It’s difficult to do initially. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unnatural. We don’t listen particularly well in real life. As soon as someone starts to talk, we start forming our response. We’re only half paying attention to them. We’re busy figuring out what to say and looking for a pause we can enter to speak our opinion.
The Open Door Reading, however, encourages you to pay attention to your partner. If you resist the temptation to look at your script (so that you’ll be “ready” when it’s “your turn”), you have nothing to do but pay attention to what your scene partner is sending you. After all, you haven’t memorized your lines yet, so you can’t prepare them if you aren’t looking at the script. Since you don’t have the freedom to improvise a response, you just have to wait until you can look at the script. So you might as well use that time to notice what your partner is doing and saying and to let it affect you.
Taking time is an essential part of the equation. If you shortcut any of the steps I listed in the post on how to do the Open Door Reading, you will not experience what the exercise can do for you. Only by allowing silence and trying to not fill it intentionally will you create space that emotion can flow into. Only by allowing silence can you begin to receive what you are getting from your scene partner rather than putting up walls and anticipating what you are going to get.
And once it is time for you to talk, if you resist the temptation to look at your speech in its entirety, to notice its arc and to prepare for the powerful line at the end by setting up the lines at the beginning in the “right” way, you’ll give more attention to words and phrases that you otherwise might dismiss as being unimportant, instead of being open to the possibility that they are, in fact, important in unexpected ways.
Our instinct to make the scene “flow”, and to make it understandable to anyone listening is fairly strong, so it requires a good deal of self-discipline initially to stick to the plodding process as I described it here. Because it is plodding. Stilted. Boring. Occasionally hard to follow. Tedious. Long. But since at this point, you don’t HAVE an audience that cares about it flowing or being understandable, you can ignore your instinct and use the exercise to discover what it has to teach you about this particular play.
Because that’s the point. The exercise is only about what you, the actor, gets out of it. It’s not for the director or an audience. There are no rights or wrongs in terms of what shows up for you. It’s simply information. Data for you to consider down the road in rehearsals. To use or not use, as you see fit. But like a statistician, you need to collect all the available data before you start evaluating it.
Hopefully, you will have moments in the Open Door Reading when emotions show up with unexpected force, and frighten or surprise or delight you. Equally hopefully, these moments will convince you that there might be something to this process.
Most people need a teacher watching them the first few times they use the Open Door Reading technique. Without that, most actors will cheat. Not intentionally. They just don’t realize that they aren’t being faithful to the process. A teacher can help you get the most out of the experience, which in turn helps you to recognize when you’re doing it properly down the road, with another scene from another play!