Take a sneak peak into the world of acting with Huw’s ‘Secret Diary of The Players’.
Part 1: How do you remember all those lines?
When I was in early high school, which is more years ago than I care to remember, ‘Young Talent Time’ was a big part of my life. Not because I worshipped it’s ever smiling, unflappable, over stimulated host, or because it was over-flowing with hopeful Aussie starlets destined to define my identity on the world stage as an Australian for years to come. Rather, because it was televised in that magical hour between 7:30 and 8:30 on a Sunday night.
Sunday night was often a time of considerable panic throughout my high school career. I was never a good planner, never much good at scheduling or thinking long term. The idea of getting something done ”ahead of time” was entirely foreign to me as a student. So, more often than not there was some assignment or essay or just piece of overly complicated homework due first thing Monday morning. Now, I would never claim that this task had taken me by surprise or that I had not been given sufficient warning. On the contrary, my long suffering teachers were careful to give not only plenty of time for these tasks to be completed, but also regular advice and reminders along the way. But despite their most sincere efforts I was un-moved, seemingly unable to lift so much as a pencil before the absolute last minute.
And in the hour immediately prior to that last fateful minute sat…..’Young Talent Time’. It was a golden hour! At 7:30 the night somehow seemed so young. Sure, there had been this niggling concern in the back of my mind for a few days that the three dimensional model of the structure of a red blood cell, or dissertation on the mis-representations of Australian culture in cereal advertising might take a little longer to complete than the 6 minutes I had set aside, but at 7:30 Sunday night there is a sense that I have all the time in the world. Throughout the following hour my sense of dread built inexorably. The difference that one hour makes is frightening. By 8:30 my parents are putting my little sister to bed and, as it’s a Sunday, they’re taking about getting an early night themselves. Suddenly the weekend is undeniably over and the household’s thoughts turn to preparations for Monday morning. So by the time the ‘Youngsters’ have surrounded Johnny to warm the nation’s collective heart with their decimation of a Beatles classic, my own heart is kicking me in the chest like an angry goat, and I feel like I might have just swallowed a bowling ball.
So – many years later and old enough to know better – this is where I find myself tonight. 7:30 Sunday night; rehearsals start at 10am tomorrow and I have pages of lines to learn. It’s okay, it’s only 7:30, the night is still young right?……but where the HELL is Young Talent Time?
As usual though, this has not come as a surprise, this task has not snuck up on me, I was given this script about a MONTH ago. The script is a combination of scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and what are called “framing scenes”; dialogue that was written specifically for this production that is more like a contemporary play rather than Shakespearean. And to be fair, I wasn’t asked to learn it all, just the Shakespeare. This, I think, is where I first went wrong. “I’ll be sweet” I thought to myself, “I’ve done loads of Shakespeare, surely there can’t be much of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I don’t know.” And it’s true, I HAVE done loads of Shakespeare. A month ago I was convinced I basically knew all my lines already without even opening the script. So there my script sat, pristine, freshly bound, indeed still in the express post envelope in which it had left the offices of The Bell Shakespeare Company. Until about the 12th of January, at which point I thought, “better give that script a read” so I took it out of the envelope and put it in my backpack, “it’ll be sweet, I’ll read some bits here and there on the bus or whatever, still heaps of time!”
Four days later we met as a cast for the first time and that script was still firmly tucked away in my backpack – undisturbed. It was only during a conversation with the HEAD of education at Bell Shakespeare when she referenced a joke in one of the scripts and I was the only one in the room that didn’t laugh that I thought it might have been a good idea to have had a read before this moment.
I imagine you are scandalized at this point by my seeming lack of professionalism, but let me assure you I have worked with actors that don’t even know where their script IS on the first day of rehearsals – it’s all relative. “Professional” is such a subjective term!
So I will confess that I weakened a little and I went home and over the next day…..or two….or maybe it was a week (again, semantics) I managed to read my script. Now those of you who, like me, seem chronically compelled to leave everything to the last minute will understand that it made no difference one or two weeks out that I knew almost nothing at all of the lines I was supposed to learn. Somehow I still managed to convince myself that those gaps could be filled with a concerted couple of days work over the weekend before rehearsals started.
Stay tuned to find out how Huw spent the weekend “learning his lines”…