Working On Your Monologue: Getting Off Book

Welcome to Part 4 of Working On Your Monologue: Getting Off Book.  Today, we will discuss how to learn your lines, improvisation and spontaneity.

Quick Recap:

  • Part 1 we went over the important role intuition plays when finding your monologue.
  • Part 2 we discussed the Given Circumstances and in what ways you can go about asking yourself questions to develop deeper insight into your monologue.
  • Part 3 we examined steps to break down your monologue with beats, the moment before, the moment after, your objective (desire, needs, wants).

Working On Your Monologue: Getting Off Book

How Actors Can Get Off Book

Getting off book is more than just knowing your lines.  It’s really about freeing yourself up in order to express fully.

When you have to think about what your next line is from your monologue, you are pulling yourself out of character and instantly find yourself playing an actor who can’t remember their dialogue.

When you strain to remember the words, tension builds up in you both emotionally and physically, making it difficult to flow.

There are a ton of solid relaxation exercises out there.  You should always keep your body loose so your energy flows with less restriction and your work has more impact when you express.

When you watch someone like Bruce Lee in slow motion, you can see that although he is putting his body through intense physical stress, he does so with the utmost ease and relaxation.

So too should the actor work with physical ease.

Another thing to point out is that you do not need to undergo hours of relaxation technique in order to arrive at a place of such ease before you rehearse or perform.

You can literally find inner calm within five minutes time.

When you undergo intensified relaxation for long periods of time you may experience the opposite effect.  You may be exhausted because all of your energy is being spent on trying to relax and you can actually burn yourself out.

One other important element to observe from Bruce Lee is his deadly concentration.  Concentration and relaxation go hand in hand.  They are like siblings who you want to see get along.  When you concentrate, you relax, when you relax, you concentrate.

Two Relaxation Techniques

White Space

Close your eyes and breathe in through your nostrils.  Listen diligently to the air entering your nostrils.  Hold the air in your lungs for a count of three and release the air through your mouth. Clear your mind.  Do not think of anything but white space.  Do this for five full minutes.  Done.

Wall Press

Walk up to a wall and place the palms of your hands on it.  Press the wall.  Continue to press the wall with all your might as if you want to push the wall over.  Lean further in and push, push, push the wall, until you cannot push anymore and slowly relax the pressure you’ve placed on the wall, easing your muscles.  Relax.  Breathe.  Done.

Forgetting Your Lines

There are times when you will forget your lines no matter how much work you put into learning them.  If and when this happens, it’s actually a blessing in disguise.

As scary as this may seem, it can actually be extremely rewarding.  Acting is about spontaneity and in some ways this can make room for an interesting experience.

Yes, there are rehearsals and creative choices made when working on your monologue but when it’s all said and done and you are ready to perform it, you need to let it all go and BE IN THE MOMENT.

Another common phrase you may often hear with acting is Moment to Moment.  Moment to Moment is a way for an actor to remain focused in the monologue/scene with the utmost totality, without breaking concentration.

If you would like to perhaps take that concept one step further you can also use the term, Second To Second, a phrase that seems to demand more awareness and attention from your concentration.

When you think Second to Second rather than Moment to Moment you aren’t allowing yourself to fall back on your concentration power.  It’s a simple mental tweak that you are welcome to try and see what works best for your own instrument as an actor.

Getting back to spontaneity.

Now, if you forget your line midway through your monologue at an audition, there really is nothing at all to panic over.

You improvise.

You know the nature of the monologue.  You know what it’s all about.  There is a certain confidence that comes with leading up to your monologue audition performance.  You’ve put in the work and the time it takes to get it to a particular point.  That’s part of your foundation when working on your monologue.  It won’t abandon you.

During your rehearsal phase, it’s a good idea to improvise.  This will serve you well because you will increase your connection to the monologue and will keep your acting loose, so if and when a situation occurs when you suddenly drop a line, it will not make you freeze.

Improvising Your Monologue

This greatly depends on what monologue you are using.

You improvise your character’s intentions and the imaginary circumstances they exist in.

Going back to our Protective Shield monologue as an example for this series, the character Rita is in conflict over trusting people she begins to feel close to.  She comes from a place where her vulnerability in the past has been wounded.  Therefore, she is in inner conflict over whether or not to be fully committed to a relationship, whether it be friend, family or dating.

If you were working on this monologue, you can improvise in your own words from the point of view of your character.  You may make discoveries that are deep within the subtext of the monologue.

Suddenly, you may find yourself more connected to the piece with a subconscious understanding you feel inside your bones.

This will only strengthen your connection to the material and if you forget your lines at some point in an audition while performing, you will have the confidence to punch through any sort of deer in headlights moment and will remain connected Moment to Moment, Second to Second without missing a beat.

Play On The Words

Once you have a solid understanding of the situation regarding your monologue, you can play on the words.

Go through your monologue improvising your own dialogue but covering a beginning point, middle point and ending point.  Keep your improvisation similar to the nature of your monologue but use your own words.

Go as far as you desire.  Go over things multiple ways.  Let the circumstances seep into you until you feel as one with the material.

Doing such improvisation, you may bring about many avenues in which you can define your character for yourself.  It will bring you in touch with your own humanity based on the imaginary circumstances you are faced with.

You can even try inventing different circumstances to see in what ways your character will react…again, this will give you more insight into the world of person you are portraying.

Improvisation Exercises for Acting Practice

Actor Dan

Actor Dan has been cast in a Tennessee William’s One-Act Play entitled, “The Long Goodbye”.  He is cast for the part of Silva.

Brief Synopsis: The story centers on Joe, a frustrated writer who is moving out of the only apartment he has ever known.  During the play we see that he is literally haunted by his dead mother and memory of his younger sister Myra.  This short play takes place during the Great Depression.  His friend Silva comes by to pay him a visit, all the while movers enter and exit with pieces of furniture.

One night during one of the play’s performances, Actor Dan experiences an interesting moment.  At some point in rehearsals Actor Dan decided to flip a coin as part of his character’s prop throughout the play.  The coin isn’t part of the play and only served Dan as a way to enter into his character’s world.  The coin became a symbol for Dan playing Silva as the play took place during The Great Depression and also for the simple fact that Silva wanted to go out for drinks with his buddy Joe.

However, something happened by accident during the course of the play.

At some point during the play’s performance one night, Actor Dan happened to place the coin impulsively on a desk as a way to convince his friend Joe that they should go out for drinks.  As the play moved forward, the coin remained on the desk.

When the movers came in to move out another piece of furniture, it just so happened to be the desk where Actor Dan left his coin.  As the movers picked up the desk the coin fell off and rolled around the stage before coming to a spinning stop.

The actors on stage all froze but then, one of the actors playing a mover bent down and picked up the coin.  Actor Dan/Silva popped up from his seat and approached the mover.

The two men stared at one another…both men wanting the coin to keep.

The mover spoke to Silva, “I think this was yours.”  And he handed Actor Dan the coin before continuing to move the desk with the other mover.

During this time period money was hard to come by and their was an exchange spoken without words from both Actor Dan and the Actor Mover that reflected the imaginary circumstances of that reality.

This moment could have been viewed as a mistake but in fact it heightened another element of the play’s theme, character’s needs and gave off a profound moment which did not exist during rehearsals.

Happy Accident

This form of happy accident mentioned in the Tennessee William’s play is something you should embrace as an actor.

Moments that take place in real time from forgetting a line or when the choreography of the monologue’s movement suddenly changes are invitations the actor shouldn’t run from.

There are countless stories from stage, film, tv that have been created on the spot and have become part of some of the most poignant moments we as spectators enjoy.

The more preparation you do before performing your monologue, the more likely such  spontaneous moments will arise on their own and the more available you will be to accept them when they unfold.

Conclusion

Forgetting your lines is a blessing in disguise.  Embrace it when and if it happens.

In rehearsal, when you give yourself amplified room to improvise, you will open up a doorway to confidence if you lose track of your monologue’s words.  You will have a stronger foundation in place that will be there for you and allow you to push through and act on your feet spontaneously.

Keep relaxation in mind.  It is always good to take a few minutes out in order to find inner calm and physical ease.  This makes room to free you up in your work so that you can express fully.