteasers gantlet was Beatrice La Force of Alpine, who, Dunn-Rankin recalled, “wrote a collection of children’s plays that were produced.”

Scripts critiqued by Scripteasers have been produced at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. Others have been staged elsewhere or been produced as films. Scripteasers’ scripts have also been published in best-play anthologies and are carried in publisher’s catalogues.

“Actors in the Scripteasers’ ‘cold’ readings have appeared in local, regional and national theatres, on television and in film,” their Web site reports.

“The scripts are selected by our script coordinator, Richard Addesio,” explained Dunn-Rankin, standing near a stunning nude sculpture of the Greek god Adonis.

Tough Discussion

After the “cold” reading of the play at Scripteasers, the 30 or so attending critically discuss the play. They don’t try to rewrite the script, but they can offer biting tips on everything from casting issues to character development.

That discussion is very unique.

It is highly structured by a strong moderator, as participants and guests eagerly engage in tough discussion. The group can range from 21 to 81 years of age, but many are experienced personalities from local theatres.

There’s a unique procedural process that scriptwriters have to follow to be considered for a “cold” reading at Scripteasers.

“Your script must be original, fee of copyright restrictions and unproduced,” the group’s Web site states.

“Your first step is to submit your script via e-mail or as a hard copy.

“Your script must be (A) written in standard dramatic format, (B) be securely bound, (C) and contain the following information:

“(1) Category: stage play, screenplay, TV script, etc., (2) Type: drama, comedy, mystery, experimental, etc., and (3) Cast: number of roles broken down by women and men.”

Their e-mail address is thescripteasers@msn.com and their Web site is at http://www.scripteasers.org

These “cold” readings by Scripteasers every other Friday at the stunning Dunn-Rankin home are really open to anyone. There’s no fee to attend and they provide a fine spread of refreshments after the meeting ends.