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Whose play is this, anyway?

'Anastasia' was a seasoned actress who got the general gist of Oscar Wilde's words.

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You might call it ad-liberation. I mean, why would an actor learn the words a playwright wrote? Isn't there a freedom in making up your own?

I must admit that I myself try, at least, to memorize the playwright's words – a modest attempt to be a parrot.

Rehearsing our recent (amateur) production of Oscar Wilde's "A Woman of No Importance," I noticed, as production assistant, that some others learn differently. We have a new member. She has acted for decades. And she – I'll call her Anastasia – began after a few weeks to worry the director. She was not learning Wilde's words. People were muttering things like "Poor Oscar!" She seemed blissfully unaware of any problem.

She remembered the gist of her speeches. Wilde's exact words, however, didn't take hold.

The director asked me to go over her lines with her. She was happy about this, but still came up with her own revised version.

After one rehearsal of Act I, Anastasia confessed something to me. "The reason," she explained, "that I made such a mess of Act I this afternoon was that I was trying very hard to use Wilde's actual words." This, I felt, might justifiably go down in the history of amateur dramatics.

About two weeks before opening night, the director confessed to me he had abandoned his optimism regarding Anastasia's words. Nevertheless, he kept on mentioning them to her. Anastasia would say, "Yes, I know what I did wrong. It won't happen again. I promise." But it did.

The beginnings of her speeches didn't matter so very much, perhaps. But the final words, cue lines for the other actors, mattered.

I somewhat eccentrically formed a sneaking admiration for Anastasia's method. It was remarkably inventive. She apparently had a sheaf of synonyms for Wilde's words on the tip of her tongue. It takes some effort to be an ad-libber extraordinaire.

And, in fact, during an actual performance, the ability to ad-lib can sometimes be a positive asset.

Which brings me to the Archdeacon.

The Archdeacon is a nice small part, with two entrances and two exits and a few moments of dialogue in between. He provides a degree of comic relief, or so the audience laughter hinted. I don't know why, but I was given this gift to perform.

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