Learn It By Heart

Originally published July 22nd, 2016 on http://www.arlene-bozich.com

“So how do you learn all those lines?”

“How long does it take you to memorize all of that?”

“Wow! That’s a lot of lines to learn!”

Yuuuuup. That’s the first part of the job, ladies and gentlemen. Learn your goddamn lines. If you show up and know your lines, you’ve only just begun.

Back at UConn (third year of my MFA in Acting coming up!) the head of our Acting program, Dale Rose, gets beyond pissed off when you say you “memorized” your lines. Like, a little vein in his temple freaks out and his blood sugar plummets and I swear the windows begin to shake and Hell opens up underneath you.

“IT’S NOT JUST MEMORIZING,” he screams as you descend into lava, fire, and brimstone, “YOU NEED TO LEARN IT BY HEART!”

He’s completely right. And here’s the difference.

If you just memorize your lines by sitting down and looking at the script, alone, over and over and over again, you’re not really engaging with the text. So when you jump onto your feet at rehearsal with people actually talking to you and think you’ve done all this great work, the lines jump right out the window. Buh bye, words. Nice knowing you. Or else you recite them, like a robot, in that boring way you learned them. Just sitting on your ass, by rote. Not able to take one action or really listen to the other person.

Learning it “by heart” means you looked up the definition of every word, even the ones you assumed you knew. You whisper them while you’re failing to fold your laundry because, for some unknown reason, you’ve always been horrible at folding. That, and present wrapping. But as long as the shirt is clean, the present is mostly covered, and you’re saying the text and tasting every damn syllable while you’re doing that other obnoxious task, it’s a start. It’s finding a space and singing the text like Scuttle from “The Little Mermaid” until the neighborhood dogs bark you down from your musical ledge, but still knowing you’re basically a clone of Alanis Morissette and no one can tell you otherwise. It’s rolling around on the ground like a Roly-Poly and seeing if you can still say each bit of Shakespeare with an action driving it (because it’s fun). It’s saying “Oh, I’ll do a wall sit during this monologue. And if I drop a line or forget, I have to start over and continue the wall sit the whole time,” and realizing you don’t know the text as well as you should before undertaking this activity and crying when you finally finish and realizing you did an eight minute wall sit BECAUSE YOU’RE A MORON.

Basically, it’s madness. But by the end of it, you’ll be able to live in a scene with your partner when the light cues are wrong and the audience seems to be dead and all your props are missing and you’re pretty sure you ripped your pants clean in half the last time you bent over and someone is waving frantically at you, offstage, to ad-lib something because the next actor that’s supposed to go onstage is caught in his own zipper and probably needs some form of minor surgery to live through the night.

Okay, it’ll never be that bad. But it’ll feel that way.

Because real life gets in the way a lot of the time. You might get a piece of glass caught in your foot before a show and have to go on anyway (hope you’re feeling better now, Billy!). You might have to leave people you love very soon (Kyle Rudolph, you’re not allowed to leave Monomoy. I’ve hired you as the Monomoy cat for the rest of the season. That is all). You might have had a shitty day at your other job or you could just be in a bad mood. But screw that negativity. Do your work, taste and see what the character does, and be totally present. And, if you truly learned it by heart, the words will be right there waiting for you.

 Did some sense work for Caliban while we were stuck on a sandbar this Sunday. Epic beyond reason.

Or, be a robot and have no fun memorizing your lines. You do you, you basic ass, boring, fun-sucking zombie. Want a fun way to learn your lines? Record your lines, listen to them while you’re at the gym and, halfway through a Spin session, realize that the very tall, very muscular, very bearded guy that keeps throwing you looks doesn’t think you’re cute. He thinks you’re nuts because you’re talking to yourself in verse about an island and licking someone’s shoe and killing some guy named Prospero.

Table for one, please.

But then I get to come back to Monomoy, where we’re all delightfully weird. We get stuck on sandbars for hours because the fog rolls in too soon and we say, “To hell with it, we’ll collect seashells and make it into an adventure!” We have water balloon fights to cheer up our friends between runs of “Of Mice and Men” on a two show day because killing puppies and your best friend twice in a day is rough, no matter how beautiful the entire production is. Pokemon Go is definitely being played by someone right now. There are three people passed out on the windowsill, cuddling, while another is sprawled on the couch across from me. There’s a rehearsal going on and people working their asses off in the shop and I know, right now, there is someone pacing around talking to themselves and doing weird things just so they can start to learn lines by heart.

Thank the Lord for weird people. I don’t know how else I’d get by.

Here’s a video of the aforementioned water balloon fight. Keep calm and carry on, friends, and find the weirdos that make up your tribe. We need them around with the world getting stranger and stranger by the day.

Waterballoon fight: https://vimeo.com/175853090

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