|Picture by mrmoneda via Flickr Creative Commons license|
Yep. It's that time every actor loves and fears. Off book time. We've run each act off book, tonight we put the whole thing together.
As any actor knows, one of the most frequent questions you are asked is "how do you learn all those lines?" The answer is simple, but not easy. It's just hard work. All it takes to learn lines is hours and hours of study: reading your lines aloud at home, listening to the recording in your car, quizzing yourself with flash cards, and bothering your friends to run your lines with you. You have to repeat and repeat the words until it gets to the point that you think about the idea, and the words you choose to express that idea, the words you want to use, are the lines you're given. It's not fun. It's not sexy. But it's necessary.
Getting off book is it's own challenge. Having the book in hand, even if it isn't used, gives an actor confidence. They don't worry if they're saying the right thing because (a) they can always check, and (b) they're not expected to yet, anything they do up to off book day is being ahead of the game. Once the books are out of their hands, even when actors know the lines they tend to get a bit more hesitant. Sometimes it's just being a bit quieter, speaking with less confidence, sometimes it's a small pause as the actor processes "is this the right line?" before speaking. There's also less listening. When you first go off book you are basically thinking about your next line the whole time, and just listening for your queue (well, that's how I am anyway, "what's my next line, what's my next line, what's my next line, OH, he said 'tango' here it comes!")
But getting off book is a critical stage. I mean, yes, obviously necessary, of course. But the physical freedom is just as important. Being able to interact with your environment with two hands free. To pick things up, to hug, to walk around on all fours if you're a lizard, these are critical elements of the character. And as I've become a more experienced actor, I increasingly appreciate the physical aspects of character in performance. I saw "The Best of Enemies" at Manbites this weekend, and I was really impressed by Lakeisha Coffey's walk. Sometimes the physicality can bring a new aspect or a new understanding to the character, and that can't completely happen when you're carrying a book. It also forces your eyes out of a book, and onto your fellow actors. Making more eye contact, being more aware of your fellow actors and their choices, these are things that can't happen until you can pull your focus away from yourself, and place it on your scene and surroundings. Until we're fully listening and looking, what actors call "present," real acting isn't happening. It's pantomime.
You don't get there all at once. You get there slowly. One step at a time. And this is just one step, a big one, but just one. And I have to say the cast is stepping out nicely. I can't wait to share it with you.