Dear West End Producer: ‘How can I learn a script before tomorrow morning?’
Ways of learning a script before shooting starts at 9am tomorrow please?! Is it acceptable to say the dog ate the script?@westendproducer
— Sarah Bacon (@SarahJBacon) January 3, 2019
Well, my dear, you haven’t got long. There are many ways of learning scripts – from the good old ‘parrot-fashion’ technique, to the ‘meditating on the script and letting the words absorb through your body’ method. And the only real way to learn what works for you is trial and error.
Many actors are fans of recording their lines and constantly playing them on repeat. They have earphones in when shopping, swimming, pooing and procreating – the soundtrack to their life becomes the lines they are aiming to remember. This technique can be good, as subconsciously the lines eventually go in, but it also comes with its health warnings – as you listen to them being said in a specific way. It is essential that you’re able to say lines in different ways – you don’t want to become an acting robot (unless you’re playing the lead in the new Maybot musical, dear).
There are many apps to aid with the sacred art of line-learning. They allow you to record your cues and then leave pauses for your lines – which means you get the added bonus of knowing what you are responding to (apparently the ‘art of acting is reacting’, but I don’t know about that).
If you’re lucky and have some patient friends, bribe them to help (cheap prosecco does the trick). There is nothing better than going though lines with another real-life human being. They respond, correct and note down your errors. However, always be sure to go through lines with a friend who is not a good actor – you don’t want to be upstaged by your little helper.
Some actors of course don’t even start learning lines until day one of rehearsals. And, while this is absolutely fine, it can make rehearsals a lot more stressful (for both you and your colleagues). If you have time, I recommend learning as many lines as possible beforehand – and be sure they are your lines. I recall an awful scene in Stratford many years ago when the actor playing Rosencrantz had learned Hamlet – he became confused because both he and the leading man shared the same name. But you can’t blame Branagh for trying, dear.
You say you’re shooting a scene tomorrow morning? Maybe you could do a ‘Brando’ and get someone to hold your lines near the camera? Or put your lines on the floor and tentatively look down, as though thinking, during your scene. Believe me, there are many tricks that people have done in the past, and got away with it remarkably well (not that I advise you do this). Other actors such as Steve McQueen used to famously put their feet in ice-cold water and take cold showers to keep themselves awake the night before shooting until they had learned the script.
However, I’m sure you won’t have to go to such extreme lengths. Go through your lines and know why you’re saying them and who you’re saying them to – then they’ll make sense and sink in. And if they don’t – just remember to only accept mime work in future, dear.
Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer
Lines2Memory from The Stage is a comprehensive tool for helping actors commit lines to memory and learn scripts. Details at: thestage.co.uk/lines2memory