In all the time I’ve been doing acting classes I’ve rarely had to rehearse anything; we’ve never stuck with one scene or play long enough to give it any polish. This term, finally, I’ve got a chance to spend a few weeks on piece (a few hours a week, anyway).
Over Easter my scene partner, Mark, and I learned a scene from The Collection by Harold Pinter. I play James, who visits Bill to accuse him of sleeping with his (James’) wife. James has every last detail of what happened from his wife, Bill denies it, then admits to some of it. But, particularly in the play as a whole, we’re never quite sure who did or didn’t do what.
The thought of learning lines has been daunting in the past as I think of myself as having a bad memory. I can never remember the plots to books or films, even films I’ve seen recently. I can never remember numbers, like statistics or dates of events. But I think most of us in class have found learning lines surprisingly easy. It seems a formidable prospect, to learn half the dialogue of a scene spanning nine pages, but it only took four hours of repetition, spread over a few days, to sink in. But that only got me as far as getting the lines nearly right each time. Ironing out every mistake probably takes at least the same amount of time again, and some bits seem particularly elusive.
Once we had the lines we began by simply running through the words a few times and the scene was instantly more alive than when we’d only read from the script before Easter. Suddenly it feels more like acting than reading. Getting things from that point to a finished piece is tricky though. We’re floundering a little, wondering how to make it work completely. Every time we run through it different bits seem to work and we try to remember what works and what doesn’t. We also have a tendency to dismiss ideas without trying them out; we probably think too much rather than doing it.
What we’re really missing is a director; we have an hour’s worth of time with the teacher to run through our scene, spread over these few weeks, which provides a bunch of ideas to try out. Navigating our own way through all this is slow work and having someone to stop us when things aren’t working, to point out what is working, and generally provide another, more experienced, viewpoint would be invaluable.
I also need to work out who my character is. I realised this week I was going through the scene almost as myself, or with my vague idea of a character changing depending on his mood or status at any point. I must read the play again and piece together the few scraps Pinter provides about James and decide on who he is, to provide a base for the rest of the performance. So far, to me, it’s felt far too much like “acting” rather than “being there”. I cringe inside when I hear myself speak, thinking how unnatural it sounds. Eventually I don’t want to be worrying about how to deliver lines but to deliver them a certain way because of how the characters are interacting as real people.
But still, we’re pleased with how far we’ve got early on; I hope it continues to improve as quickly.
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