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The problem of repetition

Here's a common problem. Someone does a brilliant improvisation, a brilliant impersonation, tell a brilliant story. They are witty, alive, dazzling as they tell it, and I want to put it in the show just as it is. It's perfect. But when they try to repeat it it doesn't work. They can't find the magic again.


They repeat and repeat and but gets further and further away. They learn the lines. They rehearse and practise and look at videos and analyse it and work really hard. But they can't re-find the magic.


If they tell a new story, and it happens again. They haven't lost the ability to be alive. But again it loses its magic when they repeat it.


What is going on? Well what is usually going on, if you look carefully, is that when they tell the story the first time it seems to come from the whole person. They look joined up. They communicate with their body. The story seems to come from their body. This is what dazzles you. But when they repeat it somehow they become disconnected and awkward. Their body seems to be uncoordinated, confused as to what to do. They seem trapped in their heads. Their head seems to be communicating with their body by postcard sent second class. And they are.


The thing is that when we do something the first time it comes from our imagination of the situation. Our imagination transports us there, we see it, re-live it, and we transport everyone else there as well. But when we work from a script it comes from our memory of the words. Even though if was our memory in the first place. We have changed that memory from a memory of something that happened, into a memory of a memory. They come from different part(s) of the brain. When we remember a situation we remember it physically, but when we repeating a script we are remembering words. One is a sort of global experience with sight sound, touch, smell, vibe, movement, temperature etc, the other is a part experience with only words.


But if you are going to repeat something over and over, as an actor has to, you can't possibly use your imagination, as you did the first time, over and over. (Furthermore, if you are working from a script then you never had the imagined moment, someone else did). So what can you do?

Well what you do is to work from the body. You need to use the script to create an invented physical memory and work from that. Recreate the situation - the sights, the sounds the smells, the movement etc and memorise it in the body. Let the movement and the words come from the body, from the physical memory that you have created, rather than the other way around. Thoughts drive movements, movements make words.

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