During a portion of Sunday’s rehearsal for A Little Night Music I was “on book” and following the script in order to prompt actors who were having trouble with their lines. At the end of the rehearsal I told the cast that I heard some “clever rewriting” of parts of the show.
Several sections of A Little Night Music present a memorization challenge to the actor in terms of remembering lines. Madame Armfeldt’s (Diana Reynolds) song “Liaisons” has 71 lines of poetry. Petra (Chelsea Burke) has the 72 lines in “The Miller’s Son.” These songs and other Sondheim renderings in the show require careful and exact memorization. I frequently say to fellow actors that “there’s always someone in the audience who knows all the words.”
Carl-Mangus (Brett Reynolds) has some almost non-sensical lines in “In Praise of Women.” Try learning, “She wouldn’t, therefore they didn’t, so then it wasn’t, not unless it, would she? She doesn’t, God knows she needn’t, therefore it’s not.” Difficult, but sensical in the context of the show.
Fredrik (Tom Murphy) has 80 lines in “Now.” The song is a challenge, but Murphy, who has played Harold Hill in The Music Man and Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, brings a lot of experience with long patter songs to the Players Guild stage.
Actors use all kinds of methods to memorize their lines. The visual learners write them down. Others read them over and over again. Others record them and walk around with iPod earphones in their ears listening to their lines. Still others use smart phones and upload their lines to the internet and then download them into their phones. This method is nice as you can carry the phone in your pocket and, because it’s backlit, read it in the darkness of backstage. During rehearsals or productions, you will frequently see the actors in a given scene “running lines.”
In some shows, 1776 for example, the players can have “notes” on their desks. These notes are really their lines. I know this technique was helpful to me when I played Stephen Hopkins, the delegate from Rhode Island. The show is long and wordy and, with a lot going on, it’s easy to get distracted and “lost.” The notes can provide a bit of security.
Blocking can help actors learn their lines. It’s something like, “Oh, yeah. As I cross to the couch I’m supposed to be saying such and such and as I sit I say this.”
Most actors I know try to be as close to the book as possible. Some try and manage to be “letter perfect” meaning the lines they say are exactly what the playwright wrote. The actors in the Guild’s production of A Little Night Music are doing a great job with their lines. Come and see it.
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