A Singer’s Notes 39: Reading Theater

Books aren’t what they used to be. Now we have devices. They talk and sing. They are a library. But can they really be read? Could we have a reading of a play from a Kindle? Of course we could. But could we really? What about the sound of clicking instead of a page turning? Or worse, complete silence as the page turns? In two pleasant visits to Shakespeare and Company this late summer, I started thinking about these things. How active is reading anyway? Can we read King Lear better than it can be played? What about centuries of western civilization where only a fraction of the people on earth could read, and an even smaller group owned a book? There are some among us who are fans of these eras and who claim we have lost the orality that animated their cultures. Sounds a lot to me like what people are saying about books just now. I wondered in the lines above if the act of turning a page in a staged reading is an important one. Is the actual sound of the page turning important? Does it distance us from the acting, or does it broaden the experience into something which is at once public and private? Why is there a sense of privacy, perhaps secrecy, around a person who is reading, even if they read in public?

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