Live Read: Catch and Release

LACMA_LiveRead_2012I remember my work, not word for word, to be sure, but in some more accurate, trustworthy way…  –Henry Miller

As film-fan events go, Reitman Live Reads are unusual. Actors read a screenplay live and unrehearsed, one time only for an adoring audience in a packed theater. It’s unrecorded and barely photographed. Tickets sell out fast. The standby line is long.

On the surface, that “one night only” has to do with performance rights – money and control. More to the point, it generates an immediacy rare in the movie-related world, where nearly everything is broadcast and/or captured to be replayed.

And so each Live Read begins with a stern warning to the audience: No audio or video recording. No photographs. Ushers will be watching. You will be removed. And still, waiting in line or settling in my seat, I overhear people discussing the quality and discreet size of their recording equipment or see someone casually press RECORD after the usher walks by.

I imagine some people like the thrill of a trophy to keep or sell (is there a market for Live Read bootlegs?). But I think most of these people are just fans, wide-eyed with admiration and motivated by the same urge that makes someone rush the stage to beg an autograph or try for a chat before security hustles an actor away. Some reflex need for tangibility: I was there, and I have evidence to prove it.

Years ago, a friend admired a small vase I made, and I offered to give it to him. He looked at it again closely – attentively – then put his hand on his heart and said, “I already have it here.” I think of that as I walk past the table with the limited-edition souvenir posters. They’re tastefully done, and I’m oddly unmoved to buy one. I think of it when I listen to people planning to split their attention between the stage and some technology in their lap.

I think of Henry Miller’s raw reminder that words are not language: “Words divorced from language are dead things, and yield no secrets.” Or – in tonight’s terms – bytes and frames are not the performance. The electricity is in the anticipation and accidents that, on endless replay, would become flaws. Excerpted out of context. Words – not language.

To be honest, I forget much of what I saw and heard. I can’t name the casts. It takes me a minute to recall which screenplays… But I’ve come to trust that I remember what I am meant to remember (what I allowed to land). I trust that the exercise of surrendering to the experience – with no expectation that I will ever own it as an artifact (except in my own cells of imperfect memory – is what the Live Read is, in the end, really about.

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