|Ken Baltin and Erin Cole|
How many times have I said this to myself? It always seems like a good plan. I will be ahead of the curve. This is not a plan to "beat" anyone or to brown nose the director. This is a specific and visceral reaction to the feeling that I will never be as good as the other people with whom I am working. My immediate reaction to being cast in anything is that I will have to work harder than everyone else, put in more hours of preparation, prove to everyone that I deserve to be a part of this production. And this starts with the very first rehearsal. How better to be prepared than to have all of my lines memorized? The thought process behind the plan is always that I will be able to move more freely within my character and with my scene partners if the lines are in my brain. I will be able to react and adapt without being bound to a piece of paper.
The first rehearsal roles around and life has caught up with me, I have not even printed out the script. That's ok though because the first rehearsal will be a table read. I will take advantage of this opportunity to meet my fellow cast members and to get a copy of the script (a poor actor can't afford paper and expensive ink cartridges). Everything will be ok. I'll get my script and start memorizing the night of the first rehearsal. However, after six hours of reading, discussing, discovering and making choices, I'm pooped. I know! I'll let everything marinate in my brain overnight and begin the memorization process tomorrow.
One week and four rehearsals later, we're up on our feet and my script is still in my hand. How has this happened (again)? I was going to be off book at the FIRST REHEARSAL! No solace is taken in the fact that at least two other people in the cast have all of their lines memorized. Am I capable of playing with my fellow cast mates with my script in hand? Am I taking direction and taking chances even though I'm not looking my fellow actors in the eye?
Week two and I'm still holding my script, though I rarely look at it. Surprisingly most of my cast mates are in the same boat. We clutch our "security blankets" as we stumble through scenes that have begun to metamorphose. With each repetition we find new meaning, a specific gesture or attachment, a different expression or emphasis that connects us. And without even realizing it, we find our moment. We magically exchange several lines, without even looking down.
Week three and the changes start. Complete rewrites, small line changes, entire page evisceration. All lead to big-time character adaptations but most of us can recite whole pages of dialogue without our pesky scripts anyway. Paying attention to one another, listening and being present have put these lines inside of us.
Opening night is upon me and although I did sit with my script "memorizing" lines on several occasions, I am able to appreciate that what I was doing was making small fixes, word adaptations, to respect the writer's vision. The essence of the scene, the moment, was already inside of me. (Curiously, a well-written play seems to have a lot of these.) I have learned these lines by speaking to my fellow actors, not reciting. Dialogue changes feel natural because I have created a character and not a caricature. If I had come to the first rehearsal off book maybe I wouldn't have been able to adapt to my director's leadership and play with my fellow actors. Maybe I would have pigeon-holed myself (and my scene partner) into a predetermined rhythm. Maybe I wouldn't have grown my character and found my voice within the words.
Erin Cole, actor
The Sussman Variations