Friday, 29 June 2012

The trouble with scripts or how to learn your lines

I'm on a train in the Czech Republic on my way back to Ostrava with Dotty who plays Paulina ( my wife's best friend) in the Czech Republic and the part of time in Poland.

However it was only 7 days ago that I got my first cut of the script. This is a source of woe for me for several reasons.
1) I'm quite busy so finding time to learn the script is going to be tough
2) Having worked with Parrabbola theatre company several times I know that time on the ground is very scarce. That's the problem with community theatre. There is so much to do.
Physical locations to work out
Untrained actors to develop
Dances to do
Songs to learn
Foreign languages to master
Costumes and set design to help with
And more, that slips my mind right now.
And not a lot of time to do it

3) and the biggie - if I have a weakness it's learning lines .

I know actors that virtually just have to looks at a script to learn it. I am not one of those.

My students are always asking what the secret is to learning lines and my answer has usually just been repetition repetition repetition . But there has to be more to it than that so I decided to come up with a plan.

How to learn a script by David Monteith - a plan in development

Part 1

When you get the script. Read the whole play through at least 3 times. This serves to get the themes, flavour, atmosphere, locations and characters into your head and start your subconscious working the processes that are part of any script work.

Read the script through for meaning. This is essential in Shakespeare. Not just for words you don't know but for words you think you do. For example the word awful has pretty negative connotations to us, but in Elizabethan English it meant something that filled you with awe - which makes a lot more sense if you ask me. Although when I told my wife I thought she was awful it didn't really go down the way I thought it would!

This is also a really good time to highlight your words with a highlighter pen.

All of this is useful way before you come to rehearse. You don't really want to start learning the lines before you come to rehearsal because you don't want to get locked into a way of doing things or an understanding of your character that doesn't quite mesh with the directors vision of the play as a whole.

Part 2 Learning

Now is time for my new three part method which I like to call The Monteith Method ( lack of being bothered to google has prevented me from discovering of this technique already exists.)

This technique is great if time is limited for you. You know like having to work a day job to pay the bills. It simply involves a 3 part daily goal setting process.

1) Memorise
Set yourself a portion of text that you are going to try to memorise today. It doesn't have to be a big portion. Even learning a small part every day will bolster your confidence in your line learning abilities.

Choose a further portion of text to get very familiar with each day. Try reading that portion 3 times that day. By the time you come to memorise it, your brain will already have started storing chunks of it away.

3)Pre- familiarise - (That's not a word I hear you say - It is now)
choose a further portion of text that you will just read over. No need to worry about re- reading it. This phase just helps to keep the rest of the play present in your mind. There is no need to make any effort to memorise, remember or analyse it. Reading is enough.

Part 3
How to memorise

" but I knew the lines"

This is a cry that has been heard on every stage in the world, probably every actor there has ever been has cried it in despair at one time or another. You did the lines at home, got them down and then when you got to rehearsal, they went the way of the fairies. Oh and contrary to appearances fairies can be real bastards so you don't want anything to go that way.

Well first of, this is where the old adage of " repetition, repetition, repetition " comes in. At the core of learning lines this is unavoidable.

One of the important things to bear in mind here is that the body and the brain loves patterns and habits. If you get stuck in a pattern of learning your lines, you are going to struggle when that pattern changes as the brain will rebel somewhat . If you learn your lines in a comfy chair at home in a comfy cardigan with a glass of wine, your favourite cat on your knee whilst wearing a smoking jacket then the first time you get on stage your brain will wonder where those acctrouments disappeared to and short circuit a little thus rendering those carefully learned lines inaccessible.

So vary things up a bit, make your brain work for you. Learn in your chair by all means but also learn while cooking or ironing or recite while jogging having a bath or even when concentrating on matters of an excreciating nature.

Let's continue to shake it up by trying some of the following methods.
Say it out loud rather than just in your head
Record it and listen back - if you can do this with other members of the cast then all the better
Write out your lines
Learn in silence
Learn to music - in particular find music that suits the mood of the character at that particular moment in the play. In essence give your character a soundtrack.

Part 4 : In rehearsal

Get those little sticky mini note things and stick them in the script where your lines are.

It's very helpful in allowing you to go straight to the pages where your lines are without needless faffing.


If you ignored my advice earlier then do it now and highlight that baby. No not your offspring, I was being streetwise and referring to your script. ( I'm sure thats what urban youngsters call scripts these days...I'm sure). If you are trying to get off book ( rehearse without referring to your script) it means that when you do need to refer to your script it will be easier to locate your position and you won't waste everyone's time by continually asking where we are. If you are a visual person then it will also provide a mental picture of where your lines are on the page and help you remember cues.


Be very careful when learning segments of lines, especially long speeches. The danger is that you will forget the words that join the segments together. If you are a segment learner make sure you practice the whole passage enough times to make sure the join is smooth.

Remembering your cues. One of the dangers of learning your lines is that you haven't learned where your cues are. One way around this is to learn the lines of the other people in your scene. I know actors that do this. I am not one of them, that particular skill is not in my reportoire as yet. At least make sure you have learned the last sentence of your scene partners speech but be careful as this technique may not survive any scene cuts.


Here are a couple of apps that helped me enormously with line learning.

- email a PDF of your script to this app and you a digital script that you can highlight and annotate. You can also record the script as you go. But it's best feature for me is it's ability to blank out the highlighted words, thus negating the need for you to sit on the train looking like a idiot as you drag a book over your script in order to hide your lines in order to test yourself.

learner- in this app you record your lines and the other persons lines. You can then set it to playback the scene omitting your lines to allow you to literally rehearse with the app. Alternatively you can set it to play your lines after a gap so you can immediately check if you were right.

I hope this has been helpful, this is all a technique in development for me. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Making The Winters Tale Pt 2:

Day 2
(This was written on Saturday 16th June)

What a joyous day. The first joyous thing was that I didn't get out of bed until 11am. Having a young daughter at home, this opportunity  was beyond description. Only surmounted by by discovery at the other end of the day that my train in the morning was at 5:45.

Anyway after a slow start to the day we ....

Let me take a moment to talk about the we.  This comprised of Philip and Brian, the founders of Parrabbola. Eva , a dramaturge and Czech native that would provide a lot of translation, Amy the stage manager, Lucy, who has the unenviable task of making costumes for a cast of over 40 people.  Ionut, an actor from Romania, Becka, a Czech speaking actor of American origin. There are also 3 old friends from Poland who are acting in this show including Pavel, an award winning film maker who will be documenting the process.  You can see his short documentary on our last production in Poland here -

So we trudged of to Cooltour, an amazing multidisciplinary contemporary arts centre complete with canteen, artistic installations and performance spaces. It was to my amusement next to the auspiciously named Club Marley!!!
Club Marley

What followed was a wonderful 4 hours which for me exemplifies the joy of community theatre. The cast was a  group of 40 random people, the majority being young Czech girls ( I'll say no more) but also including a small number of English and American ex pats. I should note that 2 of is number were black which surprised me somewhat because I am used to being fairly alone in this respect in these countries. Ages ranged vastly and experience even more so. How to forge this group into a working  cohesive whole. A fantastic challenge of joy and pain.

We played games, you know the kind. The ones that are designed to make you feel a bit stupid but allow you to just deal with it. Designed to help you become spatially and socially aware. My favourite of the day was one where the group had to silently construct 3D shapes. As I helped run this session I got the ability to torment these people by suggesting shapes such as a rocket and launch pad. One thing I didn't expect was that when given the task of making a shape of a dog wagging its tail that they were going to add another appendage that wasn't a leg!!

From there we moved outside where Philip painfully taught us the first steps of the dance that will be part of the production. Finally with the arrival of Hannah ( English actor) and Matt the musical director we moved into a song time which would allow Matt to get the feel of peoples voices.  Once again I got the beautiful opportunity to torment the cast by forcing them to do various physical challenges of rhyme and movement whilst singing a 3 part harmony. You can hear a sample of the cast singing here  -

And this is where the joy comes in. Watching something beautiful and unexpected start to coalesce from a group that have no idea what they can produce.

Here's a short interview with Marek, a Czech guy I worked with earlier in the day.  This is the 1st of a number of short interviews I intend to do with the cast and crew.

After rehearsals we went to the pub, of course where I ordered a meal called Moravian sparrow. Why it was called this is beyond me as it turned out to be 4 small off cuts of pork on a bed of stewed cabbage ( nicer than it sounds) with what the menu said were dumplings but seemed more like sponge cake to me.

There was much drinking, laughing and chatting then we moved on to another pub before retiring home to drink and laugh some more.  At 2am I decided to call it a night and threw everyone out of my room. I'm heading back to England in the morning and as I said its a 5:45 train.

All in all this has been a great 1st fathers day for me albeit without my family around but also a fantastic beginning to this project. As I sit on the train finishing this post I can't help but have a smidgeon of jealousy for those that are staying behind. When I return in a week I believe that this group will have changed beyond recognition and I'm excited to see what that shape is.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Making A Winter's Tale

It's been a good long while since I did a blog post so I thought that I would try to document my experiences doing some community theatre this summer. If your interested in community theatre, Shakespeare, theatre in general or me, then follow along and see the pain and joy that this project will bring.

The following was written on Saturday 16th June

So it begins. Another project with Parrabola, probably the craziest theatre company I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Previous escapades have had me hosed down by the Polish fire brigade and hanging from a broken rope ladder over a canal loch.
Parrabola does community theatre. They go into a community, see who wants to be in a play and then write a play based on that communities history or adapt a play such as Shakespeare's Pericles or this years offering of The Winters tale.

This year I find myself in the Czech Republic but we will be in Poland again in a months time.

First off don't trust Ryan Air. You probably knew this already. But today I discovered that if you try to check in online the day you travel - they won't allow it. What they will do for you is print you a boarding card at the airport for the poultry sum of £60. I asked the guy at the desk if there was any logical reason for this policy and he couldn't meet my eyes. In fact here's a song that says it all - 


 Ah well, you live and learn

We then flew to Brno in the Czech republic, got a bus to the train station and then a 2 1/2 hour train journey to Ostrava. The accommodation is a big blue building called a Pension. It isn't bad and I have to share a room with Ionut from Romainia who is playing my best friend. Here he is asleep.

Our first port of call was a really nice pub with a huge outdoor area ( oh did I mention how hot it is here, the temperatures is about 29 degrees and this is after the sun has gone down). I'm drinking a beer with the delightful name of Radagast ( Who I'm sure is a wizard from mentioned in Lord of the Rings - Radagast the Brown if memory serves me right) and it is wonderfully crisp and light yet flavourful. It goes down very nicely. As no one was having a 2nd drink and I wanted one, I got to exercise my first bit of understandable Czech -
"malou pivo procim"
Which is essentially asking for a half. Check me out! Talk about getting your linguistic priorities sorted.

So tomorrow I meet the local cast, hopefully get a script and see what kind of games and exercise I have to play.

I'm back to London on Monday for a week so this is my chance to get a taste of the city and the cast.