Monday, January 12, 2009


Happy New year, loyal blog readers. For the first post in 2009, I would, ironically, like to talk about the past, in a fashion.

I was recently flipping through a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest. Not a favorite play of mine, but a local theatre will, in the coming months, be producing it, and I am pondering as to whether or not I will audition for same.

Though I have never been in the play as a whole before, I was, in my college days, very much involved in parts of it. For a comedy workshop theatre class I was taking, groups of two were required to pair up, and prepare a scene from the play, to present to the class for critique.

I had read it in high school once, but had not performed it until this class in college.

Even back then, I took my job performing very seriously. I made sure that I embedded every word of every line into my head as best as I could. Visualizing the scene, going over it with my partner, and all of the other things I am known to do when preparing for a performance of any size. By the time of the critique, I am proud to say, I had it cold.

Yet, the intervening years have washed away the memory of which section of it I had been graded on in class.

Or so I thought until today.

As I read the play, the general familiarity with the characters, setting and language was present in my mind, from all my various exposures to it, before and after college. But then I came upon a particular line that went through my mind differently. In a quite literal sense, a different section of my mind processed this line than had the line before.

I read it again. Specific inclinations of my tongue and face to form themselves in certain ways as I read the line, and the ones that followed only confirmed what I had begun to suspect...I had reached the section of the play, the only section of the play that I had ever actually performed. Nearly seven years after the fact, with basically zero exposure to this play since then until tonight, and still a very specific section of my brain was lighting up as I read the lines I had once delivered as part of a performance. A section of my brain that does not come into play from only reading, or even memorizing something.

That to me, makes me proud of the job I did as a student back then. So consumed by the language, character, and lines of the performance was I, that they left a permanent mark on a very specific portion of my mind. Not just any memory. Stage memory.

Stage memory is a very specific type of memory. At least, for the actor, it should be. If you are not consumed by what you are saying and doing, you are only turning in part of a performance. Anyone can memorize anything that they study enough. To merely do this as an actor is to give a recital of lines in a certain sequence. It is not to perform them. There is a major difference, and audiences know it right away when all someone has done is memorize a sequence of words.

The true class acts in theatre don't just write the words on the tablet of their mind...they open their minds and spirits so that the script seeps slowly into all kinds of corners of the conscious, and of course, unconscious mind.

Now, I could not perform the scene cold after all these years without further study. But the grooves are their in my mind, cut into my thoughts as in a phonograph record. And while I cannot prepare for a play by saying, "I want to remember I said these particular lines seven years from now", the fact that I am able to do so does prove I was doing my job seven years ago.

May it always be so, for me and for all of you actors reading this, so long as we aspire to greatness on the stage.

And why would we aspire to less?

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