Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More on memorising



I’ve started getting to grips with memorising Psalm 119 again – verses 65-72 are mostly under my belt, though they need regular revision to make sure things stick.  Only another 100 verses or so to go - and strictly speaking I've memorised the last stanza in the past, so hopefully I'll be able to dredge up some of what I learned again when I come to it. 

I’m starting to feel I’m getting to grips with the meaning as well.  I’m not sure why it should be that when you learn lines in a play you pretty much get the meaning from early on, but with learning Psalms or other Scriptures, it’s an altogether slower process.  I guess there’s a kind of distance at first, as with any reading of Scripture, and it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to put that meaning into it so that you gain an understanding.  The words themselves are clear enough, usually; it’s the feeling that it relates to me particularly, as opposed to being general stuff on a page, that takes time. As well as this, the peculiar tricks and techniques that are required (at my age, anyway) to learn the stuff in the first place means that it’s quite a time before you get hold of what you’ve actually learned as having meaning; for quite a while you’re still struggling to hold the mnemonics in place, and often they’re distracting as far as the meaning is concerned.   

And of course Psalm 119 is particularly difficult because initially, and for quite some time after, it seems as though there isn’t much connection between one verse and another – even between one line and another in many cases.

In relation to memorising a play script, I came across this in a book called Acting Skills by Hugh Morrison, on page 116. 

Older actors in particular should make an early start on learning, as age makes memorising lines harder, and all actors should find time in rehearsal to take notes of any useful and important points that arise.  Some find it useful to write out a paraphrase of a scene's content, the character's intention, situation and progression of emotion.  Learning lines is an actor's basic chore and it's sensible to learn moves at the same time, to gain physical freedom as soon as possible.  Difficult business with props, dancing, fights must be worked at from an early stage of rehearsal.  Don't lay down your script till you are reasonably sure of the lines, as someone being prompted every other line is tiresome for the entire company.  Long speeches in particular need early examination; how much do they advance the action of the play?  How do they deepen our understanding of the character?  What reaction does the speech produce in other characters?  What is the climactic point of the speech or the most important thing said?  This mini-drama is the actor's equivalent of an aria, and must be examined for its variety of tempo and tnoe, after some discussion with the director.  

Actors rehearsing, courtesy of thirdage.com
I'd agree with all of this, in principle, although trying to learn complicated moves and hold a script at the same time can be very frustrating.  For me, I think, it's better to have the lines firmly in your head - as least as far as you can - before the director starts getting into too much detail.  It's just as annoying for other actors to have someone constantly referring to their script when they're trying to work from learnt lines as it is to have someone constantly being prompted because they haven't learnt their lines thoroughly enough to get through more than a few lines at once. 

But I'd agree most of all in this paragraph with the opening statement: '...age makes memorising lines harder..'  There's no doubt about this, and what's worse, you lose fluency with age.  You can say the lines at home when there's no pressure, but trying to put them across fluently in rehearsal can become a real trial.  In the last two plays I've been involved with, I've managed to put the script down much earlier than in the past, basically by saying to myself that the sooner I free myself from the script the more relaxed I'll be about speaking the lines without it.  And it's worked.  Certainly there are times when everything suddenly goes in rehearsal, or lines get themselves thoroughly tangled.  But these situations are normal enough.  Having the confidence to say to yourself that you can do without the script improves your concentration on the other actors' work, and on the director's instructions, and gives you a sense of freedom that's lacking when you have the supposed security of the script in hand. It's the way I'd work again, if anyone ever asks me to act in another play!
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