Last October, we took our Original Practices Experiment to The Stratford Festival where company member Kaitlyn Riordan was working. Actors received a scroll with their lines and cues, were asked to memorize it all, not read the play, and then come together and perform it in front of an audience, having never rehearsed together. We began playing with this concept two years ago at our Season Launch party and a week from today (April 14th) we hold our third annual Ruffing It. Actress Carmen Grant spoke to us afterwards about her experience last October and the mayhem of playing Elizabeth in ‘Henry VI, Part III’, having never spoken the lines to another actor before encountering an audience.
Ruff: Can you describe the challenge of working this way?
CG: I found that learning the lines was the greatest challenge for me within this process. I felt excited by the mystery of the process, but the majority of the morning was spent in a state of suppressed panic! As you know, learning lines is so much more than just memorizing words on a page. The motivation and objective of a character comes from what’s being sparked within their human impulses and, more often than not, a cue comes well before the other actor reaches the end of their line! But with only four words as a prompt (sometimes less!), the context of what I was saying was not clear. So, I would say my biggest challenge was learning the lines without knowing the entire text.
Ruff: How was it different from your normal process?
CG: My normal process is to read the entire play over and over again, so that I understand the story implicitly before I attempt to memorize my lines. That way, the lines I have to speak are already imbued with an understanding of not only my character, but the other characters in the play, how I feel about them, and the world as a whole. I usually find that by the time I’m on my feet in the rehearsal hall, I know the lines so well, I can almost forget them and am able to respond to the other actors in the scene by simply listening to what they are saying. The cues in their lines jump out at me more easily that way and the need to listen in a state of panic is removed! On the other hand, that’s part of what was exciting about it. The need to listen very hard to what the other actors were saying made for edge-of-your-seat presence onstage.
Ruff: What surprised you most on the day?
CG: When I realized that George wanted Elizabeth as his wife, I had already made the choice to seduce Edward whole-heartedly … and it could have been REALLY interesting to play with the idea that Elizabeth actually wanted George as much as he wanted her and NOT, in fact, Edward – as the brothers’ text seems to indicate.