An Inside Look at a Night of Cold Readings


This past Monday, I had the pleasure of participating in an evening of creative expression. Tucked away in Bushwick, Brooklyn is a little bookshop with the name of Spoonbill & Sugartown Books. At this cozy establishment, I experienced round two of The Cold Read Series, a workshop and creative experience for both writers and actors alike, hosted by the talented Nancy Pop.

As artists, committing time to collaborate and discuss works with other artists in the community is extremely beneficial. Something unique about this event was the variety of ages that attended. Having a wide range in age brought different perspectives to the table, which is something you don’t typically get in the classroom. The past couple of events at Spoonbill and Sugartown Bookstore have included current students at Marymount Manhattan College, recent graduates from the institution, individuals a few years out from school, and even older, more experienced directors and writers. Here, we are able to “cultivate a community” as Pop states, and learn to grow from each other.

The ambiance of the Spoonbill and Sugartown Bookstore was intimate and warm. It was soothing to have exited the bitter cold outside, and entered the softly lit space, where music played delicately in the background and kind faces eagerly greeted you. Along with the rows and rows of books available at arms reach, the space was dressed with paintings illuminating the shop's quirky personality, another aspect of the bookstore that makes it so fascinating, while also very welcoming.

I asked Pop what inspired her to create The Cold Read Series. She responded:

Keeping yourself motivated and creative when you’re out of school is SO important. It’s easy to be “in the zone” when you’re constantly going to class and socializing with fellow actors, directors, and writers...but when you’re out of school and working, adulting, doing life — you need to give yourself opportunities to avoid stagnation.

Pop continued to explain that she felt like starting a playwriting workshop would be a great way to connect with writers, workshop her own scripts, and continue learning and growing. She expressed, "I hope to continue growing the workshop and cultivate a community of writers that challenge and motivate one another."

And challenged we were. Pop succeeded in creating a mood in a space that allowed the participants to feel stimulated and inspired. Despite the thrilling exhilaration of art, one could feel rather comforted and forgiven in the space. As artists, we want to challenge and push each other to be the best we can. However, making the space in which artists can work safely, and reassuringly, adds yet another layer to the space. Members of the event were able to be themselves unapologetically, and were all warmly welcomed into the series, whether you were a newcomer or a regular.

After light conversation and setting up of the scripts, we engaged in the cold readings. One of the most exciting things about this experience was the exercises that were conducted with the readings. By doing these exercises, we had the ability to go more into depth with the text, and see the different perspectives that approached it. This month, Pop had everyone draw a visual for five minutes after reading an excerpt. We then engaged in a discussion explaining our visual view of the story. The following excerpts are from some of the writers who bravely presented their writings at the workshop, including the visuals that were drawn after reading them:

1. President 53 by Max Berry

“Wait, babe, why do you look like the inside of a dragon’s ass?”

President 53 takes place in the 2080s. America has just escaped WIII thanks to the calculations of an AI computer, who is then elected president. The play chronicles the tyrannical rule of President 53 and tells a story of how much people will go along with when they are desperate for answers.

After reading the piece, the group discussed the themes Berry brought to the table, including the concept of the futuristic world he had created and the characters that inhabited it. The readers were able to ask him further questions about the piece and give constructive criticism to make it stronger. Berry will be submitting this piece to a contest early next month. Best of luck!

2. The Scrapbook Paradox by Shelby Lenhart

“We can’t ignore it, you know. We have to talk about this.”

This play follows the rapidly deteriorating marriage of an idyllic Catholic couple after the loss of their eldest daughter, Clara. The piece is an observation into how loss changes people, and how it pushes them to places they never before thought they could go. It is a show about grief, family, deception, and humanity.

After reading LenHart’s piece the group talked about the family unit and how that dynamic behaves when a family member dies. LenHart expressed her inspiration for the play and allowed the participants to gain a deeper look behind the text.

3. What’s Wrong with Alfred? by JC Hopkins

“He’s human, a flawed human; this is what humans do. We lead messy lives.”

The play is about the great disassociation within the family dynamic. The action precipitated by the attempted suicide of Alfred. In the course of the play, through a dialogue with his brother Geronimo (the narrator), there is a rumination on the meaning of the word "love" which, perhaps, leads to a bit of healing.

After we heard What’s Wrong with Alfred? the group commented on the love between family members and how life’s events can change people over time. We examined the notion of a relationship between siblings and how a competition can surface from life accomplishments and how this affects the competitors.

4. Thumb Sucker by Nancy Pop

“She was beautiful? That’s it?”

A series of short personal essays turned play, Thumb Sucker explores the mundane and major trials of adolescence through the eyes of 12-year-old Sofia Truta: budding woman, total loner, immigrant, Britney Spears enthusiast.

After reading Pop’s piece we participated in an exchange about female adolescence. Pop surfaced the idea of young girls speaking about coming of age trials such as having periods, getting married, and planning funerals. The women of the group were able to implement their varied stories of adolescence to help Pop strengthen the realistic and charming personality of her bubbly protagonist.

In all, it was a wonderful evening of collaborative art and thrilling storytelling. I highly recommend this workshop to anyone who is itching to get their work read and critiqued. If you’d like to participate by simply reading the works, that is also great! It is important to remember that the writers need actors. Not to mention, if you’re working on your cold reading skills as an actor, this is an easy and fun way to get some practice in.

The Cold Read Series happens every third Monday of the month in Brooklyn, New York. Please contact Nancy Pop via social media for more information. Keep on creating!

Lead Image Credit: Flynn Osman / BLENDED