The actor’s job is equally tough: take instructions from the director on where to move and how to say a line, and make them seem real. Sometime actors are given a place to move to and the freedom to figure out how and why their character will move. This can be a wonderful, creative endeavor – or a creative nightmare:
“Sarah you need to counter-cross down stage right when he says that.”
“Okay! Um, why would my character move over there? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Good question. Well, we need to move your character down by the settee, so figure out some sort of motivation and make it work.”
“Okay so I could decide to get a book and read?”
“Or I could decide to look at the vase of flowers”
“Or could I look out the window?”
“There won’t be a physical window there, but if you want to pretend, sure”
“Ooo what If I realize that my forbidden feelings for him are too strong and that even looking at him causes me excruciating pain?! I could stumble towards the bench, in agony because he doesn’t know I love him, then look longingly out the window reaching towards the heavens asking my dead mother to give me strength to carry on as I have a single tear run down my cheek right before I pass out. ”
“Uh…No. I think reading a book will be just fine.”
No question the director’s job is a tough one: guide and train actors to take the playwright’s words and the pre-planned movements and have them perform it all in a spontaneous, realistic manner. An effective and most trusted method director use to help actors overcome the “I’m-going-to-walk-to-this-spot-turn-45-degrees-towards-the-audience-wait-politely-for-the-other-person-to-stop-speaking-and-then-deliver-my-line” syndrome, is repetition. If you repeat it enough, muscle memory steps in to make the words and movements seem to flow naturally.
Another unrealistic, but potentially effective method, would be to put up electric fences. The director could zap the actors when they step too far upstage, come on too early, miss a line, or when groups of actors form the forbidden dummy-line. This practice would most assuredly be frowned upon.
The earlier the actor memorizes his lines, the more he/she can practice with the props and “explore his character” (fancy theatre term for trying out a variety of ways to say the same thing and picking which is best). The first few weeks of rehearsal are always the most interesting. Actors are studying their lines at home and trying to get memorized enough to actually hold props during a scene. However, with a script in hand it’s rather difficult and almost comical. Imagine trying to answer the phone, while holding your purse, bags of groceries and a child all while trying to read your lines from the script you have wedged between your elbow and the sack of potatoes.
So, for now, we’ll set the props aside (until we are "off book"), work on memorizing our lines and stick with repetition, repetition, repetition. Working, re-working, adjusting here, tweaking there, try again, go back to the top of the page, to the top of the scene, to the top, act over and over and over again so that this carefully orchestrated masterpiece will be audience ready in as little as four weeks.