the actor’s first responsibility


Well, getting out of bed on the day of the audition and, before that, preparing whatever is asked, a monologue, a song, maybe with the help of your vocal coach or acting teacher.  Researching the role, the theater, the creative staff, whether anyone is precast, and I’ll stop the walk down Memory Lane and get back to audition day.

A shower, maybe a hairwash, particular clothing, makeup.  The portfolio or at least picture and resume, business cards, the right shoes, a bottle of water, a protein bar or some such, whatever habitually goes in the audition bag.  Maybe a copy of the audition monologue, just in case.

The callback.

The second callback.

The call – in my world, you only hear if you’ve  won the role – the calm, happy voice til the phone hangup, then the whoop and holler, the heel-kicks.  Picking up the script (and score), thinking through arc and action, working on the lines ahead of the first rehearsal.

The first rehearsal.

The table read, the discussion, reading number two, on its feet.

Blocking, learning the lines, putting up with the actors whose process requires that they finally get off-book as near an audience as possible, post-rehearsal drinks, bonding.


Theater is the ultimate team sport.  Showing up without the proper equipment, to extend the metaphor, means letting the team down.  And an actor’s cleats, an actor’s ball or racquet or cup is the lines, the text, the subtext that can’t be learnt with one’s nose in the script.  That very subtext and unconscious behavior that belies how little the actors know each other when the characters know each other very well, can only appear and deepen when the eyes are up, catching nonverbal signals from one’s teammates.

“Oh, no!” cry some actors, “I can only learn lines after I have my blocking, knowing where I am on the stage helps me remember what to say!”


Knowing something of one’s character, relationships, objectives, and story arc are necessary for learning lines, there are other things, actual elements, building blocks, and that’s what this column is about.

One of my colleagues teaches how to learn lines.  I’ve never known anyone to do that, each actor seems stranded at that point, even the inimitable Meryl Streep talked about having to learn how to learn lines once she hit the change-of-life – she’d never had a problem, they always just came to her – but middle-aged memory loss forced her to learn *how* to learn lines.

Dr. Ellen Rooney teaches Memory Acting, a common-sense approach to memorizing the work.  I’m not representing that Dr. Rooney’s methods were the ones Ms. Streep learned, just that there are learnable ways of learning lines.

And that it behooves an actor to show up.

And that the signal activity of an actor’s showing up is to Learning. Your. Lines.




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