And… go! Adapting Improv and learning your lines

In a play writing post we published here last month I promised a second post with more details on my failed attempt to memorize and perform a monologue without being able to see the script – or the audience.

I wrote my two-minute dog monologu on my talking computer, then listened to it line by line and repeated the lines one at a time onto a voice recorder. Throughout the week I’d listen to the recording, and I made a special point to do so before swimming laps for exercise. That way I could rehearse underwater, too.

And still, I arrived at class the next week feeling uneasy, and, of course, I flubbed my lines. So. Is it more difficult to memorize a script when you can’t read print? Would reading my monologue over and over throughout the week (rather than listening to it) have made my memorization efforts more of a success?

I don’t know.

The next class went much better. We didn’t have to hand in that assignment, we just had to perform it. The teachers wouldn’t have my script in front of them. They couldn’t know if I was memorizing or ad-libbing. Performing my piece in class that Saturday was far less nerve-racking.

Our homework that week was to choose a famous book or play or movie, write a two-minute interpretation of that work, and perform it as a play in class. The play could be a one-person show or we could ask fellow students to take parts, too.

Our class is studying the Too Much Light (TML) style. We’re creating very short minimalist plays. No costumes (actors just wear their street clothes) and no elaborate set design. Each short play starts by announcing the title and saying, “Go!” Plays end by simply calling out “Curtain!”

A teacher sat next to me to describe the action when my classmates performed their pieces Saturday. I was one of three classmates helping one writer perform his interpretation of Batman, another enlisted other students to perform her piece on Harry Potter.

I was born to play the part. Here I am with friends at a high school costume party in 1976 -- we're dressed as the characters from Wizard of Oz.

I was born to play the part. Here I am with friends at a high school costume party in 1976 — we’re dressed as the characters from Wizard of Oz.

My favorite was the two-minute interpretation of the movie Titanic: It opened with a woman sitting in a chair with her back to us, hugging herself, moaning and making kissy sounds throughout the entire two-minute play. This was a minimalist portrayal of a character making out with someone non-stop. A second actor would periodically approach the make-out artist, nudge her chair and say, “Hey!” You know, like, “Hey – I’m out here!” The make-out artist wouldn’t even look, just simply shake her off.

The actor doing the nudging happens to use a wheelchair, which, to me, made the scene even more effective. She’d roll away, come back, nudge the make-out artist’s chair, say “Hey!” and be shaken off, then roll away and come back and say “Hey!” Over and over again.

Finally the nudger showed up with a water pitcher in her lap. This time, after saying “Hey!” she poured the pitcher of water over the make-out artist’s head. “Curtain!” There you have it: The make-out artist portrayed Kate Winslett’s character in Titanic, the nudger played the iceberg, and the entire movie that won an Oscar for best picture in 1997 was over in two minutes.

I chose The Wizard of Oz, figuring I could be Dorothy, and my Seeing Eye dog could play Toto. Our TML teachers had urged us to consider the theme of the work we’d be interpreting, so my free time the week before was spent pondering no place like home, the ruby slippers, clicking three times, and Dorothy’s dance segments with the scarecrow and the Tin Man.

Which led me to wonder: Why didn’t Dorothy dance with the cowardly lion? And that’s when it came to me. The Wizard of Oz as a night at a dance club. My class mates and teachers liked the idea and had plenty of recommendations afterwards of ways to enhance the script and my performance. I’ll end this post now with my original script. Enjoy!

Scene opens with me talking to Seeing Eye dog Whitney as we walk on stage, my feet obviously hurting.

Me: Man, she really was a witch, wasn’t she?

We stop in front of the stage, facing the audience.

Me: These shoes are killing me.

I lean down to adjust them, get a kiss from my dog and stay down there to talk with her face to face.

Me: We leave the farm, head to the city, try to meet Mr. Right, and jeez. The first guy was nice and all, but boy was he dumb. The second one was so stiff, and that third guy, what a chicken. God these shoes hurt.

I fumble with the shoes and finally stand up again to face the audience.

Me: These damn shoes! They’re so tight they won’t come off…

I run the heel of one shoe off the other, obviously struggling to get that one shoe off, to no avail.

me, grunting: One!

I run the heel of the second shoe off the first shoe, obviously struggling to shove that second shoe off, to no avail.

me, grunting again: Two!

I repeat with the first shoe, trying one last time, obviously struggling, to no avail.

me, grunting again: Three!

Curtain!


 

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