Last week I offered advice as to how to gracefully perform through forgetting one's line(s). A comment by Playmaker to that entry got me thinking.
She mentioned how often it seems to be the one who jumps to the rescue of a lost cast mate that comes off looking like they have made the mistake. I realized this is often true. While it perhaps cannot totally be avoided, I thought this week it would be appropriate to speak on the subject of how to maintain grace under fire when you are the one doing the covering.
How do you extend a helping hand to a confused cast mate, while allowing both them, and yourself, to save face?
The truth is, it is much easier to do when you are familiar not only with your own lines, but with those of your fellow actors. I am not referring only to your own personal cue line, either. I refer to the conversation being had by the characters, and such.
Now, a verbatim memorization of 100% of the script is not needed. (That may even be detrimental in some cases, but more on that at another time.) Nevertheless, absorbing the nature of the scene, its ebbs and flows, its rhythms, instead of just memorizing cold collections of words that you are personally responsible for will increase your chances of bailing someone out before they drown.
Every situation is different, of course. In general however, a person's brain is naturally built to more easily recall temporarily forgotten information when they are presented with a question. Therefore, if you know the whole scene well enough, you can feed the struggling person the line that is missing in the form of an ad-libbed question.
Missed line: "I don't think this is fair."
Your ad-lib: "What's wrong? You don't think this is fair?
Notice how being familiar with the other actor's line allowed the ad-lib to contain as much of the missed line as possible? This will make it even easier on the actor you are assisting. Experience tells me that 98% of the time, your cast mate's memory will be jogged very quickly in this fashion. (Not to mention it helps keep the performance as close to the script as possible, despite an honest mistake.)
If you know that something has been forgotten during a scene, and you think you can stay in character and smoothly help someone out, do so. Even if some awkwardness does result in your picking up a little slack, remember nothing is more awkward on stage than unplanned silence.
As a little sub-note to this entry, Merry Christmas to all who may celebrate it tomorrow. Happy Holidays of all kinds to everyone else.---Ty