How to put on a good play reading
Hand Knitted Play Readings
First of all, I'll be talking here from my own personal experience as a writer and performer, working mostly in Scotland, and I shall also be talking primarily about doing readings of new plays that you have written.
In Glasgow there are a number of Play reading opportunities, some competitive, others not, which will offer casting, directorial support & feedback. You can check these out via The Playwrights Studio Scotland. There are also small theatres around who may be happy to offer a space - but I'm going to talk about a more hand-knitted approach to play readings that should be more or less free.
Now if you are a writer AND performer who has written a new play - you are off to a good start as you will undoubtedly already have a good few actor/director friends who'd be only too happy to do you a favour on the understanding that one day that favour may be returned. Just don't abuse their good will, especially if no money is involved, and keep rehearsal (if you are planning a 'performed'/'rehearsed' reading) to a minimum.
Next, a couple of questions;
1. What do you want from your reading? Do you want to attract funding? Venue interest - are you trying to organize a tour? Is your play at an early draft stage and do you want to see how it works with actors reading it? Do you want to attract funding to further develop it?
2.Who do you want to see the play reading? Funding bodies? Potential venues? Friendly peers who will offer feedback?
The answer to the above question may, to some extent, dictate where you will hold your play reading. For instance, you are just want the - invaluable - experience of hearing your play being read, then you could buy a couple of bottles of wine, cook a big pot of pasta, invite a bunch of actor/director chums round (and maybe some no acting onlooker friends too) and have a relaxed reading & 'in vino veritas' feedback session in the comfort of your own home. I've done it - and it's always been useful, supportive and fun.
A word of advice - personally I'd set some rules for feedback. ie 'Questions' rather than 'opinions'. But it's up to you and how thick skinned you are. The bottom line though is you want this to be 'positive' experience for you...and the others.
Now you might not wish to invite funding bodies, venue managers and producers etc, into your own home so an alternative might be your friendly local cafe - which may well be willing to stay open after closing time - if you can promise that a decent sized bunch of people are going to turn up for couple for hours and they will all be buying coffee and cake. Ask the cafe how many people would make it worth their while. Cafes are often open to their establishment being used in new and interesting ways that will attract new and interesting people. See above for feedback rules.
Having your reading (and all the above possibly applies to less 'rehearsed' readings) in an alternative /non-theatre venue is a more informal and more relaxed way of doing things, than a black box situation. But that can be a good thing, as it makes both the reading and the post reading discussion a little less threatening for theatre & non theatre attendees alike.
I know this is all common sense. I suppose all I am trying to say is, a good play reading doesn't have to be a big thing. It just needs the right people in the right supportive, creative atmosphere. I've mentioned your own home, and cafes but I'm sure you can think of other suitably atmospheric non-theatre indoor ( and outdoor! - a play reading picnic!) venues