Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Putting Words in My Mouth

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Putting Words in My Mouth

Article excerpt

Who is that man walking along with his dog, muttering to himself? (The man, I mean, not the dog.)

You can see him on the path by the motorway of a morning, his lips exercising themselves with peculiar energy, his facial expressions as changeable as Scottish weather.

Oh, all right. I admit it. It's me. Learning my part.

The dog is getting quite used to it. But she glances oddly when silent mouthing sprouts into audible words. "Is it me you're talking to?"

"No, silly, I'm talking to Boss Whalen." (He's the tyrannical warden of the prison where I'm the chaplain in Tennessee Williams's "Not About Nightingales.")

At the Sheep's Head Theatre yesterday, one of the convicts (a bulky gentleman with the voice of a troubled bull who arrives at rehearsals in an expensive car) is perched on a chair, deeply absorbed in an audiotape. Is he listening to Beethoven's Ninth? No. You can tell, because he periodically starts mouthing silent words with grim urgency; he, too, is learning his part.

Somebody says: "There are homes for people like you." The comment goes unheeded. "Studying," as the old school of actors called it, takes a massive amount of unselfconscious concentration.

We are all under pressure.

Claire, our director, has issued an ultimatum: We must all be off the book now.

One of the women in The Players' production of "The Odd Couple" last month remarked that she found the best way of learning was endless rehearsing. I agree. You soon associate lines with actions that way. You can only go so far in the bath, the car, on dog walks, or in a graveyard.

Directors around here seem hooked on the idea of "line runs." So Claire has us sit in a circle out in the graveyard under a shady tree. She says: "Now there's no need to say the words with expression, or to direct them at other actors." I should perhaps explain that we are practicing our words in a graveyard: (a) because it's nice to be outside on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon, and (b) because the Sheep's Head Theatre used to be a church. …

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