Tag Archive: actors


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?

Advertisements

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’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.

 

 

Continuing from the earlier discussion of how to select a play, let me start with:

6. Royalties and Scripts

The play publisher will provide information on how much it costs to “rent” the right to do the play. That is, the royalty. This information is available in the print catalog and on-line. Often, the amount is based on the size of the house – how many people you can potentially pull in to see your show per performance. Sometimes you can simply count seats, sometimes you have to give a rough estimate. It is not based on how many people actually see the show per performance.

The publisher may also want to know how many performances you plan and how much you will charge for tickets. Sometimes, the royalty is more for the first performance and less for subsequent performances.

You must pay your royalties before you perform your play. No exceptions.

You must purchase a script for everyone who needs one. That not only includes the cast, but also the director, the stage manager, and the technical crew chiefs.

Musicals are very different.

7.  Timing and Season

By season, I don’t mean summer, winter, spring and fall. I mean the time in the theatrical season when you are doing the play.

Traditionally, the fall is the start of the season. This is when you get new actors, new audience members, and a fresh start.

In schools, drama clubs present a play in the fall with a slightly smaller cast that includes a core of experienced actors from the previous school year. The show is designed to interest the student body (and faculty) with the drama club activities and, of course, with theater in general. In community theater, the opening show will often set up the  “theme” for the coming season.

Winter is the time for holiday audiences. Be sensitive to religious issues. Be aware of how fall holidays will affect your rehearsal schedule and plan accordingly. Some theaters do a musical and skirt the religious dilemma of a Christmas/holiday play altogether. The theater I’m currently associated with is doing the musical “Cinderella” both before and after the holiday break. Brilliant!

Very often, theater companies will finish the season (usually in the spring) with a musical.

Summer theater, including theater camps, usually do a musical or Shakespeare. You can find many adaptations of both.

8. Your Team

You need to be realistic about what resources you have to work with. By resources, I mean human resources. The more experienced a team you work with, the more complex a show you can perform.  If you don’t have an experienced set builder, please think twice about doing a play that calls for three sets, indoor and outdoor (interior and exterior), with a second story kitchen that needs running water. If you don’t have access to costumes, re-consider doing a “period piece’ (a play set in a specific time period that needs specific wardrobe and sets). If you are the only one who is  interested in and has the necessary skills to put costumes together, build the set, and/or play the music, please  rethink your play. You simply cannot do it all.

But do not despair. Many, many fine plays are simple, one set, contemporary costume plays which will delight your audience and take you and your team to unimaginable heights of skill and creativity. Save your challenges for the story.

Actors of all abilities and experience will audition (no, ability and experience do not necessarily go hand in hand). Be prepared for some to rise to the occasion, and some to disappoint. It happens. My experience is that more women audition than men. Good singers and good dancers are rare. People who can do both well are very rare! Everyone can memorize lines but not everyone has the time or inclination to work as needed on memorizing.

On the other hand, do not hesitate to challenge yourself and your team. Theater is the finest example of the impossible being made possible. The challenges will allow everyone to increase both their skill level and their knowledge and will allow you to benefit in the future by being able to do more complex plays.

Always encourage your actors to work backstage, and your backstage crew to audition.

9.  Past Experience – You, Your Team, Your Audience

If you are working in an active theater group for which you have established actors and crew, and the audience has stuck with the theater for years, you will have a relatively easy time of it. You must keep the challenges of bringing something new to the table, but your team will be able to stretch as needed – they know what they are doing.

But what if you are new, they are new, you’re starting from scratch? If you’ve picked the right play (following my suggestions, of course) and find something that you find interesting, you will probably have a good experience.

Choose a play that your new audience will find gratifying and will enjoy. Usually, for first time theater-goers, that means a comedy or a musical. If you can choose something they have read in school or have seen in television/in the movies, they will be at ease with the story and can focus, subconsciously, on the experience of live theater. You want to make them as comfortable as possible, at least for this first time out.

Same goes for your new actors. Try to find characters that are close to people they may know – never, ever, cast a 13-year-old as a Grandfather. You don’t want to become just another example of the ” gray-hair-spray-and-wrinkle-make-up” cliché.  Seriously.

10.  Potential

Take the long view of your theater experience. Whether you will do your next show in a month, six months, or a year, you will be excited by the experience and people will be expecting you to come up with something even better the next time. Decide whether you are ready for a drama, a musical, a mystery. Perhaps you want to focus on classics – those plays that people talk about (The Crucible, The Diary of Anne Frank, Death of a Salesman, etc) but most people have never seen. Perhaps there is an author whom you really enjoy – Neil Simon, William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim – and focus on his (or her) works. Perhaps you want to focus on adaptations of well-known stories (The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Robin Hood). Go online and find out what is popular among theaters of your caliber and do what they do! Why not? Pretty soon you’ll be heading out on your own, anyway.

There are many factors to consider as you  decide on a play to produce. You have to go with your gut feeling – your head and heart have to be in sync. You will always be taking a risk and you cannot predict how the show will be on opening night. Doing theater is a wonderful, desireable endeavor that is truly necessary for the human experience. People will enjoy it, and some people really need that creative outlet.

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.