Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Learn your lines by living them

The Words of Wisdom this week are Learn your lines by living them. All actors have to learn lines, the bigger the part the more lines there are to learn, and few things cause more anxiety than the fear of 'drying' - forgetting what you have to say next.

How do we learn and how do we remember? One thing we know is that we learn from repetition. If we repeat a skill again and again we get better at it, particularly if we make the repetition progressive, that is, if we start with easy things and step by step move on to harder ones. But how do we apply this to learning and remembering lines of dialogue? Well, there are different aspects of memory involved.

First of all there is factual memory. This is the system we have that remembers phone numbers or names. Recall is usually precise and quick, or else not there at all. It can be helped by associations of the kind used by memory experts, for example, if someone is called Donald, imagining them as Donald Duck will help you to remember their name. This kind of memory is of slight use when learning a script, but not much.

Then there is emotional memory. This is slightly more useful. When acting, if we have to show emotions of fear, say, or anger, it is helpful to produce these feelings inside ourselves. It can be helpful to remember a time we really felt that emotion. This gives us a stream of feeling to work on and experience the ebb and flow of a script. This is important but emotional memory cannot always be conjured up reliably and it is not as quick to access as factual memory.

Most important of all is procedural memory. This is the system by which we learn to walk, or cycle, or hit a tennis ball, by developing an automatic and unconscious routine so that we can do them without conscious thought. In order to use this type of memory, work through the words, associating them with your body language, your moves and what you are doing, how you look at the other characters and what they do, so you are remembering the play and your part in it as a whole. You will find that the words will just fit in with everything else and you will remember them far better. You don't have to have the rest of the cast there with you for this, because you can use visualisation, and even if the script is cut or altered you will find you can edit your memory of it and produce the new version.

Try this method, accessing procedural memory, the next time you have a script to learn. Learn your lines by living them.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Every setback is an opportunity

If you are involved in the arts, and particularly if you are an actor, your life will be full of setbacks. You are in an overcrowded profession; there are a lot of people who are rather like you who want to do what you do; the statistics are against you.

Of course, you will study, train and prepare yourself just as thoroughly as you can, but, if you are called to read for a part, you will probably be one of several, or many, people competing for it and you may not be chosen.

This will not necessarily be your fault. A lot of casting depends on physical appearance, the way you speak, height, weight, hair colour, everything in your persona that contributes to your type. If you are inexpreienced you may find yourself at a disadvantage because casters tend to play safe with someone with more of a track record than you have. So the first thing to do is to recognise that your failing to get the part may not be your fault. Don't punish yourself unnecessarily.

Now comes the next stage. Every setback is an opportunity. Use your annoyance at not having got the part to energise yourself. Review the audition: was there anything you could have done differently, or better? Could you have prepared better? You have now made a new contact. They will remember you. How might you be able to revive that contact in the future? What can you study to develop your knowledge and capabilities? How can you get yourself noticed and make yourself heard?

You are running a one person business, so you must be businesslike. You must develop yourself and promote yourself. Life is full of setbacks, but every setback is an opportunity.