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Spoken English

How to perform play scripts and poetry

How to perform play scripts and poetry

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How to perform play scripts and poetry

In a nutshell

Reading your lines in a play or reciting poetry can be daunting tasks, particularly in front of an audience. Consider the following tips and your performance will be unforgettable – for the right reasons!


Role-play is pretending to be a different person and taking on a different role. By pretending to be someone else there are certain things you can change about yourself:

  • Voice;
  • Facial expressions;
  • Movement;
  • Gestures.

Preparing for a role

If you are preparing for a role there are certain things you must take into consideration:

  • What is the story behind your character?
  • What is the character's goal?
  • Does your character have any type of relationship with other characters?

When you have the answers to these question you can start building you character. Give him/her a personality and a life!

Performing scripts

Performing involves acting, so it is about more than the content of the lines themselves.


First of all, think about the type of play you are reading. Establish the setting and the historical context if applicable (this informs the set design and costumes in a real show). 


Think about the role you are going to play. What is the character's motivation for doing and saying what they do? Are they angry? Are they happy? Try to act out these motivations in your words and actions as you set the tone for that character's role in the scene.


Delivery refers to the way you say and express your lines. Use contrast to make your performance engaging. For example, vary your volume: soft, intimate or sensitive scenes should be spoken in the correct way, as should explosive action-packed scenes. Likewise, use silence. Always the remember who you're speaking to and why.

​​Stage directions

Stage directions tell you how things look visually on stage. They are often in brackets in-line with the performed text. Contrast vigorous, energetic movements with stillness, and think about the pace you are setting for the other characters on stage. Even if you are not talking, continue to act and react to other characters.

Reading poems

Poems are meant to be read aloud. Think of them as being lyrics to a song.


Think about the context that the poem is supposed to be read in. Is it written to make people laugh? Or perhaps it's modern-day political poetry? Both will have very different approaches when it comes to their delivery. 

Intonation and volume

Intonation is the variation in the pitch of the voice. Volume is how loud or how quiet it is. Make your poetry reading more engaging by contrasting quiet and unstressed moments with loud and stressed ones. This way you can catch your audience's attention and keep them interested. 

Rhythm, rhyme and metre

You can use clues from the rhyme scheme in order to read your poem in the correct rhythm. For example, if alternate lines of a poem rhyme, you'll want to make sure you read the poem in a way that makes this obvious. You can also use metre to set the pulse of your reading. The metre is the number of syllables and the pattern of emphasis on those syllables. 

Pace and turning points

Think about the pace at which you are reading the poem. You shouldn't rush or mumble. However some poems might suit a faster delivery than others. Furthermore, many poems contain a turning point, also called a volta. This is a break in the text where the tone changes. Here's an example:

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

William Shakespeare – Sonnet 129 
← Here, you might want 
to perform the first part 
of the poem in a more vigorous 
and energetic manner 
and then, 
as you reach the volta,
turn into a quieter, 
slower and more intimate 

DOs and DON'Ts


  • Vary your intonation;
  • Use the punctuation of the text to inform your delivery;
  • Project your voice;
  • Continue to act even when you are not speaking.


  • Read the lines in the same voice throughout;
  • Rush or mumble your delivery of the lines when necessary;
  • Overact lines that require some sensitivity or intimacy.

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What are the don'ts when performing a text?

How to perform poetry?

How to perform play scritps?


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