Today a childhood dream was fulfilled.
I got to attend a table read for The Simpsons.
Ever since I learned that this was a thing I’d always wondered what it’d be like to attend. Do they read on a sound stage with a big audience? Is it a small, intimate affair in a board room? It’s kind of a mix of both, and it was more than I ever could have imagined it would be.
As it turns out the whole event is quite the soiree. The cast that are available/in LA attend and sit at a very, very long table in Building One on the Fox Studio lot, and along with the show runner and myriad writers/producers – and Matt Groening himself – they sit there and read through the script, all in character.
As a lifelong fan of the show it was incredible.
Hearing the voices blare out for real from cast members Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Yeardley Smith, Tress MacNielle, and Pamela Hayden was a mind bend. These voices have come out of my TV for years attached to the strange, four-fingered yellow inhabitants of the city of Springfield. Until today I knew they came from real people but it was easy to forget it. It’s now seared into my mind.
The walls of the long room are dressed in chairs the entire way around to allow the many guests and hangers-on attend. As you enter the foyer is pretty plain: there’s a sample of fruit & pastries as well as coffee, juice and water to help yourself to, and then it’s through older-style glassed doors into the room itself. You find your seat (as a visitor) by circumnavigating the table to find the script with your name on it(!).
As the cast & team assemble there’s a lot of joviality about the place and everyone is very welcoming. Want your script signed? Sure – just walk up to whoever you want and ask (gulp… I think my voice broke three times like the pimply teenaged character from the show I was there to celebrate). It was just adult nerds attending either – as I came in Groening was sitting with a family from the Make-A-Wish Foundation who were attending and he lavished them with signed gifts and stories. It was a perfectly simple, understated and yet touching moment.
The cast too offered their time to these special guests thinking nothing to drop into their various characters and entertain the children (and the adults in earshot). I managed to have brief conversations with Julie Kavner (dressed very casually, including a flannelette shirt tied around her waist, and extremely gracious), Yeardly Smith (looking stunning without a hair out of place – and exactly like she’s looked in everything she’s been in on TV) & Groening himself (dressed casually and even managed to wind me up, asking “how did you get an invite?”).
For this episode – “The Wreck Of The Relationship” – Nancy Cartwright and Hank Azaria were on the phone for the read, and Harry Shearer was unavailable (though his stand-in did a far more than adequate recreation of the voices concerned). The showrunner reminds everyone to turn off their cell phones and just as we’re about to start in, Groening addresses the Stampy in the room: “You will have heard this week that we’re going to be killing off another character this season – only our second ever. I can assure you it’s no one in this room.” There’s a reassured murmur and giggle through the assembly… and then we’re into it.
The table read of the episode is far more of a performance than I expected. Many notes are scribbled by those at the table; and many laughs at different times come from various sections of the room. As expected there’s lots of times when the entire room break into raucous laughter. The voices – oh, the voices.
The cast certainly perform the script. Emphasis on specific parts of the dialogue; annoyed grunts and murmurs with just the right inflections. The moment is entirely surreal and perfect and then it’s over all too quickly. There’s no re-reads as there was barely a slip-up from the cast.
They play to the laughs as well as celebrate the script in front of them. There are many nods from the cast and production staff to the writer acknowledging a gag or a turn of phrase. It’s a real work in progress and yet as the cast deliver the lines you can imagine the episode completely in your head (even though it’s yet to be animated).
It’s simply 25 minutes of yellow joy.
Once the read finishes the cast head off to record parts for a previously read episode and the production team head with them in clumps. The visitors are left to process the moment they’ve had with their host and then… it’s all over.
There are many tours you can take in Hollywood that show behind the scenes of they make the many TV shows and films that come out of the studios every year. They’re nice, but they don’t really pull back the curtain. Attending a table read for The Simpsons is by invitation only and it’s a special memory I’ll have for many years to come – many thanks to Mike Price for making it possible (Groening also asked when I mentioned he was my host: “Don’t know how you got in then as we let him go last week.” Price was but four feet away and smiled.)
Oh, and naturally I got them to sign my script for me. STRAIGHT TO THE POOL ROOM!