Monthly Archives: June 2012

Any Tips on Memorizing Lines?

Off book — the dreaded state of no script. Like Linus putting down his blanket.

Some actors are very good at memorizing lines. Many struggle with it, just like every group in every area of life.

All I can do is give a few tips I used when studying for all the big essay tests I took in college and graduate school (yes, all essay, no multiple guess in those days).

It always helps me to go, in steps, from the big picture to the precise details.

Do a “skeletal outline” of the play and get it down in your head. For A Shakespearean Tale, it might be:  London, NYC, Alabama — Gas Station, Grandpa’s Place, Gas Station — Imagine, Typing Pool, Good Word, Mother’s Song, Go Down Yonder — whatever is most relevant to you. I have found that when I have a timeline, or a skeletal outline, I can hang all the little details on it where they belong and it is all much easier to remember.

Look at things scene by scene and ask yourself some basic questions.

Take, for instance, the character of Earl Shylock, the Alabama lawyer in A Shakespearean Tale, as he enters the office of Macbeth and Macbeth in 1955 New York City:

  1. Where did I just come from?
  2. How did I get here?
  3. How do I feel?
  4. What do I sound like?
  5. What is my business here?
  6. What message do I have to deliver?
  7. How do I feel about that?
  8. How are they going to feel about that?

Talk about it with someone. This helps you get into the character as well as give you a map in your head of where you are going when you are “under pressure” [either on a test in school, or on the stage]. Athletes literally visualize every action of their race, their dive, their routine. You need to do the same.

Earl Shylock, Esquire, and Phebe Hamlet

Rehearse your lines OUT LOUD, with the moves, even if you have no one listening. That’s how you will be delivering them — not in your head. These lines are designed to be spoken, not read. This engages your whole being, mental and physical, and your whole body, not just your mouth. You’d be amazed what that type of integration does to anything you are doing. This will also help you get the right words down correctly. The writer wrote it that way for a reason.

Though there are times getting the basic “gist” of the line can end up with you saying something even more effective than what was written (if you are “into it.”)

The audience really wants to get to know your character. They want to know why they should feel sad or happy or why they should be laughing. Communicating that is your job.

Then there’s that old, inescapable discipline — practice, practice, practice.

Sorry — no way around that one, no matter what you’re doing. (Believe me, I’ve tried. No silver bullet.)

Acting and the Computer Animator

Family Friendly Productions

One of our longtime (since 3rd grade) actors has turned his interest in art and cartooning into a $40,000 DreamWorks scholarship at the Ringling College of Art and Design. (He’s a homeschooler.)

Hunter as Black Bart in “Not Exactly How the West Was Won”

Hunter will be playing the role of William Macbeth, Senior, Esquire in our current production of A Shakespearean Tale before he heads off to start his freshman year in Computer Animation at Ringling in Sarasota, Florida. Hunter was Black Bart in our production of Not Exactly How the West Was Won a few years ago.

The Ringling College was founded in 1931 by John Ringling, noted art collector, real estate developer and circus impresario. Just getting accepted into the Computer Animation program is very difficult. Here’s a quote from the Ringling website:

The Computer Animation program at Ringling College of Art and Design is ranked #1 in North America by 3D World magazine for the second year in a row! 3D World is an international magazine for 3D artists.

In Ringling College of Art and Design’s deep and specialized four-year Computer Animation degree program, you will develop skills in modeling, lighting, motion and sound – while learning how to tell a story. At the same time, you will gain command of the technical skills required in today’s highly competitive animation industry.

Talking to Hunter and his mom, we were told that one of the recommendations for Ringling Computer Animation students is to take an acting class! In fact, Ringling highly recommends that their computer animation students take an acting class there at Ringling. Notice that “actor” is listed in the skill set of computer animators on the Ringling site:

Artist, animator, actor, storyteller, modeler, lighting director, set designer, costumer, sound designer and film director – you will use all of these skills and more.

Acting is a skill of communication, storytelling, persuasion, and entertainment that is necessary to many disciplines.

The Stage — Acting Without a Net

Remember the high-wire or trapeze acts in the circus?

A net was strung below them to greatly reduce the risk of injury or death. In the days when safety was not as much of a concern, there was no net. Or, for publicity and to draw larger risk-loving audiences (and more money), certain performers and/or show managers dispensed with the net. “Without a net” became a common reference to anyone taking a significant risk.

Acting is not likely to kill you. But acting does have its limits and luxuries, its risks and rewards. How does acting on the stage compare with acting in film or television?

Film is a powerful medium. In a movie theater, it offers a massive visual and intense audio experience. The “big screen” — there’s nothing like it, in all of its many technical manifestations over the years.

Directors can take advantage of special effects (especially in today’s world), magnificent and exotic or realistic locations, graphic depictions, and effective editing (which is an art form in itself). The actor can rely on the opportunities for short takes, multiple takes, multiple camera angles, close-ups, and the inspiration provided by location shooting. Those are some of its luxuries. What are some limitations?

For the producer(s) and director, when the film is done, it’s “in the can.” Expense and logistics prevent redo’s or editing. By contrast, a live stage production often has script changes, song changes, and even cast changes. Feedback from audiences provides ongoing, real-time reactions that can benefit the quality of the show. And, of course, for the actor, that feedback from a live audience is the ultimate test — the ultimate judgment — inspiration and confirmation, or rejection and condemnation of the actor’s performance, immediate, up close and personal. And even that may change in some way from performance to performance.

Reviews from the “experts” for any medium always came the next day or after the fact — except now Twitter and blogs have transformed that component much closer to “real time.” However, the audience and their hard-earned dollars always have the final say for any project.

"After the show, Big Fella, there's young'ens out there."

On the stage, actors and their audiences are ever alive and interacting. It is a dynamic communication. The actor — or speaker or singer — feeds off the energy of the audience.

The film or television actor has the limitation of no live response, except from the crew. It that sense, it makes their acting more difficult. Many television series, particularly comedies, began to record in front of live audiences to get the best of both worlds — retakes, close-ups, camera angles, editing and live reaction — genuine laughter instead of a “laugh track.”

So the stage performer is acting or singing “without a net.” The show must go on. Mistakes have to be handled “on the fly.” No retakes, no close-ups, no camera angles, no editing. It’s do or die, right on the spot. They may have a microphone, but they still must project their voice and the whole of their character to a theater full of people, most of whom are some distance away.

Experienced actors cover for each other and work together to get back on track when lines are forgotten or mangled in some way, when cues are missed, or technical glitches occur with lighting or scenery or sound effects.

The stage may be “acting without a net,” but for most good actors, it remains their first and best love — because there is nothing like that live audience!

Wright or Write or Right? When the Play’s the Thing, Which is It?

Shakespeare was a writer of plays. So, was he a playwrite? A playright? Or a playwright?

It certainly seems that “write” would be correct, because that’s what a playwright does — he writes. Right?

But a writer of plays is someone who creates — or sometimes repairs, rewrites or reconstructs — something specific (a play). He or she builds or constructs a play. A “wright” is someone who creates, builds, or repairs something specified. The word derives from Old English wryhta or wyrhta. You see it used for professions such as shipwright or wheelwright.

According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word playwright was in the year 1616, which was the year Shakespeare died.

Thus, the writer of plays is a playwright, but the action of creating a play is called, in modern English, playwriting (just like screenwriting).

So, now you know what’s right! Right?

Playwrights and Play Actors

Unhand Me Desdemona

“Let’s play like….”

Remember, as a young kid, this wonderful suggestion that inevitably unleashed your child’s enthusiastic and unfettered imagination? It brought such fun and richness to what then seemed like a long day.

A play “wright” must retain and nourish this “child’s imagination” that allows a soul to “dream up,” describe, and give voice to whatever characters populate a particular plot, and whatever actions and outcomes drive that plot.

But it’s the actor who must ultimately “play like” — who must breathe life into the characters and situations that make up a script. The actor is the essential “tool” of the play “wright,” who hammers out the right words to tell the story. A play may be read — and some scripts are more suited to this than others — but it is always the actor who truly makes a character live, at least for the space of a performance.

The actor and the writer have a mutually dependent relationship — one requires the other, though each is independent. A director may serve as an additional, independent “tool,” interpreting the writer’s words and conveying that vision to the actor. Such a director brings an additional imagination to the mix. Occasionally, the writer is the director. Both situations are good. They give a script a variety of “lives” on the stage.

A writer’s heart cherishes the good actors who embrace a script’s characters and allow audiences the opportunity to experience and enjoy the writer’s creations.

When you act out a character, you are bringing your own imagination to that character and the plot. You are the ultimate communicator and entertainer in the relationship between writer and audience. The writer, director, and audience depend completely on you. You are important!