I’ve been recently struggling with memorizing lines. I have seen actors who can sit down in the makeup chair with the sides, go over their text, and get it perfect when they get on set. I want to be able to do that. Right now, my memorizing techniques are quite labored: I write out the text longhand and learn it line by line in a monotone, moving backwards and forwards through the handwritten lines. Its a very thorough system, but it’s not great if the lines change when you go for your line-up rehearsal (the rehearsal with actors on a film set before the camera and lighting gets set up… unfortunately, sometimes the only rehearsal you get on a film).
Memorization happens fastest when there is more information than just the words that can be stored. The more things you connect to the words, the more pathways your mind has of getting to them faster. This is often why actors have an easier time memorizing lines once they are in blocking rehearsals. The words have been associated with a particular piece of stage business or a location in the physical space.
But in an audition situation, or when you’re walking on a film set for your day in front of the camera, I tend to miss words or replace words with my own variations. Not a great habit. So I’m on a quest for how to memorize lines quickly and word perfect that doesn’t require me to go through a stage rehearsal process. This is what I’ve found:
- Chunking. This is a process whereby you break down a line into distinct sets of words, or chunks. Memorizing chunks of words, instead of individual words, lets you memorize much more in the same amount of time.
- Physicalization. This is creating a physical movement, or the intention of a movement to go with every word in your text. If your text is “murder” and you pair that with stabbing someone with a knife, it will be much harder for you to say “terrorism” (this happened to me recently in an audition in the line “The man is wanted in the US for _________”). Physicalization also has the added benefit of bringing your acting into your body, instead of just being in your head.
- Singing. Create a tune to go with your lines. This allows you to associate musical notes with certain words and could help you remember which particular word is coming next. Be careful with this one, though as you don’t want to lock yourself in to a particular way of saying the word.
- Handwriting. This is the technique that I usually use: write out your lines by hand. Pay attention to the writing of it, say the words to yourself as you’re writing. Again, this creates a parallel pathway to the particular words and doesn’t require you to lock yourself into a particular way of saying them. I generally write out the words without punctuation so when I read it I don’t get learn where the lines are supposed to start and stop.
- Mental Mapping. This is a technique whereby you create a room in your mind. The more vivid and detailed the room is (include as many senses as possible: colors, smells, textures, tastes, etc), the more attachments it will have to the things you put in it. Create a dresser or something where you’re going to store your lines. Then you place your lines in order within your room. Going through the places where you store your lines, you will be able to visualize what the lines are. I haven’t tried this technique and am not sure how applicable it is to line learning, but it feels like a good technique and I’m excited to try it.
- Strange Connections.Â Similar to the Mental Map, strange connections makes use of your imagination to create strong connections between the words. Take the words of the text and come up with strange and improbable animals or things in weird clothes doing the things or creating a visual picture of the words. The stranger the better: we remember out of the ordinary things more easily than mundane things.
In everyday life, our tendency is to protect ourselves from potential hurt. So if someone is behaving in a way that we feel threatened by (too open, too angry, too whatever), it’s perfectly reasonable to move away from them. Creating space is a much more innocuous way of creating a barrier than simply throwing up a defensive wall.
But in acting, the actor wants to use any of the partner’s behavior to move towards the partner and not away from. This means that if your partner is laughing a lot, laugh towards your partner. Step into that laughter. If your partner is crying, step towards that sadness. Reach out for it, participate in it: take it in. This is not to say that you should make yourself sad as well, although that may well happen. By stepping in, you accept whatever your partner gives you. By accepting it, you allow it to impact you. What your response is can be anything (that’s part of the wonderful thing of this: there is no wrong response).
Maybe part of the reason we move away from extreme or potentially “harmful” behavior is that we want to protect the other person. If my partner is crying, I don’t want to seem insensitive by getting angry about their sadness. But in our world, the response to get angry is welcome. It is what is. Disengagement is the only thing that isn’t the best option.
And if you do find yourself disengaging, fine! Be honest about that. By being honest about the disengagement, you will bring yourself back into moving toward the interaction with the partner. What is the disengagement about? What is the partner doing that is threatening? What do you think will happen if you engage? By being honest about these things and getting them out on the table, you can move beyond them, and towards a deeper connection with your partner.
It’s easy, especially in a market like Prague, to get complacent about auditions. There isn’t a ton of local competition, a lot of the competition there is is based on look rather than experience and talent. Sometimes it is enough to just show up and go through the motions.
But if you do more work going into your auditions, you will have a much better chance of booking the job you’re going for AND building a great reputation as a prepared, professional actor with the casting director, producers and directors you read for.
Here are some things that you should have going into an audition:
- Know the text. This is a huge mistake that people make going into an audition. You want to know the text as well as you possibly can. Knowing the words you have to say gives you an incredible amount of flexibility and security in how the audition will go.
- Know the stakes. Stakes are what is important in the scene. Even if you only have one line, what are the stakes? What are the consequences of getting or not getting what you want in the scene. Authors don’t write scenes about everyday nothing situations. Scenes are there to put the characters in them through something. So don’t assume that the answer why you say something or do something in the scene is “just because”. Know why you are there! If your part in the scene is very simple, maybe the stakes won’t need to be played (generally they shouldn’t be anyway), but doing the work to know what is important in the scene is always time well spent.
- Know the given circumstances. These will inform the stakes. Generally the given circumstances are Who, Where, What, When types of questions: Who is in the scene and what are their relationships? Where and When (both time of day, time period AND when in the script/story ie. how far into the story) does the scene take place? What is the physical behavior in the scene (what are the characters physically doing)? What happened just prior to this scene in the story (often this is not the previous scene in the script, but something inferred by the dialogue)?Â Answering as many of these types of questions will not only allow you to know more what the stakes are, but to know what the tone of the scene might be.
- Rehearse! Find a friend and go through the scene beforehand. Try to remain flexible in how you do the scene as the casting director may give you a note that is different than how you rehearse. But the knowledge that you have gone through the scene several times before you get in the casting room, will be very valuable!
- Let go! Once you’ve done all this work, let go of all of it. Don’t focus on any of the work when you are in the audition. Just go through the scene and listen to any instructions the casting director might give you. Trust that you have done the work and that the most meaningful parts of it have stayed with you. Try to listen and respond truthfully to the person who is reading opposite you.
Doing all of this work doesn’t guarantee you will get any role. But it will make casting directors sit up and take notice of you. Especially in a market where most people are not doing that much work on their auditions. Remember: In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. Or something to that effect.
It often comes up in class that the words will pull you away from the moment and focusing on your partner and their behavior will pull you back into the moment. Ideally, you want to be saying the words the author wrote for you to say, but having them come out in response to what is happening around you in the moment (and not because they were the next things written for you to say). It’s really difficult to do this because when we have that text in front of us, it’s hard to think about anything else. So when you have some text to say, spend some time focusing on what is going on around you instead of what you have to say. Then say what you need to say, but in response to what’s happening in the moment. You’ll get better at it!
For those of you that were interested in working on reducing your foreign accent when speaking English, we have started teaching accent reduction (based on American English) classes. The classes meet once a week, either on Monday morning at 10am or Wednesday afternoon at 16:00. They last 1 hour and the course is 12 weeks long. The cost is 2.000 Kc. Join in! Classes run until the beginning of July, 2015.
For those that didn’t get the email, I am shooting out of town today and will not be able to teach. We begin the fall term on Wednesday, September 17! Excited to see you there!
There are a number of casting resources and agencies which get actors work in Prague and the Czech Republic. Below is just a partial list of some of the ones I use the most frequently.
Any of these agencies are personal friends of mine and telling them that you study with me will mean something.
For Czech films you should register/contact:
I am ill, so I need to cancel class for tonight and tomorrow morning. I am hoping that classes will resume as usual on Wednesday 5.3.14. Thanks!
Recently I’ve been listening to the SpotlightUK series of podcasts. They feature short interviews with casting directors, agents and other industry professionals about the business, mostly centered around the London scene. While most of the information is really excellent for those just getting out of drama school, there are some real reinforcements there in terms of keeping your head on straight in a world that doesn’t seem to have any sense to it.
I’ve mostly been taking away the sense of what a marathon it is. Going in for an audition, it is about getting that specific job, sure. But more than that, it is about building a relationship with the casting director. By showing up prepared, with strong choices, strong opinions, being on time, courteous to EVERYONE in the office no matter who they are or how they treat you, you send a clear message to the casting office. The message is: “I am not an asshole. I will not embarrass you. I will not be a pain in the ass to work with. You can call me for role after role after role.” By doing that, you are playing the long game. Whether you get any particular role or not, who can say. There are so many factors as to why a certain actor gets a certain role (many if not not most of which are out of their control) that it’s almost pointless to stress over not getting a role. The important aspect of the long game is that the casting director will want to call you back and keep searching for the role that is right for you. They will be your ally in this war instead of your enemy. And believe me, you don’t need more reasons to fail, especially when the casting office is so influential in being able to get the job in the first place!
Play the long game. Build the relationship. As they say in the podcast over and over: You are not just auditioning for this particular job. You’re auditioning for your whole career with this casting office. Don’t mess it up!
In our relentless quest for deeper, truer, more personal meaning, something that often gets in the way is remembering to let go. We look so hard for these elusive feelings and opinions that when we find them, we want to hold them up and say “Aha! I feel something! Isn’t this wonderful!” We want to luxuriate in the feeling, even if it is a “negative” one. Sometimes I call that wallowing in the feeling (wallowing is what a pig does in mud). We like to roll around in it and get all dirty.
But holding on to any particular emotion can cause a pressure which isn’t the most helpful in following the true moment. By holding on, we stop really responding to what is going on around us. We say: “No, no. I don’t wantÂ that to happen now. I’m still working onÂ this!” Unfortunately for us,Â thisÂ is the new moment, notÂ that. It is analogous to what happens when a student goes for a particular result (“I want to make my partner jealous” or “I want to help my partner not be so upset” or “I want to make my partner to like me”). We turn off to the rest of the subtle behavioral clues and only focus on those that support our goal. And sometimes, we “see” behavior in our partner that isn’t there simply to give credence to Â the interaction we wanted to have.
When emotions are high, letting go is extremely important. The pressure of maintaining and holding onto an emotion gets in the way of whatever’s coming next and makes us less flexible and less responsive. We need to trust in ourselves that if we let go of whatever emotion or meaning is happening now, that something else will come along to take its place.
The behavior resulting from an actor who is letting go of emotion instead of holding onto it (and remember, I don’t mean expressing and not expressing. In both cases, the emotion is expressed!) is light and nimble. It feels like it can go in any direction at any time. The behavior resulting from an actor who is holding onto emotion is heavy and consistant. No matter what the partner does, the response is going to be in a similar direction to what the previous moment was. The heaviness and sameness of the interaction can be a sure sign that someone is holding on to something.
The solution, of course, is to focus outside of ourselves. Whatever the partner is doing is going to be more interesting than whatever we are feeling at any given moment. The willingness to throw away what we are feeling in deference to the partner’s behavior (and their behavior NOW inÂ thisÂ moment) creates the letting go. The two simply can’t exist together: Either you are focused on your partner or you are focused on yourself. And for our purposes, letting go — of yourself — is going to lead to much more interesting places than not!