Tag Archive: acting


There is no easy way to memorize  lines. You have to go over and over your lines until you know them cold.

You have to be able to say them automatically without giving them any thought. Like a knee jerk reaction. You hear your cue and – whoosh – the line magically pops out of your mouth.

The first thing to do is understand the play and where the plot goes. You need to know what happens first, what happens next, etc. in order to get a feel for what words happen when. Read and read and read the play until you understand the flow of the story.

If you are lucky, your lines will help move the plot along.

Her: Is she arriving tonight?

You:  Yes, I think her car just pulled up.

Your lines might be used to help flesh out a character or a setting. These might be harder to memorize because these lines don’t necessarily “connect” to what’s happening on stage, although they are important to the story.

Him: He’s a bit of a prude.

You: I saw him going into the movie theater yesterday.

Him: He usually stays at home and reads!

Your lines may be there to introduce a song or dance – lucky you, there will probably be some underscoring to cue you in (cue “The RRRain in Spain Stays Main-ly in the Play-hayne”).

There is no easy way to memorize (practice, practice) but everyone has a particular system for making the lines stick:

1. Writing your lives down – may be tedious if you have a big part

2. Talk into a recorder – record your cues and leave a space for your response.

3. Flash cards – with your cues on them; flip them over for your actual line.

4. Cover the line as you are reading them – read your cue, see if you know what your next line is.

5. Work with a partner – he/she must be dedicated to helping you and very patient.

6.  Look carefully for clues or signals in your lines or in your cues. One of the most obvious are alphabetical order (or a change in order). “Don’t be silly. Of course you are. You heard what the Master said.” Look for relations between words – similar prefixes or suffixes. Looks for rhymes. Listen for rhythms. Listen for similar sounding words or sounds.

Him:  She’s crazy.

You: But she keeps everyone on their toes.

7. Discover the key words in your lines. They may provide guideposts and help you move forward.

These aids will only work after you have put in time to memorize. Begin memorizing as soon as you can in case it takes longer than you anticipate. Read the line, look away, and try to commit the words to memory. Repeat many times. You must focus on engaging the brain for this. No true multi-tasking, although many find it useful to move while memorizing.

If you’ve never had to memorize lines before, you may find this need to focus to be a challenging experience but extremely rewarding for two reasons.

One, focusing will enable you to learn your lines.

Two, focusing will help you during the run of the play. How?

In the real world, we live in a world of distractions. Happily, you can memorize where there are distractions – on the subway, in a library, at the park, while working out. When you focus, you find that your brain no longer recognizes the distractions around you and you only think of the words. And this will serve you well when the time comes for performance.  You will have trained your brain to focus. Your focus will be on the actions on stage (and awareness of your audience). When the cell phone goes off, the audience member coughs, or the plane flies overhead, you won’t hear it.

You will be like an athlete making a shot at the foul line  in spite of cheering, and jeering, fans.

Don’t try to begin to memorize lines while you are driving. Your focus has to be on the road. Once your lines are memorization, PERHAPS you can recite while driving. But, please, focus on the road for everybody’s safety.

Rehearsing with your fellow actors will help tremendously as you begin to learn your lines. You will move on stage, adding muscle memory to words. You will hear the lines and inflections of other actors which will help you understand where the scene is going. You may have props and items on the set to work with – it will be easier to remember “How fragile this is,” when you’ve just picked up a piece of glass!

You are allowed to be imperfect during the early rehearsal process.

Learn the line exactly as written. It is not OK to paraphrase or ad lib your lines and consider them memorized. You don’t know which of your words your fellow actor is using for their cue – they are expecting to get their cue from you as written.

After you have a good (not perfect) grip on your lines, you can begin developing your character. But first you have to know your lines.

What tricks have you found to help memorize lines? What are some of the problems you’ve come up against?

You’re standing in the middle of an empty stage, nervously waiting for day one of rehearsals to begin. You’ve read the play, maybe had a chance to sit and read it with the other people involved with the show. But today is the first time you will be moving around on the actual stage.

Do you have your script? Good. Do you have a pencil with an eraser? Good.

Get ready for your blocking.

No, not mental blocking. Blocking is the activity in which people are directed to move on the stage in a regular, repeatable pattern.

One of the first things you have to know in order to go to the right place is where “north, south, east and west” are on a stage.

Moving downstage is moving towards the audience and moving upstage is moving away from the audience..

Why?

One story is that, back in the “old days,” the audience sat on a flat floor, not on a tilted one like you find today in a movie theater. In order that everyone could see what was going on, on the stage, the stage itself was slightly tilted towards the audience.

Therefore, walking towards the audience was literally walking downhill. Down the stage. Shortened to downstage.

Uphill was the opposite. It was heading away from the audience to a higher level on the tilt. So going away from the audience is known as going upstage.

The problems of working on a tilted stage are obvious and numerous. Items would slide of the stage into the laps of the audience. Balance was more difficult. And walking for hours on a slant was hard on feet, knees, back – the entire body!

Quickly, as the size of the audience grew, theater construction  plans adjusted so that the stage was flat and the audience sat in tiers, at a tilt, in order to see the stage. But the name for the stage directions stayed.

Left and right are a little more difficult to remember, but only if you are not on stage facing the audience. These directions are given in your perspective as an actor on stage. In other words, as you stand on the stage and look in front of you at the audience, left is on your left and right is on your right.  If the person telling you where to move says “Move two steps stage left” you take two steps left. “Exit stage right” means turn right and leave!

Easy.

Of course, it is more of a problem for the person who is sitting in the audience telling you which way to go – he or she must reverse their own perspective to fit with yours. The directions are always given to match the point of view of an actor facing the audience.

Center stage is the middle of the stage. The house is where the audience sits.

This diagram shows the directions on a stage, from the point of view of the actor facing the audience.

images

I’ve written too much for the introduction to the January play. The three pages, including quotes, are confusing. Should I knock it down to one? Forget the quotes completely? Just go into the play and assume the audience will figure it out?

But I now like giving the whole play a situation to work within. It gives the play an anchor, in a way. Originally written for high school students, the play had a built-in anchor – “We want you to understand the Sonnets because it’s part of your curriculum.” But, now, people are just walking in off the street, so to speak, and have no assumed context for this play. That it is a series of scenes means that it has no story to tell from beginning to end – it’s just a bunch of potentially unrelated stories. So the intro provides a way for the scenes to connect. A reason for them to exist.

What about the dance at the end? It is traditional. Plus, I want to do it. I’ve almost always added dance to my plays. But will it be confusing to the audience? Or will it provide the energetic and emotional “boost” that I hope it will. Right now, I imagine that the actors will wear contemporary dress, so their dancing will be in jeans, Dockers,  sneakers and boots. The women will probably not be wearing dresses, although dresses would look better for dancing. So how will it all look? I think the ending dance is a great way for each actor to take a bow, but will the audience go for it?

The vision I have in my head is clear, although some of my ideas are stronger than others. Each scene must tell a compelling story. As an audience, we must be engaged with the characters. The part of Shakespeare , the character called “Bard” whose job it is to recite the sonnet during each scene,  is to be shared by all – it’s too big a part for any one person. I would love to have the sonnets recited by actors with different accents. Any way we can blend the contemporary and the “Renaissance-ian” using props, costume pieces, and/or the set, is peachy by me.  In the closing, it would be fun if we could bring the stage hands (if there are any) into the curtain call/dance.

I won’t have time to do all 16 scenes, so I will have to eliminate at least six, possibly seven scenes, depending on how much time the intro ends up taking. I only have 60 minutes, including set up and take down, for the entire play. I also have to have a minimum number of scenes – I can;t go out there with a 25 minute play – and I’m not a writer so I can’t write filler. Scene changes will only take so long, and I can’t have a troubadour come in, singing songs,  to eat up time!

I’m preparing this for a competition. I’m in it to win it.

I wrote an introductory scene to the show I will be doing in January. My goal had been to provide some kind of set up so that an audience would have an idea of the “conceit” of the play. I knew the idea in my head, but forgot that the audience is not made up of mind readers. Therefore, I wrote the introduction.

The show starts in a college setting, where students are preparing for some kind of exam on the Sonnets. The students are not happy, because they like neither Shakespeare nor poetry, and the course they are taking is a combination of both. As I have one character say, ” . . . the worst of all possible worlds!”

I also have a group of quotes that I had found that referred to how Shakespere is taught in school, what it’s like delivering lines in front of an audience, and about poetry. I hoped that the quotes would tie everything together.

But, when I gave it to DH to read, he said Nope, my introduction didn’t explain where and what the show would be about, especially with the short – very short – set up for the college setting. That was only five lines (not including the quotes). It would have been finished in under 10 seconds.

So I wrote some more to introduce the school setting and the quotes as transitions to the play itself. I came up with four pages, including the quotes. I think it is clearer now, maybe a little too wordy. I may have to delete some of my favorite quotes, not to mention take words out of people’s mouths. But I want to make it clear to any audience member – who would be coming in with no preconceived notions, perhaps not even knowing they will be seeing a show about Shakespeare – what they will be seeing.

Maybe I should follow that adage – tell people what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them.

I’m directing a one-act of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  It consists of 16 sonnets, with accompanying scenes which show how the sonnets relate to real-life situations. At the reading I had a few weeks ago, the feedback was generally very positive, which I found affirming and encouraging.

However, one suggestion I received was that there be an introduction in order to explain to an audience which may not be familiar with Shakespeare, what was going to be going on. My reaction was that this was not necessary because:

  1. You don’t need to give an introduction to a play, you just do the play
  2. The audience would be pretty familiar with Shakespeare
  3. I didn’t have an introduction to do and I’m not a writer (clearly)

But I’ve given it more thought and the fact is that most people are not familiar with Shakespeare. Many have only learned that Shakespeare is irrelevant and indecipherable. They know from the outset that they won’t “get it” so they don’t put themselves through the misery of trying to understand – it’s so much easier to watch a sit-com on TV.

This one-act is for a competition but it’s also for a general audience. And, although the judges will be familiar with Shakespeare, the general audience will not. Most will especially be unfamilar with the sonnets. So, if I can create an atmosphere where the general audience will be more comfortable, I will be serving them well, although perhaps diminishing my chances with the judges by suggesting that the judges are dumber than they actually are.

I want to hit on three aspects of discomfort that, IMHO,  general audiences have with Shakespeare and with the sonnets specifically.

  1. Shakespeare wrote in unintelligible language that no one, not even the British, understand anymore.
  2. What was taught  in school about Shakespeare absolutely killed any interest there might have been.
  3. Poetry is for wimps and is almost as unintelligible as Shakespeare’s language. Put them together and you have a recipe for disaster.

So I must address these three strikes against enjoying the play I will present. I must face them and diffuse them.

It’s as if you are in a crowd listening to a stand-up comedian playing to a home town audience. All around you , you see people breaking down in laughter and you just don’t get what is so funny. Because the jokes are part of a different culture, you are at a loss. However, with a little information and encouragement you can become part of the audience enjoying the show.

I believe it is the same with Shakespeare. Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of his time. His audiences, even those dumb, uneducated “groundlings” who couldn’t afford a seat and paid to stand for the entire performance, got his jokes, felt his pain, understood the yearning, hopes and thoughts of his characters. We are not dumber than those groundlings, we’re just part of a different culture. With a little information and encouragement, we can be part of that  audience of 400 years ago and enjoy the same show.

My introduction will try to bridge the 400 year old gap, simply, in one minute or less, and will pick up the general audience which will be viewing my production. I will be like  Alice stepping through the looking-glass and holding out a hand to the viewer to come along. I will inform and encourage and will bring them to my side of the mirror. However, unlike Alice, I don’t have any absuridty to reveal, but the universal reality that travels through time and hits the mark in today’s world.

It’s a tall order and is going to take some thought. It’s probably grossly unrealistic. But I believe that Shakespeare well done is plain ol’ good theater and can grab the contemporary audience, if the audience can be convinced to relax, to not be afraid, and to let themselves be open for the experience.

 

 

As a new producer/director or theater, or as just a friend of theater, one of the first questions you may have is “How do you find a play to do?”

It’s not as difficult as it sounds – in fact, there are more plays out there, waiting to be performed, than any person could possibly do in a lifetime. There are millions of people who have written plays – some great, some terrible – who would love to have you read, admire, and produce their creation.

The easiest way to find a play is to get a catalog of plays. There are many companies who do just that. These publishing companies acquire the rights to publish and handle the work of playwrights. They put these plays together in catalogues and hope that someone like you will be intrigued enough by the write-up in the catalog to want to purchase and read the play.

These companies are in business to get plays read and produced. That is how they make their money. Therefore, they are very helpful and accommodating to your needs. They have on-line resources that are designed to make it easy for you to find many, many plays that suit your needs and interests.

You can find classics, musicals, dramas, comedies, mysteries, plays for youth, plays for older actors. You can find Christmas plays, Halloween plays, Valentine’s Day plays, You can find plays for elementary school, junior high school, high school, college and community theater. You can find plays for one person, two people, thirty or more, and everything in between. You can find plays by authors that everyone has heard of. You can find plays by authors whom no one has heard of. You can find “full-length” plays, one-act plays, and ten-minute plays. You can find plays for women, men, gay, Asian, African-American, Jewish, Latino actors, and any combination thereof.

If there is a play that you have heard of or seen (stage play- movies and television are a whole different ballgame) and you want to read it, you can do it. Some may be easier to find than others, but it can be done. The cost of buying a “perusal” copy is usually low enough that most theater professionals have hundreds, if not thousands of copies of plays that they have purchased. Perusal copies allow a person to decide if they like the play enough that they want to produce it. The situation is a little different for musicals but the general idea is the same. Of course, many plays, particularly those considered “classics” are available in libraries and on-line. Many are also available in collections.

The editions of plays that script publishing companies sell are usually acting editions. Acting editions are not the large, pretty, glossy scripts that you find in a bookstore. They are usually small enough to fit, folded, in a jeans back pocket, where they will often be found during rehearsal. They are printed on relatively coarse paper and are meant to be written in (pencil only, please) and can take many erasures (I told you to use pencil) because the actor, hopefully, writes their notes in this script. The more well-known the playwright (Christopher Durang, for example) or the more successful the play (Tony Award winning, for example) the glossier the edition.

Some plays are only available in manuscript form – that is, printed out on sheets of regular paper. If you download scripts off the internet, of course that will be the form you will print out.

It is never, ever, a good idea to make a copy of a play. The simple reason is that writers depend on you buying their creations in order to make a living. If you just copy their stuff, they never see a penny and go broke. Enough said, don’t make copies.

So, if you are looking for a play, have no fear. You will not have any problem finding one. Your problem will be in choosing among the hundreds that will interest and intrigue you.

The Sonnets are a Go!!

The reading of the sonnets was a hit.

I was worried that my choice/support of this one-act of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was a mistake. I’ve always admired those producers and directors who can read a play and find something deep and satisfying in what I read as weird and not likeable. When I sit down to read a play I need a plot, a story that goes from point A to point B in a pretty clear, although imaginative and unpredictable, line. I get restless with a plotless play which only focuses on character, issues or theme without a good story.

In other words, I don’t think I have good judgement when deciding what play to direct.

So I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to hear the reaction of the readers who came out and volunteered to bring the voices in my head to life. I was especially pleased to hear how easily the sonnets flowed from the tongues of these normal people, many never having seen these poems before. There were some experienced actors and some who had never read a play before, some whose resume reads like an index of classic community theater offerings, and some who had never even been in the high school drama club.  Yet the sonnets came through to make each reader comfortable and able to give a reading which  seemed logical and refreshing.

I had explained at the beginning of the evening that we were reading these scenes to decide whether they needed to be ‘adultified” and, if so, how. For the most part, the scenes read very well just the way they were. Switching age groups and genders and changing a reference to “the prom” here and there seems to be all that will be needed. The readers gave insightful, honest feedback on what they thought of each scene as audience and as actor.

Nevertheless, there is a challenge. I don’t know who will audition. And it has nothing to do with acting ability – I’ve directed volunteers with different levels of ability. It has to do with age. If I get all high schoolers, it will be difficult to cast the scenes which call for middle-aged or older characters. And if I get all middle-agers, there go the scenes about the Prom!

I have to pare the evening to under an hour and will have to pick and choose which scenes to perform because I don’t think I will have time to do all 16 scenes (sonnets) in the play. But if the evening comes too much under an hour, I may have to do some scenes which I was not particularly fond of and didn’t do at the reading, in order to fill up the time. I also have to take into account costume changes, which will have to happen quickly because the scenes are short, some only two or three pages long.

One of the readers suggested that there be some kind of introduction to the play in order to get the audience on the right wavelength for what is to come. Although the play isn’t written with one, there may be a need. And, if I can do it organically enough, so that it becomes a natural bridge between the real world the audience is in and the world we are developing on stage, it might be creatively interesting and useful. Of course, a theater audience is, by their very nature, already halfway in the play’s reality or else they wouldn’t be there!

I still like my costume idea, but I don’t know if it is doable. The set design will, of course, be simple. And the idea of closing with a dance is so Shakespearean that I really want to do it. It may be a surprise for the audience and a fun way to top off the show.

Most of all, I am worried about casting. I expect to cast everyone who auditions  – there are enough parts. But who will get what part, who will read the Bard, when will costume changes occur, and especially, which scenes will actually be done – those are decisions which will have to happen quickly after auditions.

Add to this the fact that auditions will occur just before the December holidays since the show goes up in January and the scheduling alone give me the shakes – how to do so much with so many in so short a time!!

After casting, of course, I will begin my grand task of directing the scenes AND directing the readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Hopefully the production team will be on board before then.

I guess it is time to “Brush Up on Shakespeare.”

I’m preparing to direct a one-act play involving Shakespeare’s sonnets. I have so much preparation to do, it isn’t funny. Fortunately, I am very enthusiastic about it.

This particular play is written for high school students and is designed to help them understand and relate to Shakespeare’s sonnets. However, the language is stilted and unrealistic for a theatrically knowledgeable audience. I have to “adultify” it and I think that will be a huge challenge. I will use the actors to improv their own language to up the situations a bit. But the scenes are so short – 2 – 5 pages max – that there isn’t much time to get up to speed. Each scene has to start out with a bang.

Plus, the theater I’m working with has a great reputation with Shakespeare!! If I had known that, I would have chosen something else to start out with. But, I found this play  . . . charming . . . in it’s own high school way. Perhaps predictable, but that was part of the challenge I sensed when I first selected it.

Now, however, I’m not sure I’m up to the task. I want it to be great yet I’m thinking that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

I’ve learned quite a bit about the Sonnets just by doing research on-line. I know, however, that the actors, all volunteers, will have questions about interpretation, “what does that mean,” etc. Much of that will be their “job” to find out. They can look it up on-line as easily as I can.  However, I have to have a strong enough handle on the works to be able to guide them if they go off track or get really stuck. Plus, I have to know the direction I want the scene to go in – that’s what a director does!!  There are many on-line sites out there where information is available and I could get lost in them for a long time. But I also want to put my own personal stamp on the production. Provide something new and interesting. Or else, what’s the point??

Most importantly, I have to make it “theatrical.” Shakespeare brings so much simply through his wonderful writing and is so easy to get into – if done well. I must bring out the drama, the passion, the fun, the enjoyment and delight which grabbed me and, I hope, grabs an audience and keeps them focused on the action –  on what is going on on-stage. I plan to bring in music and dance. Music is a wonderful “short cut” for many emotions. Who knew that this would be old hat for this theater – I thought I was being musically innovative.

Perhaps this all  just means that I am a good fit for this place. I can only keep my fingers crossed and work hard.

People are drawn to people who create things. Cake bakers, architects, computer game designers,  people are drawn by a sense of interest and intrigue to people who think things up off the top of their heads and make new things out of everyday ideas and hunches.

On a tv crime show, we wait until the moment the detective suddenly gets that spark of insight that puts mundane facts together in a new, previously unseen way. We are amazed when scientists think outside the box and develop a new theory based on known yet overlooked information. We’re delighted to see a sculptor create a new object by welding together everyday ones. And we love to watch everyday people, our friends and neighbors, take on new personalities, display hidden talents, and make us forget who they are and who we are in a  local community theater production.

One of my friends  forwarded a clip to me from the 1980’s TV show “Fame”, which reminded me that shows about creative people are not new, just rare.  We now have  television programs like “Glee” and “Smash,” and the movie “Black Swan,” which all deal with creativity in the performing arts. Much of the drama from these shows comes from the fact that the people involved work with other artists on both a personal and an artistic level.

The problems faced in these shows are surprisingly similar, whether the location is a local high school or an international stage. And that’s how it is in real life. Who’s sick, whose voice is shot, who doesn’t show up for their solo, whose accompanist can’t carry it off, who gets along with who, the world of amateur performers is riddled with minor surprises that keep everyday, unglamorous people on their toes and that challenges each player to become more creative than they ever knew they could be.

Additionally, real life small performing companies have more of a struggle when faced with the same problems as big organizations because they have fewer resources to fall back on. Hence, the need for more creativity.

Developing a team that works creatively as one is as fascinating as any sports team drama and just as real. Getting many personalities to fuse into one with a common goal is just as challenging. And observing adults act like children and children act like adults is just as amusing, not to mention eye-opening.

An audience watching/listening to a performance only sees the end result. Anyone who sings in a Church choir knows that the hymn is just a small piece of the experience of putting together the music. A violinist knows that practicing the sheet music is only part of preparing for the recital.

So, when is television going to put together a good show about community theater? The tales to be told are endless. The personalities to be found run the gamut of quirks, talents, and neuroses. The problems that arise, the problems solved and the problems that remain unsolved, would provide scripts that would last longer than Law & Order.

From the cliques that intimidate new people to the friendships that only develop when one collaborates creatively, from the people who don’t show up, to the ones who do but can’t produce, from romance and kindness to jealousy and envy, from comedy to heartbreak, and from disappointment and failure to success, imagine how tension-filled and uplifting a show it could be.

Where are the writers? Where is the producer? I’d watch a show like that.

Who Does Community Theater?

This may be a very legitimate question.

Before television, communities not only banded together to bring community theaters to life, but fought, hard, in many communities, to keep them from dying early deaths. Community theater was a popular form of public entertainment, at least as popular as bear-baiting and public hangings.

These days, television tends to keep people at home. It’s so easy to stay at home. There are tons of entertainment to be had at home.

So, who is crazy enough to buck the trend and go out and  “do” community theater?

I have some ideas.

People who have seen live theater and have had an inexplicable, gut reaction to what they have seen on stage. People who have been taken out of the reality they were in and enjoyed the reality created before their eyes. People who have a certain creative talent that comes to life through carefully prepared words and actions, an enigmatic blend of the “extremely rehearsed” and the “never-been-done-before.”  People who are inexorably driven to exercise their creativity and become absolutely addicted to the teamwork, the comraderie, the stress and the sweat of doing theater.

Not just singers, dancers  and actors, but also designers, composers, directors, writers. Craftsmen who work in paint, light, fabric, sound, wood, metal, plastic. Young people who are moved by a good story. Adults who relate to a great character. People who enjoy a shared experience, as at a sporting event when everyone around you is cheering for the same team.

Since a play is life, concentrated, people who “do” theater are people who have the intestinal fortitude to swallow an hour and a half/two hours of concentrated life. Theater isn’t reality. Not even reality television is reality ((unedited, reality t.v. would be very,very boring).  Theater is reality times ten.

People who “do” theater know that there is a grace, a power, a depth of feeling,  a shared humanity that comes out in theater that is untapped by any other form of spectator activity.  Good theater, like good music,  moves people and people who “do” theater want to be movers.

Let’s explore together the who, what, why, when, and where of community theater, then get down to how to bring it to, and enliven it in, your community.