How Actors Memorize Their Lines

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As I’ve been reading Behan plays, I started to think about the challenge that actors must have learning dialog, especially if they are playing a large part in something.  The way that my mind works I have trouble remember song lyrics, especially to cover songs, so I can’t imagine the work that must go into learning the dialog for an entire play.  I also was thinking of the TV show Deadwood, where they often would get pages of dialog the day of a shoot, due to creator David Milch writing dialog often up until the very last minute.  (Deadwood is one of my favorite shows ever.  The dialog is really complex.  At times it is like Shakespeare with swearing.  Actor Ian McShane, in particular, would have to give whole speeches, soliloquies sometimes, that he had only gotten the morning of the shoot.)  So I decided to google what actors do, in hopes of learning tricks to make learning song lyrics easier for myself.  Out of the articles I read, I found the one that follows the most interesting, not only because it interviewed stage actors in Chicago, but also by total coincidence it talked about Deadwood and how those actors dealt with Milch’s writing style.  Here is the article:

How Actors Memorize Their Lines

You’d Think ‘Twas a Crime to be Human

The following lyrics are from a song in Brendan Behan’s play Richard’s Cork Leg:

You’d think ’twas a crime to be human
To sometimes get scared in the park,
When a copper sneaks up there behind you,
And flashes his light in the dark.

To regard savage dogs with suspicion,
In case that the bastards would bite,
To be hauled off to jail on suspicion,
And scared of a scream in the night.

You’d think ’twas a crime to be human,
With sex education in bed,
And postpone your thoughts of hereafter,
‘Till after you are twenty years dead.

To work overtime with young Nancy,
And give her a coffee and roll,
And likewise whatever she’d fancy
By weight or the lump or the whole.

You’d think ’twas come to be human,
And go for a swim in the sea,
And dance with no clothes in the sunshine,
And drink foreign lager for tea.

To regard co-existence with favor,
And nuclear weapons with fear,
To want more return for less labour,
Fatter fish, cheaper chips, better beer.

Let the heroes all die for the people,
If that is what they want to do,
And we’ll struggle on here without them,
I’ve concluded, now, frolics to you.  

Brendan Behan In Music

Heading out for Lubbock on tour with Shinyribs.   Brought a book of Brendan Behan plays.  The Quare Fellow is one of my favorites.  It examines prison life.  The play is fictional, but Behan spent time in confinement during his lifetime.  Behan’s autobiography Borstal Boy is also an excellent read.  There are many great songs that mention Behan.  Thin Lizzy’s Black Rose, Black 47’s The One and Only Brendan Behan,  Morrissey’s Mountjoy, and Streams of Whiskey by The Pogues are just a few.  One of my favorite songs is The Auld Triangle, which is featured in the play The Quare Fellow, though actually written by Behan’s brother.  If you have heard of him before in a song or somewhere else, but haven’t read any of his actual writings, I highly recommend them.  He was a great soul that I’m glad was out there. 

John Lydon, Richard III, and the False Choice Between Empathy and Strength

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Those that have been reading along will know that lately I have been fascinated by the career of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten).  I have read his two autobiographies, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, and I have watched the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury.  One of the things that many people don’t get is that Lydon has a great sense of humor and fun.  Although he felt there were important things that needed to be said, he knew how to get a crowd wound up, and he always did things with a sense of fun.  I found it really interesting that his Johnny Rotten persona was partially based on Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Richard is a deformed scheming character that uses his wits to rise to power.  

That led me to wanting to learn more about the play.  Tonight I am watching the Al Pacino documentary Looking for Richard.  This is a documentary where Pacino is trying to figure out how to get the average person to understand and open up to Shakespeare.  The film is scenes of the play intercut with discussions about what the play means and how to perform it.

This little bit of dialog interested me:

First Murderer:

Relent!  Tis cowardly and womanish.

Clarence:

Not to relent is beastly, savage, devilish.

What is happening in that scene is that Richard has sent two murderers to kill a character named Clarence who is in line for the throne.  Clarence is trying to talk the murderers out of killing him.  The above lines are just a very small snippet from the scene.

I want to take them out of context for a moment.  I’ve been thinking lately about how males are given false choices about being macho and being weak.  The murderer says basically that showing mercy is to be weak.  Clarence replies that to murder is to be savage.  So many times in our society men make choices about what to do based upon if people will perceive them to be weak or strong.

Morrissey sang, in the song I Know It’s Over, that it, “takes strength to be gentle and kind.”  Well this is true, so often people send the opposite message.  Why is it that caring about nature and other people is often perceived as being weak?  How many times have you heard someone say, about someone that cares about the environment for instance, that they are some kind of, “faggot hippie.”  Meanwhile, men that rape the earth and exploit other people are often thought of as being strong and powerful, when they are really just giving in to their own ego?

I have seen so many times when males, who are really quite frightened of the world, hide behind a macho exterior.  I remember a gig in a redneck area where almost every single vehicle in the parking lot was a pickup truck.  The males at that show acted very macho.  There was clearly something tribal going on.  They were acting proud and macho, but they were really a part of a herd mentality and were clearly afraid of standing out as individuals.  It doesn’t take any strength to go along with the crowd.

And yes there are plenty of people on the left that subscribe to the herd mentality as well.  When I see a crowd of hipsters or hippies they are basically just wearing a different costume.  They are part of their own little tribe with its own rules.  They may think that they are individuals, but they are no different than a group that is all wearing suits or cowboy hats or whatever.

So many of the problems the world faces right now require cooperation with other people.  Many of our problems require national if not global solutions.  We need to get things done and macho male pride will only get in the way.

It takes strength to be gentle and kind.  It takes strength to be open minded and to be an individual.  It takes strength to stand up to a crowd when they are doing something wrong.  We need to make it more clear in our society that empathy and strength are not opposites.  Males are often taught the opposite of this.  However, if men keep acting this way, and one should mention that women have played their part in allowing this kind of attitude to persist, it will eventually lead to our doom.  The world can no longer bear males that are afraid to look weak in place of the common good.

The above photo is Kevin Spacey as Richard III.

The Failure to Adapt

I saw the movie Glengarry Glen Ross last night for the first time.  It was a portrayal of the sales world that, although highly exaggerated in its language, rang too true in many cases.  I worked in sales and customer service for about six years.  My brother, who commented on the film’s depressing outlook, was also laughing at some of the darkly comic dialogue.  Meanwhile I felt my blood pressure going up as I relived certain situations that I have seen.

The movie tells the story of people in a real estate sales office.  In the beginning of the film Alec Baldwin, who plays a character that represents upper management, comes into the sales office and gives them an epic dressing down for their poor sales performances.  This sets the train of events that takes place in the movie and includes arguments, lying, and thievery.

The David Mamet play that this movie was based on was first performed in 1983 and the movie came out in 1992.  I don’t know how offices were in those years, but knowing how they are now, I knew that the dialogue was an exaggeration.  This movie has so many fucks in it that it became known to the cast as “Death of a fucking salesman.” In the neutered politically correct corporate world of today this kind of outwardly expression of vulgarity would never take place.  Sure, it might take place at moments or in some companies, but over all people would not be allowed to talk to each other like that.  However, this does not mean that the dialogue is untrue.  In its absurd exaggeration it exposes the feelings that I have seen in many coworkers and bosses.  It takes what often is going on inside in reality and moves it outside.

Earlier today I read an article about Hirdoo Onoda.  Onada was a Japanese soldier on a remote island in the Philippines that fought World War II for 29 years after the Japanese surrendered.  He believed that the war was still being fought so many years after it was over.  During this time he killed around 30 islanders who he believed to be enemy combatants.

Watching the movie, and watching these alpha males fight over such pathetic rewards, I couldn’t help but think that in our society we often behave in ways that are historically obsolete.  The men in this movie, and so many people in the business world, have some kind of delusion that they are part of some kind of lost warrior clan.  They are fighting and competing in ways that have no basis for what is needed in the modern world.  They are debasing their own and others dignity for nothing more than Willy Loman’s gold watch.  They behave with the ruthlessness of some kind of ancient guerilla general all for a couple extra bucks and a bigger desk.

In a global world with such global problems as climate change we must seek to see each other’s basic humanity.  The competition of tribes and clans, which the unfettered market still fosters in us, is out of date and will lead to our destruction.  Trouble always arises in the world when times change, but people fail to adapt.