Cold Reading Series turns 25

Cold Reading Series turns 25

When the Cold Reading Series began in 1993, the Vancouver film and television industry was in its nascent phase. The American productions that are now a mainstay of the local industry were still a relatively new phenomenon – and they were flocking here in record numbers, and injecting the industry with jobs and cash and fresh energy.

Lori Triolo chuckles as she remembers those days. The acting community was small, she says, and growing. Show business was booming. Everyone was busy.

But these actors – Triolo names herself, Ben Ratner, and John and Frank Cassini as examples – had come up in a different kind of world. Most of them had honed their craft in theatres in Vancouver, Toronto, and New York. They were used to collaborating, says Triolo; many were hungry to create their own work.

And that’s how the Cold Reading Series began: as a live script reading “safe space” where playwrights and screenwriters could try out their texts, where actors could challenge themselves with new material, and where a community could collaborate and grow together.

“It really was formed so that we wouldn’t sit on our asses, and we would continue to create our own work, regardless of what the industry was doing,” says Triolo.

 Lori Triolo speaks to the crowd at a recent Cold Reading Series.

Lori Triolo speaks to the crowd at a recent Cold Reading Series.

It’s been 25 years since Angus Fraser and Kathy Duborg launched the Cold Reading Series into existence. Triolo – a veteran actress and teacher who divides her time between Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles – has been involved since the beginning, first as an actor, and for the last 15 years, as a producer.

On Monday, November 12, the Cold Reading Series celebrates 25 years by doing what it has always done, and with the same formula it’s used since the very beginning.

Sure, the venue has changed six times (its current home is the VFS Café), as has the frequency – from weekly in the summer, to weekly year-round, to every other week, to the second Monday of every month – but otherwise the Cold Reading Series looks and feels pretty much exactly as it did 25 years ago.

New and often unpolished scripts – maybe the first few scenes of a feature film, or the beginnings of a play – are selected in advance. Actors arrive on the night of the event, and are cast in roles by Triolo and volunteers. The audience settles into their seats while the actors crack open their scripts for the very first time, and then – magic.

 Actors making magic at the Cold Reading Series.

Actors making magic at the Cold Reading Series.

It’s like a party – one where you never know who you’re going to meet or what you’re going to see. “The taste of the people that we’re programming was very wide from the beginning,” says Triolo. “We have hilarious, silly, slapstick comedies, and then stories that would make your hair stand on end: crazy, dramatic, sociopathic material.”

Many of the scripts read at Cold Reading Series find a life beyond the event. Triolo produced a play written by Raul Sanchez Inglis less than a year after it had its first airing at Cold Reading Series.

An early version of the 1997 feature film Kissed – director Lynne Stopkewich’s acclaimed drama about a young woman who develops a taste for necrophilia – was read at one of the events.

There were contests sponsored by Citytv where the prize was production financing and a network airing. There was a partnership with Out On Screen. There was a collaborative script challenge.

Triolo hasn’t kept track of how many editions of the Cold Reading Series have taken place, but puts the number in the hundreds (“Hundreds. Bazillions. There have been so many”).

Early editions mostly featured films and plays; now, web series and TV pilots are part of the mix, too.

The Cold Reading Series began in the age before social media. The first producers had to pick up the phone and beg screenwriters and playwrights to submit their scripts to the event.

 Supportive audience at the Cold Reading Series.

Supportive audience at the Cold Reading Series.

“We would take them out from behind their computers,” says Triolo. “This is about the writers. It’s about giving the writer the best experience that we can. It’s terrifying taking that script out of their hands and putting it in a public forum when it’s a work in progress. You can imagine the courage that it takes for somebody to do that.”

In an effort to put herself in the shoes of the participating writers, Triolo put up 30 pages of a feature film she’d written about her mother. “It was overwhelming,” she recalls. “People were laughing and weeping.”

The Cold Reading Series almost didn’t make it to 25. Last year, Triolo (who’d sold her home in Vancouver and was already dividing her time between three cities) believed the cultural landscape in the city had changed and it was time to say goodbye.

And so Triolo stood up at what she thought was the final night of the Cold Reading Series and announced that the series had come to an end.

But then the emails began to roll in: from emerging artists and producers who were eager to keep the series alive.

Triolo has spent the last six months training up seven volunteers to take over the series.

“It’s a new generation, and my time is done, I think,” she says. “It’s been a good run. It’s just because I cared so much. I get emotional just thinking about it because it’s been a huge part of my life for so long. It gave me confidence. Reading as an actor, showing up every week, and when I got to read over and over again, it gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. I was being seen.”

The anniversary edition of the Cold Reading Series takes place Monday, November 12 at the VFS Café. Casting begins at 6:30pm; reading begins at 8pm. Details at https://www.facebook.com/events/180106516224781 and www.coldreadingseries.com.

Follow @ColdReadingSeries and @LoriTriolo.

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