The lines are coming! The lines are coming! Everyone said they would, I just had trouble believing them. I haven’t been on stage since the sixth grade and I was only responsible for a handful of lines at the time. A full-length play is a completely different adventure.
In less than a week, I will have to conjure up and regurgitate line after line after line whilst channeling Edna Edison, a middle-aged semi-neurotic housewife who heads back into the workforce when her husband loses his job. And while the play is set in the early 1970s, it is eerily relevant today.
After our first line reading, fear crept into my psyche. How am I going to learn all of these lines? What if I laugh at the funny parts when the audience laughs? Oh my gosh! I have to KISS my friend Travis, on stage, with Hubby watching from the audience? How am I going to learn all of these lines?
Soliciting the help of others did not provide the support I sought. My beautiful Aunt Lolly has participated in many community theater productions in New York over years, so I asked, "What’s the trick to learning lines?"
"That’s easy," she explained. "I don’t take speaking parts." A week post my commitment to portray Edna was not the time to learn that my thespian aunt is a perpetual member of the chorus for musicals. She can sing and dance, but she cannot remember lines.
Everyone else I asked simply stated, "I don’t know. Just do what works for you." Considering I had no idea what would work for me, I spent the past couple of months flailing around my lines like a desperate fish flopping on the ice hoping to fall back into the hole someone jerked him through only moments before.
When I was in the sixth grade, I highlighted my lines. So, that’s where I began. I enlarged every page of the script and then highlighted every word in bright fluorescent yellow ink.
This method proved helpful for reading lines when we were still allowed to hold our scripts. Other than that, I wasn’t convinced it did much to help me learn my lines.
Our fine director—who was never worried about me learning the lines because, as he said repeatedly, "The lines will come."—had several suggestions. Circle key words. Think about what the character is thinking when she talks and write the subtext in the margins.
There are notes throughout my script. I’ve circled words and scribbled in subtext everywhere. These methods certainly helped me get into character, but I was still struggling with the lines.
When we went off book, I spent much of rehearsal calling, "Line?" Our dedicated stage manager spent most of rehearsal writing line notations on colorful sticky notes. Her script was soon transformed into a rainbow of unlearned lines.
Early in the process, my co-lead and good friend Travis mentioned he records the play and listens to the recordings. I thought this method was brilliant, so I did the same. It made sense to me, because that’s exactly how I learn the lyrics to my favorite songs.
My smartphone has five recordings saved to it, one for each scene. I spent many hours folding laundry and baking while listening to and repeating my lines. I listened and repeated in the car while running errands.
The recordings actually served a dual purpose. I could hear and practice my lines while at the same time enjoying much-needed alone time. Apparently when my family heard me yelling at no one in particular, they decided to keep their distance.
As the weeks and rehearsals slipped away, the panic descended. Everyone else kept reassuring me we were doing great and the lines would come. If the lines would come, I thought to myself—and aloud to anyone who would listen—why hadn’t they arrived yet? Do the lines realize opening night is March 1?
Another actor in our play mentioned she likes to write out her lines. Employing multiple parts of the brain helps her remember. When I heard her say this, I chuckled and noted how I couldn’t do that with my all my lines. If I did, I’d end up with a severe case of carpel tunnel syndrome.
However, on the day of our first no-line-call rehearsal, during which we had to muddle through our lines with no help from the script or the stage manager, I HAD to do something. So I listened to the entire play. Then I began writing out all of my lines.
At rehearsal that night, something miraculous happened. The lines began to pour out. I still stumbled here and there, but many of my lines were there, dripping off my lips at the appropriate times. Was it the highlighting, subtext notes, recording or writing? It must have been everything.
I guess I won’t make a colossal fool of myself on opening night after all. Well, I will, but that’s just part of the play.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of "Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville." She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org