Playreading: a popular acting trend that draws a crowd

She never dreamed of being Katherine Hepburn, never saw herself imitating Julia Roberts. But now, in her retirement, June Ricks is finally getting to connect with her inner Meryl Streep. She is “playreading,” a form of acting without the hassle of memorizing a script. And, she’s finding that she’s a natural ham, enjoying herself immensely as she goes before the footlights at Pelican Landing’s community center. She never dreamed this would happen when she was a foreign language curriculum coordinator in St. Louis. Teaching French, she says, was never like this.

June will perform with a handful of Pelican Landing residents at 7 p.m. March 31 when they go through their paces in “Baggage,” a play by Sam Bobrick.

“It’s really funny,” she said. “It’s about a very unlikely couple who meet and, through an accident of a baggage claim incident, they have a meeting. And they are a very unlikely pair to ever get together. It’s an evolving romance that should never have happened.”

The remainder of the cast — Chuck Esterle, director and actor Joe Rotolo and his wife, Dee — were all veterans of playreading before they settled in Bonita. June had never done this before, although she does perform with the Voices of Naples, a choral group in Southwest Florida. And when she read about the Pelican Landing group in a newsletter, her curiosity was aroused. June has undertaken a rigorous schedule since retiring here from the St. Louis area — she plays tennis with a Pelican Landing group, she had just attended a charity auction, she frequents the Pelican Landing beach, she often kayaks in Spring Creek. She has a few hours of the week remaining, so, why not dabble in acting?

“The real beauty of this is that we don’t have to memorize, because it is a reading performance. At our age, we really are memory-challenged,” she said with a laugh.

“But really, that’s what’s great, that it does not take much in the way of preparation. Joe gets our script to us, he chooses the characters, and then we meet maybe once or twice for a read-through. We have what we call our dress rehearsal, and then we do it. We probably only meet three times before we actually put on the performance.”

Rotolo directs most of the playreading performances, with Bob Lerew stepping in from time to time.

“Joe is so skilled, because he can tell what kind of play will appeal to Pelican Landing residents,” said June. “And since we’re all in the same boat as far as people who just want to have fun, that’s the kind of play that he chooses. He’s the spearhead of the organization.”

June, however, is rapidly reaching the level of accomplished actress, at least as far as the Pelican Landing group is concerned. “She’s just as wonderful as a comedian as she is at doing more straight parts,” said Rotolo. “She’s such a quick study, I delight being able to direct her — because she is so easy to direct. She needs very little direction.”

The Pelican Landing group is different from usual playreading groups because these people actually do some acting during their performance.

“Many times playreaders just sit on stools and read their parts,” explained June, “but I think what makes it so much more fun is the visual effect of actually acting a little bit. We have minimal props — not very much — but we do have some, and minimal costuming. And we move around and we react to the other actors’ parts, and that’s been the most fun part of it.”

At the beginning, said Rotolo, only 51 people were in the audience. The last performance, he said, was in front of 130.

“Obviously, we are very proud of that,” he said.

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