Actor’s Diary: Sam O’Sullivan, THE NORMAN CONQUESTS

4 Oct 2018

Actors get asked a lot about how they manage to remember all their lines. And going into rehearsals for three plays the sheer volume of text does cause a feeling of concern initially.

As the process goes on, however, you would be surprised at how much your brain can actually hold. In a way, thinking about it as a memory exercise is slightly misleading because that implies a certain amount of conscious thought about each line – a sort of mental reaching for raw data that isn’t quite accurate and sounds far more difficult. Over time text sort of becomes embedded in your mind. Identifying with and understanding your character, as well as knowing what motivates each line helps the process along. As does marrying the text with physical action and your orientation in the space. Slowly but surely the text works it’s way down from a conscious place to somewhere a little deeper. Hopefully. This isn’t to say that you never find yourself dropping a line in a performance. It happens to everyone at one time or another and when it does, you just have to deal with it the best you can.

Eventually, lines become like any other task you’ve performed a thousand times. Like making your morning coffee or filling out an incident report form for the umpteenth time. (Just me?) But once this starts to happen two traps open up. The first one is when your performance slips into a glazed eyed recitation where you’re not actually present and reacting to the moment. And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the second trap is when someone desperately tries to be present and brings an intense focus to each and every moment that is not only forced but also screams at the audience, “LOVE ME, LOVE ME, LOVE ME!”

I think good actors are the ones who can balance between these two points. To have done the ground work so they can relax to a degree and trust that the text will come when it needs to while staying present enough to react to the unique way things are unfolding in each specific performance. After all, no two nights are ever quite the same show.

As rehearsals for THE NORMAN CONQUESTS are longer than for most other plays, there is an optimistic feeling among the cast that some of the text is starting to (starting to) shift to a more embedded place in our minds. In my opinion, this is when the fun really begins because as actors we can start to play in our scenes and trust that we don’t have to grasp for lines quite so much. I returned from a break today while another scene was being run and walked into a room full of hysterical laughter. People were doubled over, unable to speak. Brian was even moved to tears. I don’t know specifically what was so funny (how very Tom of me) – or if there was even something specific to laugh at – but if fun wasn’t being had and people weren’t feeling relaxed, I don’t think I would have walked into a room like that.

– Sam O’Sullivan

Read the previous Actor’s Diary entry