Play and Poetry Preparation Advice from an Actor / Musician

I find it interesting how certain lessons we learn stay with us for many years, and in some cases even a lifetime. Here is a particularly useful one if you should need to partake in a play or recite a poem in any capacity — or, really, any recitation of words that need to be largely or entirely consistent with what is written on a script. Let me tell you the back-story first.

I was taking a French class at The Peddie School — I believe that it was during my junior year. We received an assignment that we were to act out a part of a play, entirely in French of course. I was understandably nervous — I knew next to nothing about preparing for plays, let alone in a non-native tongue. As I stared at the page wondering what I was going to do, I got advice from a colleague — the extremely talented and fantastically friendly Jon Neufeld, who regularly acted on our stage in plays and now is half of the band Jonka — they have an EP coming out at the end of the month, by the way.

The trick, Jon told me, was to not try to memorize it all at once — that would be overwhelming. Instead, he said, I should think of it as a sort of project that I would tackle bit by bit. Would you say that it is hard to memorize one sentence? Try, he said, to repeat the first line until you can say it without looking at the page. When you are comfortable with that one line of dialogue, add the second line.

When you are comfortable reciting the first two lines without looking at the page, add the third line. This more or less goes on until you are comfortable reciting the entire text you are meant to know. Of course, it helps if you are conversing with someone in the play to have a play partner to read the other side of the dialogue — this helps tremendously with timing.

I have found that this technique works extraordinarily well and I am forever grateful to Jon for teaching it to me. By getting down one line at a time instead of everything, you are not overwhelmed and you can try to get the nuances of the lines themselves with each repetition.

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5 thoughts on “Play and Poetry Preparation Advice from an Actor / Musician

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