Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A different approach to learning lines

I've just been running through one of the bigger scenes in The Sunshine Boys with my wife reading in for the other character(s).  I'm very pleased to find that most of the lines are intact in that scene, as they are in the first scene.  So that's great progress.  There's only one other big scene to get to grips with, and some of it's already there.

I don't know whether it's a matter of experience but I'm finding it easier to remember the lines for this play than I have for practically every other play I've done.  In fact, I've been confident enough to put down the script quite early on and just see how much I can remember in the rehearsals.  I remember that in many of the previous plays I've done I've been quite anxious about this aspect of acting; it seemed as though as soon as I got hold of a line it would go, and then when I got hold of it throroughly it could still vanish when I needed it in a rehearsal.  In the past I've tended to aim to be able to work through all my lines without necessarily referring to the cues - I've known that the other actor(s) will be saying 'something' but I won't necessarily know what they're saying.  This isn't the best way.  It may seem to be a good thing to be able to go through all your lines in your head in order, but it doesn't hold up well when it comes to the actual performing. 

This time I started out in the usual fashion, even putting the other actors' lines on a recording and leaving room for me to fit mine in.  It worked, but only in a kind of fashion.  I reverted to the way I'd started out learning these lines: holding a bit of paper over the line and reading the other character's cue.  Then I'd attempt to say my own line.  To my surprise this has worked far better than I expected.  I can't comfortably run through every one of my lines in order, the way I've done in the past, but when the cue comes I know what my line is. That's an odd thing: it's encouraging and yet it's not at all like I've worked in the past.  It creates much less anxiety because I'm not relying on myself to remember everything, but on the other actor's cues to act as a prompt.

Now the thing is, I'm not learning the other actor's lines; that would be more than I need to do. But reading them frequently while following up with my own, I find that I've got enough of a handle on their line to be confident to know what comes next.  The trick is, of course, that the other actor has to be as confident of his lines as I am of mine.  Many of the scenes in this play have just two actors on stage - so it's a business of bouncing the ball back and forward between you.  If one of you drops the ball, of course, it makes it tricky, but usually you find you have a pretty good idea what's coming next, and you can ad lib to help the other actor get back on track.

The memory is a fascinating thing.  I've spent years attempting all sorts of techniques and tricks to help me remember things, and yet here I'm relying greatly on an outside source - the other actor - to become my memory prompt.  It's most intriguing, and feels like something of a breakthrough. 
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