In Search of Lost Lines: Prepping for THE CRUCIBLE

by John Allee
Company Member

The nightly email from our stage manager Kimberly arrives in my inbox.  It’s the usual heads up for the next day’s rehearsal, outlining which scenes we will be working on and which actors are called at what times.  And because I am generally conscientious and thorough, also because we have been reminded (if not actually admonished) to scroll all the way down to the very bottom of each production missive, I dutifully read through to the end, where the dreaded words leap out at me as if from some dark and sinister Middle-earth forest:

IMPORTANT DATES: **THURSDAY APRIL 11TH: OFF BOOK.

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For the uninitiated, this item simply means that the directors’ battle plan calls for the actors to be rehearsing without their scripts in hand by the date given.  Sounds fair enough.  After all, we attend the theater expecting that the actors will have their lines memorized for the performance and that it only makes sense that at some point in the rehearsal process they have to actually make the transition from page to stage.  But, why April 11th?  Doesn’t that seem awfully soon?  After all, it’s already March 29th and I am having difficulty memorizing the first two pages.  I dare not go before them — no wait – I dare not be taken unaware when I go before them…

John Allee, The Malcontent, post off book & looking rather confident

John Allee, The Malcontent, post off book & looking rather confident

As an actor, perhaps the most common question I get asked by people who are not is “how do you memorize all those lines?”  It’s a reasonable question, certainly, and one that actors don’t give much thought to, other than to fret about when they are going to memorize all those lines.  But, in much the same way I might wonder how an economist can stand in front of a group of people and extemporize on the finer points of Post-Keynesian macroeconomic rigidities and adjustment processes, someone else might not easily grasp that having the ability to ingest vast amounts of dialogue and regurgitate it all is part of our skill set.  At the moment, that someone is me.

No Heath Bar, John? For shame.

No Heath Bar, John? For shame.

The trick now is to invoke a Proustian involuntary memory – what was it – eating tea soaked cake?  I settle for a half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s coffee ice cream.  But what memories will it bring up, the next ten pages of the scene that I am beating into my head with a ball-peen hammer, or childhood memories of my auntie?  Or will it merely keep me awake all night worrying about the lines I still have yet to memorize?

Proust also warned that escaping to the past cannot completely soothe one’s suffering in the present.  Given that the present is now the morning of April 11th and we are to be off-book today, I would be willing to take my chances with time travel if even for a modicum of relief from my current state of peril.  As I drive to the theatre for rehearsal, my mind is racing faster than my six-cylinder engine, and the feeling of apprehension is pressing down harder than my foot on the accelerator.  Though, why I am in such a hurry to get to my destination is difficult to understand, given my conflicting desire to run away from it.  I practice the lines in the car, and for one panic-stricken minute it seems as though all memory has evaporated, like the mist on the windshield as I propel myself forward, further away from the past, but remembering now, suddenly, involuntarily, that I will not be taken unaware as I go before them.

Allee_headshot_B&WJohn Allee Antaeus member, Tolkien reader and one of our Reverend Parrises – bemoans the actor’s process… at least the boring bits.  We hope he’s learned his lines by now, since  The Crucible goes into tech next week and opens May 16 & 17. Tickets now on sale at www.antaeus.org

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1 Comment

  1. Hi John,
    While aware of your musical talent (I remember your CD) I didn’t know about your work in the theater. Good for you! Living on the E. coast you’ll understand my not seeing you on stage, but will F/W your info to another former roommate of your dad’s and myself, Bob Peck. Now retired as an English teacher, Bob is exceedingly well read, an avid theater goer and while at Yale, did some acting himself.
    Best of luck with it!
    Best regards,
    Nick Steiner.


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