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Dear West End Producer: ‘Is it permissible to keep my lines pasted to the inside of an umbrella for damp performances?

West End Producer
Photo: Matt Crockett
by -

My dear. In theatrical emergencies, when lines haven’t been learned and understudies don’t know what the hell they’re doing – then lines should be pasted absolutely anywhere! On hands, in books, behind celebrities, in showpants – anywhere as long as the audience can’t see. And of course, an umbrella is particularly useful when performing in open-air productions (you’ll often see actors at Regent’s Park using a brolly to hide their lines).

Of course, some places are more useful than others to hide your naughty bits of script. One of the cleverest is by having the stage manager standing in the wings with your lines printed on to cue cards. The advantage to this is that the audience definitely won’t see the lines – although the disadvantage is that they’ll wonder why you spent the whole performance looking offstage.

It is very clever if you can find a valid reason for your character to be holding a book or folder – they are the perfect hiding places for scripts. Particularly excellent for court-room dramas or scenes in a library. However, it may be a good idea to suggest this early on in rehearsals, then the director won’t get suspicious when you suddenly walk on stage clutching a book during previews.

Some actors just don’t worry about lines at all. Instead of trying to hide them somewhere to help themselves remember, they simply walk offstage and leave the other actors to deal with the problem (making it appear like they’re the ones who have dried).

Obviously, the best thing to do during a brain freeze is to bravely stand centre stage and proclaim ‘line’ at the top of your voice. Hopefully the deputy stage masochist will shout out the required line from the prompt corner and you can get back into the flow of the play as if nothing had happened.

However, if you ask for a line more than three times it is a legal requirement that you are marched into the green room and disciplined by the resident director. It’s the only bit of fun they get, dear.

When performing in a Pinter play it’s very easy to hide your forgetfulness, as you can just pause until Doctor Theatre drops the line back into your head. It doesn’t matter how long you spend in silence – in fact the longer, the more impressive it is.

The longest recorded Pinter pause was by Michael Gambon in 1980, during a production of The Homecoming – when he paused for three days. Remarkable, and the audience never even realised he’d dried. Now that’s proper acting, dear.

In a musical, it’s difficult to prompt yourself or write lines anywhere. The best solution is to bribe the conductor to hold a copy of the script in front of his monitor. Then everyone will be able to follow the script all the way through. Easy!

So my dears – in future productions when you’ve got too many lines to learn just follow these little tricks and you’ll never have to waste time revising the script again.

Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer

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