Father Jack Production Diary: lines, lines, lines

I have reached the phase of line-memorization where it seems to be the playwright who is at fault, not Your Humble Blogger. I mean, my character repeats the word once three times in two sentences; how am I supposed to get those lines correct? How can my character say ceremony in that one line where he obviously means festival? What is with appending isn’t it? to those three lines but not anywhere else? The words I come up with to substitute for the real ones are obviously superior to the ones I forget, or I wouldn’t forget them, now, would I?

In fact, those are all moderately reasonable writing choices, and this is a normal part of the memorization process. I’ve only skipped that phase a couple of times that I recall, and one of those was Shakespeare. Not that I haven’t grumbled about Shakespeare’s word choices as well, when I was frustrated with a speech. Most writing is not meant to stand up to the kind of repetition that is necessary to memorize a script. The audience only hears it once. Maybe someone who likes a play will read it, or have seen it before or will see it in different productions two or three or even six times. Someone who likes a movie may see it a dozen times, I guess, and of course there are films that become cult favorites that people eventually memorize (although even Grail I didn’t know word-for-word throughout) but mostly when people write anything—a book, an essay, a story, a screenplay, a note for the Tohu Bohu—they are not expecting anyone to repeat it out loud hundreds of times, paying strict attention to every word in the thing. If you write a play (and it gets produced) someone is going to be doing exactly that.

Digression: Songs are different, I guess. Are they? I mean, I guess that when someone writes a pop song, “Night and Day” or “Shape of You” or “Set It Off”, they have to be aiming, on some level, for people to be repeating every word of it, hundreds of times. How many times have I sung the lyrics to “Is She Really Going Out with Him”? And is take your hands from her head not just awkwardly written? Do you think Joe Jackson expected that people would pay any attention to that bit? I dunno. But then, songs are different anyway, and the hey-ay, hey part is just as important to the lyric, somehow. End Digression.

Of course, while I grumble about the word choices that are still tripping me up, it’s also true that reading the words hundreds of times can bring out particularly felicitous word choices as well. Words that echo or call from one scene to another. The use of the present tense in retelling a vivid memory, or the switch from the subjunctive to the present in another. A bit of alliteration, with ten M sounds in a sentence, sumptuous and ripe. The order of a list. Jack calls his second sister Margaret in Act One and Maggie in Act Two, but Kate is always Kate. Choices that—again—nobody in the audience will or ought to notice, but which help point me through the play.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.