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Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Egg Sucking Guide for Grandmothers

I wrote the following for the New Wimbledon cast which was a while ago now.  I didn't meet many of them properly until the day of performance so wrote an idiots guide to performing their section.  I thought I'd share it with you today.  Imagine you've got a three minute monologue to perform and read on...

The Egg Sucking Guide for Grandmothers
Or Storyteller: An Idiots Guide

Obviously we will rehearse, so there will be a lot of me telling you precisely what to do.  However, if you have time to do more than simply learn your lines then here is some general advice, suggestions and best ways to prep...

1.  Storytelling isn’t stand up.
You’re alone on stage, you’ve nothing to hold - the temptation to wander around, pace back and forth and punctuate every sentence with your hands is enormous.  Don’t.  Start with no movement, standing still, doing naught.  Then add elements if and only if you have a really good reason to do so.  What will hold the audiences interest is your connection with them, the story itself and the fact that you’re the next person of a chain.  And you’ll be gone in three minutes.

2.  Boredom.
Rehearsing storytelling / monologues is the most tedious task known to mankind.  It is horribly dull.  Prep for a show is primarily about repetition to the point where your brain is melting – because you’re alone up there and need to know the text like it’s your own skin.  It is primarily dull because rehearsing a story misses the most important ingredient – the audience.  A monologue is a conversation and until you get in front of the audience you will have no one talking back. 

3.  Be prepared for change.
Prepare, play around, come up with a full physical and vocal score... go on surprise me.  But also be prepared for me to say NO straightaway and tell you to do it differently.  Don’t get attached to your performance – it’ll only end in tears.

4.  If in doubt, do less.
See 1.  Fairly safe rule.  It’s a studio theatre.

5.  Arms are for nothing.
See 1.  Let em hang there.  Unless you want to do some serious pointing.

6.  Only Connect.
Don’t shoot ‘till you see the whites of their eyes.  Yes, the audience will be (dimly) lit throughout the show.  You will be there for most of it as well, as both performers and audience members.  You give your attention to the person performing, watch them, laugh and smile.  When it’s your turn, you take that out to the audience.  Look them in the eye.  Pick people for different lines.  Make them watch you.

7. Pass the baton.
We’re all interconnected.  We pass the story to each other, so it’s vital to keep that flow going, not leaving gaps, passing on the baton – unless your story goes off on a tangent.  You can’t prep this – it’ll come out in rehearsal.

8. Your performance is you.
You are not pretending to be a different person, you’re simply giving a more performed version of yourself.  Don’t change your accent, character, just tell your bit of the story.  Use appropriate voices for speech – but there isn’t much of that, so that’s not a major worry.

9. There may be typos... but they might be the words I chose...
Sometimes I get it wrong – it’s the wrong word entirely.  And sometimes I’m just awkward.  (Or aukward, for those who like a pun that only works off the page.)  If in doubt, ask.

10.  And.  A story tends to be made up of a lot of ands.  Try not to add more.  And remember that and ends in a d.  If you let a lazy tongue drop it then the audience will notice. 

11.  Learn fast. 
I don’t mean learn the lines in a brief period of time.  I mean learn it like it’s going at a rate.  Fast.  Few gaps.  It is easier to slow a text down in performance than to speed it up.  Usually.

12. Enjoy.
I hate writing things like this, but best not to let people go unguided.  Most important thing to remember about all of the above – I believe and follow all of the above guidelines... except when I don’t.  The only absolute that matters is to enjoy yourself.  If you enjoy performing your story then the audience will enjoy watching and listening to it.  ‘nough said.

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