Thursday, March 23, 2017
Study Your Lines and Be Able to Fast
Peter O'Toole is right about studying lines, and further:
Only when you can say your lines without thinking, almost in your sleep, can you then move past that "mechanical" stage and really ACT. That's what happens when the lines pop naturally into your head as you think and pursue your needs and desire onstage [or on screen], while focusing completely on who you're sharing that stage [or screen] with.
This is what young student actors who think that they can learn their lines at the last minute, and still act well and truly, don't understand until after they've had some years of experience. They think if they know the lines too far in advance they'll become "stale," they'll "peak too early." If you're a true artist, you can't "peak too early" because you know that you can never "peak." You're climbing that mountain from your first read-through of the play on through your final performance - your last "rehearsal" that you share with onlookers.
It's what separates the pros from the amateurs.
(by David Montee, and thanks to my friend Emily Randa for bringing these to my attention).
We know our lines must become natural, usually to the point of not feeling written. A messenger in Shakespeare reading a message is one example where they do not need to feel unwritten, but otherwise our words are meant to feel spontaneous. Hard to imagine doing that without knowing them inside and out, without being a bit more than off book. Thus study, not merely learning.
Our work is not a memorization test; we do more than just recite. Yet, sometimes we are handed lines moments before they must be delivered. There is a story that on the set of Gone with the Wind: sometimes script pages were being rushed from a trailer to set as the shots were being set up. We can't always bask in a lot of time to prepare. Is something lost when we are rushed, possibly. Is being rushed always avoidable, probably not.
To find faster methods of study is one of our tasks. Our working methods must be able to scale in time, as the needs of each project dictate, or even as each moment we are playing demands. At the risk of being to self promoting, I can help you to hone and increase your ways of doing this, and there are many memory techniques (for acting coaching, let me know how I can help). Perhaps we rehearse a fight sequence to be in an open space, and the production loses or changes locations: now it's in a hallway. All the better that you and your scene partners know the fight cold and can adapt moves and spacing. Maybe it's opening night and the playwright re-wrote the entire last third of the play. While it is stronger now, a speed through backstage is all the cast has now before curtain. Either of these scenarios is not ideal, but they have happened and, as other time compression has, they will happen again.
We must face uncertainty with courage in our work, and one of our few defenses against how disorienting and stressful this can be is preparation. Absorbing our lines can be key. I'll finish with an adaptation of what I think started as something the US Marines say, it came to me from a 2nd 2nd assistant director friend and used "planning" instead of "preparation":
The 6 P's of Production: Proper preparation prevents piss poor product.
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