Written by Rhonda Musak
Inspired by James Devereaux’ s the great acting blog *, it’ s finally time to unfurl my wings and put my money where my mouth is and write about what I teach: acting technique.
To assist me is my most recent acting project. It was delivered to me as a bit of a challenge: step into two performances of a role in a new play with the bare minimum of rehearsal with the cast. My uber challenge: to be 100% alive, free and fully present while doing so.
Having taught acting for 12 years and acting for even more years than that, I’ve developed a particular way I like to work. This project, I knew, had several factors which would keep me from doing so: #1 When I was offered the role, the script was not yet finished; #2 a long-planned vacation fell within my preparation time; #3 I am greatly challenged by quick line memorization; #4 I had no idea how much actual rehearsal time I would have with the cast.
All of those factors contributed to my developing a plan of action that was backwards and inside-out from the way that I usually like to work. I prefer to start with improv and space and relationship work, but in this plan those would come last. But first on my list was…waiting! Yes, I needed to wait for the script to be completed. Have I mentioned that the actors in the production were already very familiar with the script since they had been improving it for the past two months? By the time I received the script, I had slightly less than four weeks to be ready for performance. In my version of utopia, I would love to have four weeks with a script before I even step foot into a rehearsal room! Instead, three days before leaving for the West Coast, I joined the cast at a reading of what would be the first time I heard the full play. It was during this reading that I worked on gleaning as many given circumstances as I possibly could knowing that the following three days would be filled with packing and breaking free from the gravitational pull that attempts to keeps one in NYC just as they’re trying to get out.
What I would’ve loved to have done next would have been to delve even deeper into the given circumstances and improv my personal connection to them in order to get clear on my scenes’ actions. Knowing at this point that I now had just three weeks to prepare—one of those being while on vacation, a vacation I was determined to enjoy—I jumped straight to learning my lines…everywhere: airports, hotel lobbies, walking through the desert! I rationed that if I could return as close to 100% off book as possible, I’d be able to play catch-up on the rest of my personal rehearsal when I actually had access to rehearsal space where I could express and explore freely. It was the perfect solution for the given circumstances of my own life.
For me, learning my lines isn’t just learning my lines: I believe it is one of the greatest secrets to acting. When actors know their lines so well that there is no need to think about them, they can fully pursue objectives allowing the lines to be mere useful tools helping them get what they want. I employ a time-consuming method of line repetition that creates both muscle memory and myelin in my brain. Gratefully, I was able to really enjoy my vacation and be 85% memorized upon returning.
Back in NYC with less than two weeks before my two performances, I attended a rehearsal so that I could get a sense of where the actor whom I’d be covering was heading with her work. I have enough experience as an understudy to know that I wanted to keep the integrity of what it was that she was creating while still allowing myself to be fresh and alive in the role.
Having seen what she was creating with the role, I set up a series of rehearsals. I rehearsed with myself in my living room studio working with a recording of myself reading the other character’s lines while leaving space for my own. Through those rehearsals I was able to start nailing down action and physical space as well as my connection to the other characters and the world around me. I then reached out to a close director friend and asked him to rehearse me. This allowed me to stop directing myself so I could start being fully immersed in the present moment. By that time the actors were in tech rehearsals and getting ready to open, so I made it a point to show up to as many run-throughs as possible. I would arrive early and before the cast’s rehearsal would begin, I would spend time on stage both living on it in the moment as well as running my scenes with myself. That time was absolutely crucial as, in the end, I was only given one hour of rehearsal with the cast.
With just four days to go and that one hour with the cast now under my belt, what I knew to be my greatest challenge was still ahead: the scene calling for me to seduce my boyfriend while he’s having a fight over the phone after we had been drinking. Most of my scenes were with this actor and I knew that if they were going to fly, we were going to have to do some serious–but quick and impactful–relationship work.
I asked the actor if he would be willing to meet with me and my acting coach (yes, coaches have coaches!) to help me with this work. He was gracious and willing and our one-and-a-half hours of deeply vulnerable relationship work was absolutely transformative. I tell my students often that they very well may not get everything that they personally need from a play’s rehearsal process. Rather than getting upset about what they are not getting, I encourage them to solve their problems by creating their own rehearsals and thus taking the power of their performance in their own hands.
Over the course of the last three days before performance, I was greatly blessed to work with my studio assistant and an actor friend who would read all the other lines while I worked my way through the various scenes. When my performance days arrived, I felt astonishingly prepared, ready to connect with the other actors on stage and welcoming the opportunity to put that final piece in place: the audience.
* Please check out one of my most favorite blogs: The Great Acting Blog
Rhonda Musak is the owner of NYC acting studio, Art & Soul Acting. As an acting coach and an Erickson-trained, solution-focused life coach, Rhonda blends powerful acting techniques together with transformation solution focused life coaching; a dynamic combination that insures that students learn sustainable acting tools as well as know when to use them and why.
For more information about acting classes, private acting coaching in person or via Skype, college prep program and the Art & Soul Acting Book Club for Actors’, please visit www.artandsoulacting.com