Right. I’ve done my tax return, tidied my room, emptied the dishwasher, done an excessively long warm-up with added zizz-ing, refreshed my email inbox precisely eleventy times and invented a new way to do my hair. There is definitely nothing else left to do except learn my lines.
I’m going to be in a Greek tragedy in a few weeks, and the profound conclusion I have come to from studying this revered and ancient text is that these misery guts just don’t shut up. I beg Hecabe not to launch into another diatribe that I have to learn, about her constant pain and suffering, and I wince when the body of Astyanax is brought out because lord knows she’s going to have three pages of solid monologue to say about it.
Line-learning is so tedious that you’re desperate to get good at it so that you can spend as little time as possible doing it. And don’t think I’m going to tell you a magic way to imbibe them from one quick skim on the train to the first rehearsal; it’s always going to be a giant, boring, time-consuming headache, because acting would be too much fun otherwise. But there are a few things you can do beyond simply chanting them over and over that will help.
Firstly, for every second that you’re talking, you’ve got to know why you’re still talking. Even Hecabe doesn’t just talk for the sake of it (no, really), and if you know what you’re trying to achieve with what you’re saying, the next line will come more easily. Following the character’s thought process also helps – what was it about their previous line, or about the way the other person reacted to it that makes them say the next line?
Secondly, no line will ever stay in your head if it doesn’t mean anything to you. If it’s Shakespeare and you don’t actually understand what you’re saying, it won’t stick. Busted. Check the footnotes. If it’s just another “woe is me” from Hecabe that sounds the same as the last one, it won’t stick. Each line has got to have a specific meaning that’s personal to you – an image it conjures up, or something it reminds you of, for example. If you find a particular passage is hard to learn, it’s probably because you just haven’t thought about it hard enough.
If this doesn’t work, there are cheaty little tricks that will just get you over that broken little bridge in your mind and possibly save your skin in performance. Look out for repetitions of letters or sounds; one of my lines is “bargain away Argos to barbarians”. Easy as pie. “Men’s lawless lusts are all called…” What? ‘Love’, surely, after all those lovely ‘L’s. Another naughty tip I’ve heard is to learn your speech backwards, so you say the last line, then the last two, then the last three, etc. This is massively cheating because you’re not learning the sense of the speech, but it will mean that you get more and more confident the further in to the speech you go. When learning dialogue I always record the other person’s lines into my phone, leaving gaps for me to say my own lines in when I’m practising, so that I get used to responding to cue lines. It’s like having a strange phone call with yourself.
Right, enough procrastination. Time to get down to it. Although maybe now would be a good time to write next week’s blog? Or maybe I should go for a run before it rains. And the kettle needs de-scaling…
Photo by Flickr user Keith Williamson under a Creative Commons Licence.