Lines-learning just got cooler: another tool for iPhone toting actors


I’m not all that keen on the name of this handy little iPhone app: ‘Hollywood Helper – Broadway Buddy’ – yuk!   ‘Lines Coach’ is plain, but it might well have served for an application that helps you to learn lines without your script, and which also understands how most actors work with pencil and paper.  HH/BB also takes a familar approach to lines-learning as action through intention. Despite my quibbles on the name, I like it very much and suspect that an acting coach worked with the developers to bring it to the iPhone.  The nice people who make this little iPhone app thought I might like to take it for a spin, and so I did. Here’s my take on it, with a recommendation.

HH/BB downloads as do all iPhone apps directly from the iTunes Store. It’s free – that’s the first of the nice things about it. It comes pre-loaded with Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ as a .txt file so you can play around for a while to get used to the features. When the time comes to upload the script you’re working on you will need to convert the pages of your script to .txt format, presumably by scanning them or converting from another digital file format like .doc. This is easily done on your computer. Uploading is done via WiFi. Detailed instructions are here.

Once you upload, the way you use the app is straightforward and fairly intuitive.  Check the screen shots above.  The home screen contains two clickable buttons ‘Script’ and ‘Setup.’  You will want to click on Setup and choose the character to rehearse by typing in the name. HH/BB will ask you whether you want to search for the name as ‘ALL CAPS’ or ‘as-is.’  ALLCAPS is the default formatting of character in most scripts, while ‘as is’ would reference any mentions of the name.  This could be handy if you wish to see what other characters are saying about you, or to find your character mentioned in any stage directions, or, of course if your character is not referenced in block caps.

You then choose to work in Learn or Rehearse mode.  In Learn, you get the pages of the script with your character’s lines highlighted; in Rehearse, your character’s lines are blocked out but you can see the rest.  You tap on the blocked section for a ‘hint’ – a word, phrase etc., similar to the way a good DSM will shout out a key phrase to jog an actor when s/he is off book.

The Setup screen also has a myVerbs clickable button that gives you a preloaded alphabetical listing of verbs.   You can add as many as you like to the list.   Verbs is a very useful feature for actors who like to think in terms of their lines as action-playing.  Look at a lot of actors’ scripts and you will often see a verb in the margin e.g., ‘assert’ or ‘blame.’ This feature comes in handy when you are working on script – HH/BB replicates this feature – more on this below.

There are a couple of other buttons on the home screen for Setup: ‘jump to start of script’ or ‘end of script’. This is useful if you have an entire playtext loaded up. Of course, the screens scroll as you would expect on an iPhone. The other button is ‘Change Script’ – if you are working on a couple of scripts, for example, and want to switch.

Now you’re set up you can tap on ‘Script’ on the home screen and start learning or rehearsing.

Two excellent little features in both modes are the ‘prev’ and ‘next’ buttons which appear in the right margin of the screen – tapping either of these takes you to the next or previous bit of text for your character. The other really useful feature is the ‘subtxt’ button. Tap ‘subtxt’ and a green box opens up; tap this and the iPhone keyboard appears. You can now type in a phrase to summarise or perhaps to paraphrase a piece of text. Tap the mainscreen when finished and the keyboard disappears; the subtext remains. Nice! Actors familiar with Jack Poggi’s approach to text-learning in The Monologue Workshop will find this useful. Type in the summary phrase or word for the text using subtxt. By then using the prev and next features you can scroll through the script and get an outline of the ‘spine’ of the scene’s action – really helpful as part of the lines/action learning in a scene.

You will also see the ‘verb’ button in the screen’s right margin. Tap this and your listing of verbs appears. Scroll to select the one that fits your chosen action-intention for the particular piece of text, tap it, save and it will appear in red the text margin, as it might if you had written it in to your script. You can, of course, change it later on as you work on and refine your lines-learning.

HH/BB is very useful, very portable, and just the thing to show how terribly, terribly cool you are in the rehearsal room, on the bus, over coffee etc. Both thumbs up.