Acting Mojo: prepping the script

If you’re a working actor you might relate to this mundane but thrilling little task. I found myself marking up my Cabaret script this morning, and it fair got me all excited it did! Now why is this so? Well, it’s taking the first step down the process road, making the first real commitment to bonding with character and getting familiar with the text, right? The job has begun even though rehearsals are weeks off.

There are some important decisions to be made here: what colour to highlight your text for a start. Now don’t laugh … this is all part of the strange, often esoteric and ritual-ridden process of working on a role. Don’t believe me? Read any of Konstantin Stanislavski‘s ABC of acting books: An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role and you’ll get an idea of what strange lengths some actors have gone to in working on role.

I mark my character’s lines with one colour, and the stage directions (for now) with another. According to Robert Barton in Acting: Onstage and Off (a terrific book on contemporary acting by the way), Sigourney Weaver’s Alien script was marked up in a rainbow of colours, all of which presumably meant a great deal to her. And I know for a fact that Denzel Washington marks up and annotates his because I’ve seen a page from the Training Day script in the museum at Warner Brothers in LA. Marking up a script is more than simply highlighting your lines …

But wait, I hear you say, surely you don’t start with the markup? There are aesthetics and utility to consider before you get to the right highlighter colour. Don’t you prepare the script by firstly selecting the right binder (leather, plastic, loose-leaf; right size, weight, feel) and then cut and paste the script perhaps copying the pages up to readable size. The right glue to stick in the pages is another consideration (the adherance factor, smell). Oh and putting the obligatory begging note ‘If found please return to etc.’ notice inside the front cover? Well yes of course, all of the above. It’s all part of the process, the ritual, the mojo. Your script is going to be your closest friend for most of the rehearsal period. It’s going to be scored and annotated, erased and written over and over, forming a palimpsest of the work on role. It will most probably have a life after the show has closed, sitting on your bookshelf as a precious artefact. You need to treat it with care and respect. After all, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship, as Louis once noted to Rick.*

*Casablanca. You knew this.

Author: Kate Wilson

Actor, director, teacher, dabbler with paint, serial traveller.

4 thoughts on “Acting Mojo: prepping the script”

  1. Wow! A great blog…..I particularly like the ‘how to get the accent right’ stuff………Fraulein Schneider has, I think, two solo numbers. Tell me how you learn to sing with the right accent…..or perhaps you don’t have to….seems that many actor-singers slip out of character-sound when the music starts!

  2. Hmmm good point. I try to learn all lines … and I guess this will extend to lyrics of the song … in accent. I always think of songs in musicals as ‘heightened monologues’ in rhythm, on pitch and so on … the story from a particular characters point of view has to be furthered whether it’s sung or spoken. Will keep you posted!

  3. Great article, Kate.
    As a writer I always find it fascinating what actors do to their scripts. Some scribble all over them. Some write bizarre little lines all over them (that obviously mean the world to them and nothing to me). Some protect their script with their life, like some sacred relic. Some scripts barely last a week without being torn and crinkled. It’s amazing to watch. On a side note – Amusingly, they never print a copy for the writer. Not sure why. But I always have to request one on the first day (always single-sided so I can rewrite on the back of pages). Mine usually ends up the messiest and has to be replaced several times.

    (FYI – I think Rick says that to Louis.)

  4. Thanks Matt. This post is from a few years ago, and I reposted it this morning because I found myself doing the markup on my iPad for the first time this week. I’m not sure how this will work, as the whole sensory thing with the script – and the artefact that remains – won’t be there. We’ll see. I bow to your superior Casablanca knowledge!

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