Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On the Memorization of a Dialogue

In an earlier life I did a bit of acting in stage productions. I was always proud of my ability to quickly memorize a script. In recent years having returned to performing as a ventriloquist, I tried to apply the same ability to memorizing ventriloquial scripts. I found that I always left something out during almost every performance. So I resorted to onstage notes—cheat sheets, if you will. TV productions call them "cue cards," which are always out of camera range. Their disadvantage to a stage performer is that they are difficult to hide from the audience. I kept them on a music stand and made them a part of the act. But it was obvious what I was doing.

Attributing these memory lapses to age, I didn't think much more about it. Heck, half the time I can't remember my own phone number. Then something occurred to me.

Let's begin with a discussion of how I memorized a script in days long ago. First, I hightlighted my own lines on the script. Then, I put a blank sheet of paper over a script page and scrolled it down. I'd read the other actors' lines and use them as memory cues to remind me of what I had to say next. Then, I'd slide the paper down to see if I got it right. If not, I'd reread the line, put it to memory, and start back at the top of the page. When I had a page memorized, I moved on to the next page. Every five pages or so, I'd return to the beginning of the scene. By using this simple technique I could memorize one act of a play in an evening.

As an actor I had to remember only my own lines, of course. I could use the lines of other actors as a memory aid. An exception was the occasional soliloquy, such as when I played in Becket's "Waiting for Godot." "Was I sleeping while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now?..." But, I digress.

Memorizing a ventriloquial script is quite a different matter. The ventriloquist speaks all the lines, so you have to learn them all. It is as difficult as memorizing an epic poem or a one-persnn show. There are no other actors speaking to remind you of your next line. Or, are there? Who's that little person on the stand next to me?

Which brings me to a technique I am trying. First, I make two copies of the script, one for me, and one for the ventriloquial figure. Each script copy has its own part highlighted. I memorize the two parts individually just as I did years ago, allowing the other player's part to cue me to my lines. When I am able to run the script as either player with cues, I put the scripts away and run it as both players top to bottom. So far, for short scripts, this technique has worked well for me.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tongue Twister

I've made further progress on the tongue. It has a spring and the beginnings of a control mechanism. Here's a picture with the tongue retracted.

In this picture I'm extending the tongue by pulling up on the linkage with my hand. Eventually this linkage gets connected to a control lever on the headstick probably with a string and pulley mechanism.

Dieter-Lee is Coming to Florida

Dieter-Lee Watson, the boy in England for whom we built the Big Fred dummy is coming to Central Florida in January. Donations to the project from ventriloquists made possible the trip which is to allow him to Swim With Dolphins, an experience thought to have theraputic value for kids with special needs.

He'll be here with members of his family from 1/8 through 1/18. We will soon select a date to visit them. Everyone is invited to join us. I don't know exactly which date it will be. His Mum left that up to me. The 18th is out, because that's the day he goes for his swim. If you are interested, let me know. I'm sure he'd be tickled if a lot of vents and their dummies showed up to take over a local restaurant or motel lobby.