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.


Blogger Mr. Pitts said...

Worth a try. I don't know a vent who doesn't complaun about the difficulty of memorizing scripts. It used to be easier for me... I'm only in my forties.. I think I'm just rusty at doing this particular mental excercise.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Lawrence E. Harris said...

Great Post Al!! You are so helpful.

It does take time to do it right. Even with my new Character, "Squirrely" it is going to be a challange. He is a real charmer. Check out my new guy on my blog.

Cheers, Larry

9:05 AM  

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