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Reading (performance)

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A reading, in the performing arts, means an oral reading from a work or work-in-progress, performed in front of an audience.

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Reasons readings are held

Readings often showcase a particular work, author or genre. They may form part of a professional series, such as one given by a university or museum. Sometimes inexperience authors and performers use readings for exposure, and for gaining experience and confidence in front of an audience.

Readings are often used to educated, as at universities, or to persuade, as in political speeches. Readings may also be held in competition.

Types of reading

Readings may be more or less formal. They may be performed by one person or by many; they may be staged readings, where the performers use props, with or without music and costumes, or the work may be performed without aids of any kind.

Forms of reading include:

  • Oral Reading, also called Oral Interpretation of Literature, a competitive category in forensics, where the competitors read two selections, one prose and one poetry.
  • Children’s reading – reading aloud to children is popular as an entertainment and is an effective educational tool.
  • Lectures and Presentations- Many university professors read from notes as part of their teaching method, or use a combination of reading and extemporaneous speech. Lectures given by people in other institutions are also often readings: a slideshow is a good example.
  • Lecture/demonstration, called a lecture-dem, where one or more professionals give a presentation about the work, its author or its genre, and then read from the work as an example.
  • Staged reading – a formal reading that has many of the elements of a theatre performance. These may include minimal costuming, props, music but does not usually include full costuming or set design.
  • Religious readings – the reading of important passages from religious texts forms part of some religious ceremonies and services. Examples would be the reading of prescribed passages (the Haggadah) during the Passover Seder in Jewish custom, and the reading of scripture passages during several services in Christian tradition, particularly the catholic mass. Sermons and homilies--lectures designed to instruct and uplift the faithful, are often read.
  • Speeches, Keynote Addresses - public addresses intended to persuade or galvanize one's listeners may be extemporaneous but are often readings.

History of reading

Reading can be traced back to antiquity. For example, the Hebrew Bible describes many reports of public readings and specifically commands the People of Israel, and their kings, to prepare Torah scrolls for such performances. Scholars suggest that many religious texts developed through oral composition, thereby arising out of performed readings.

From ancient to modern readings in religious liturgy and homiletics

In ancient Jewish synagogues, the entire Torah was read out loud in an annual or triennial cycle. In keeping with rabbinic law, the readings were performed from a handwritten parchment in the form of a scroll. Such readings were divided into segments, with an adult honored to recite a blessing before and after each segment. Readings occur on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, as well as each New Month and various Festivals. In a ritual following the reading, the Torah scroll is elevated and returned to a sacred enclosure.

Since the Talmudic period, Jewish liturgy calls for numerous other readings. The Psalms figure prominently in Jewish liturgy. In addition, the liturgy calls for the weekly reading of the Prophets, known as the Haftarah, and the Song of Solomon (Canticles). There are periodic readings of such books as Ecclesiastes, Esther, Jonah, Lamentations (Eichah), and Ruth.

In traditional Jewish homiletics, a rabbi or other adult would center the sermon around passages of the Hebrew Bible. Such a sermon is known as a d'var Torah, a word of Torah. According to scholars, ancient sermons typically began and ended with verses from the appropriate weekly readings of the Pentateuch or Haftarah. Hence, the reading and repetition of scripture played a significant role in religious education.

Likewise, Christian homiletics centered strongly on readings of Biblical verses. Indeed, the New Testament contains sayings of Jesus and other texts that exegetically re-read verses of the Hebrew Bible.

Elocution: the qualities of a reading

Public speakers and speech coaches often speak of elocution to refer to how, and especially how well, a reading (especially a speech) is performed. The features essential to good delivery are articulation, inflection, pace, accent and emphasis. Use of both voice and gestures produce these features.

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