Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Learning lines

In this blog, I've several times written about the difficulties of learning lines for a play. Last Sunday afternoon I was supposed to do a short skit with a friend of mine at a concert I was also playing at, accompanying a number of my friend's wife's singing pupils. I'd had some trouble learning the lines - and so had he - because there was a great deal of fast-paced repetition, and it was easy to confuse one set of repeats for another. At home, with my wife giving me the cues, I could get through it. And the same went for my friend. On stage, in a pre-concert practice, both of us were getting tangled, and it was such a disaster that I can only say I was immensely relieved when my friend was as happy as I was to abandon the thing. Maybe we'll do it another day. (Stress from issues at work probably wasn't helping my concentration either.)

Talking of plays, next Wednesday several of us are going to do a read-through of the musical script the collaborator and I have been working on for much of this year. I printed it out today (not using laserjet 5500 toner since my printer is a Dell and only takes specific Dell products, nothing generic, and only available from Dell overseas - just thought I'd throw that in) and made several copies on the photocopier at work. It'll be interesting to see how the script reads when a group of people unfamiliar with how it's been put together get a hold of it.

In my last post I mentioned that I had a pile of books to read, and, fatally, I went to the library today and brought home yet another. However, I'm already 100 pages through it (reading in the bath is a great place to focus), so it shouldn't put the other books off for long.

It's Keith Osborn's Something Written in the State of Denmark and is his diary of the time he spent acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009 (?), doing three different plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, and Love's Labours Lost. I like his easygoing style, and the way he records the details of rehearsals and production, the gradual movement from not knowing the play to knowing it so well you can do it night after night with ease - mostly.

Coming back to my opening theme of learning lines, I found that Osborn has an interesting section on learning lines, which I might just quote in full...he's talking at this point about being an understudy for Patrick Stewart, who played both the Ghost and Claudius, in Hamlet.

"Learning lines when you're actually playing the part is much easier than understudying it for several reasons. Obviously you have hours of rehearsal to get to grips with it, as opposed to whatever time the assistant director can filch from the main schedule. But also when rehearsing you get to associate physical actions and moves with the lines which help them to fuse with the cerebral cortex. As an understudy, lines are learnt in isolation, the actor alone with his script, at home or on the way to work, in shops or the Post Office, or wandering the streets. To that end it's a question of repetition, repetition, repetition of small chunks of speeches, then on to whole speeches, then whole scenes one by one until the whole play is built up incrementally in one's head. Then back to the beginning again, then again, then again....

"Although the language is difficult, Shakespeare's verse helps in several ways. The rhythm of the iambic pentameter is itself (de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM) can act as a hook to catch those elusive words and meanings. Also whatever internal rhymes, alliterations or antitheses can be found help too.

"Basically, magpie-like, you steal whatever tool you can to burn the lines into the synapses. At some point, you think 'phew, it's all in there, HURRAH!' BUT in rehearsals on your feet more often than not even this relatively mild performance pressure means that what's been rock solid in your bonce whilst on your own in the comfort of your armchair, with a beverage of choice, turns to complete slush in front of your fellow understudies. With inexorable cruelty the lines melt like snowballs in the sun - or the hell of your own paranoia - as you conclude that THEY'LL NEVER SINK IN! Of course eventually they do but boy oh boy oh boy sometimes it feels like they just won't." [pg 100]

Osborn appears in the photo to the right rear - this is A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was done in modern(ish) day dress.
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