Thursday, October 14, 2010


How do you keep all those words in your head?

I get asked this question frequently, as someone who stands upon a stage (a wicked stage as the song tells us) and recites copious amounts of dialogue to a captive audience.

Here’s the long answer.

I should make it clear that it’s not a question of reciting, it’s more of a question of being the character you are portraying in the particular stage piece and letting the words flow as you would in a “real” life situation. As far as how to get the dialogue to stick in the “grey matter”, I am not sure how that happens.

Repetition of the play during the rehearsal process is one way but as an actor you need to do your homework as well. Remembering the blocking- that’s where the Director tells you to stand and sit and walk or whatever, that corresponds to the dialogue is also very helpful.

A Director will “direct” you- that’s what a Director is there for after all.
He or she will say-
“repeat this dialogue here.”
“sit and say ‘that’ word(s) over there.”
“walk towards the couch and then turn and talk.”

Thinking about the character is helpful.
How would he walk or smile.
The body language.
Does he shuffle when he walks or takes definite steps?
Does the character have a ring on his finger?
Does he constantly play with the ring- rubbing it or turning it around and around?
Does he wear eyeglasses?
Is he clean shaven or does he sport a beard?

All these things are a part of the preparation for the character- the image the actors wishes to portray on stage. Getting inside the character’s “head space” is probably more difficult than learning dialogue. Sooner or later the dialogue seems to flow-albeit there are always some parts of a script tougher to memorize than others.
No, I don’t know why that is.
Sometimes, it might have to do with the author and how the lines are written. Sometimes, it’s a mental block over a few lines here or there.

Phyllis Johnson once told me to say “I will remember the lines” instead of saying “I always forget that line!”

I suppose it’s like a crossword puzzle. If you do crosswords it helps expand the learning and the memory process and I believe as you progress, the “memorization” process becomes somewhat easier and less “stressful” to deal with during the rehearsal period.

Of course, things can get decidedly harder if you have to learn the dialogue for two characters- in two different shows! I have had that task staring me in the face a couple of times.
Starting in November, I will be doing it again.
An actor never learns.

In one of the shows- “A Chatty HANKmuss” I am not only the playwright- but the director and the lead character as well.
It does pass the time in the ugly month of November and in dead of winter.

So that’s my long answer.


Have a good weekend.