Thursday, August 30, 2012

Learning Lots of Lines

Every actor has lines to learn for auditions and performances. It’s preferred that we’re off book even for auditions. But more and more often, we don’t receive the script(s) until we arrive at the audition. Many preparation techniques we’ve learned go out the window. Gut reactions prevail. Sometimes we may be able to put the copy on our ear prompters, but that doesn’t always work with dialogue scenes. Some audition venues have cue cards, which can help or hinder--if you lose your place.

Usually the amount of lines we need to learn for commercials or industrials is far less than a play. Years ago, I was in a production of Mamet’s Oleanna. A two person play…a college student and a professor. Each has many long, long monologues, and both are on stage the entire time. That experience stands me in good stead to help a friend who’s starring in a play opening next week and has the bulk of the lines.

Some people like to record their lines and/or those of other characters and play them back again and again. The problems with that process are that, as with cue cards, you might rely on the cheat this case, the spoken word, as opposed to your memory, which might make it easier to get thrown off.  And there’s no one to prompt you if you get stuck. In rehearsal, actors get used to calling, “line,” while staying in character. They’re prompted with a few words, and rehearsal continues smoothly.

In my experience, the best way to make lines stick is two-pronged repetition. Part A is looking at the script, using a piece of paper to cover most of the section you’re working on. You learn one line, then repeat it and add on another and then another. But it can be hard to stay focused when huge chunks of script await.  Part B is running that scene with another person. And not just any person. Someone who, for example, knows how and when to prompt without frustrating the actor by interrupting his flow. Someone who can keep track of variations from the actual dialogue and help the actor make corrections. Someone with a lot of patience to listen to the same scenes again and again and again. Because even after lines have been memorized, they need to be repeated as often as possible. Even after the show starts.

I learned that lesson years ago while working as house manager for Chicago Shakespeare Theater during a production of Cymbeline. It surprised me that the actors, who’d already had successful performances, would walk around mouthing their lines before going on stage for each scene….night after night.

So my friend and I have been meeting almost every day, for hours at a time.  Repeating, running scenes, catching script deviations to make sure jokes and poignant moments aren't diluted, and to make sure he gets cues correct for fellow actors. 

Though time consuming, it's a lot of fun to see his progress.  As it happens, I too am learning the play, and can already run some scenes or offer corrections without looking at my copy of the script.    

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