To Prompt Or Not To Prompt

We recently received this question from a DramaShare member:

Rehearsal question: When rehearsing a drama without scripts, how long should a director wait to prompt an actor who is having trouble remembering a line. Some actors want to wait quite a while trying to remember a line. Should they be prompted right away, or wait a little while?

Answer: Ouch! . . . I wish you would ask a question which could be responded to with a definitive answer! Unfortunately there is no cut and dry answer to that one. What I always say is “Do you know your actors?” If the actor is experienced, or at least fairly comfortable in his/her own skin I tend to give them extra time to recapture the line. If it is a newer or more timid person you come to their assistance a little more quickly. All of this you only learn by doing and by spending time with your people and getting to know what motivates/de-motivates them.

The other comment I would make is to try to turn awkward and embarrassing situations into positives. If someone is struggling a number of times I want to try to take the heat off that person (and the entire group) and create a learning situation. I will have a number of improv exercises “in my hip pocket” and when the rehearsal seems to be falling apart I make the football “timeout” hand signal and say something like: “You know I was kinda hoping something like this would happen because I wanted us to learn a little thing which I think is rather cool.”

And then I would introduce an improv activity, a favorite of mine is “The Vacuum Cleaner Salesman.” (This one and dozens others are in the Improv Manual, click here for more information).

What happens with this particular improv is that you select two people, one is the salesman and the other is the lady he is trying to sell the vacuum. There is no script, there is no right or wrong lines, the actors each have to play off the other. After a short time you shout; “SWITCH” and then the salesman tries to convince the lady not to buy and the lady is adamant that she wants that vacuum cleaner. You then pick another 2 actors, (likely one being the person who is dropping lines), and they do the same routine.

After going through this you ask: “What did we see here?” What you want to bring out is that each actor knows in advance who he is and what he wants to accomplish in the sketch. There is a clear understanding of who I am, where I am going, who is with me in my journey and where I must end up. Do you as an actor know who you are? Can you explain that to the others in the group? Do you have a guideline in your mind as to exactly what happens in this sketch and what are the steps along the way. If you know that then you can logically determine where you are in the script and what is about to happen.

If things fall apart and you lose a line 1) you will know where you are and what you need to say (even if the words aren’t exactly right), and, 2) the other actors will know what you need to say and on the performance day another actor can throw a lifeline such as “Oh I get it, what you are trying to say is kinda like . . . .”

Then before you go back to the rehearsing you say, “Now realize what we are doing here in rehearsal is to learn to put everything together. What we are NOT doing is memorizing our lines. Line memorization happens at home in front of a mirror using the tactics which work best for each individual. This might be speaking your lines into a recording device for playback or having a friend or family member assist you in learning your lines.

But the bottom line is we want to all come to rehearsal FULLY understanding our role and the plot from the standpoint of each of the other characters, and it is each person’s responsibility to memorize their own lines.”

You might want to ask each person which are the lines that are causing you problems? Then you might break the actors into pairs and have them rehearse together to help each other with their lines.

We would love to hear your suggestions.

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