I’m sure I’m not the only teacher in the world who gets frustrated when students don’t learn their lines. It is impossible to do anything more than block scenes with students who have open books in their hands. They can’t move their hands or arms, their point of focus is in the book rather than the person on stage and they stay static in the space because they can’t ‘see’ the bigger visual picture of the stage beyond the book. It has been a great frustration, but I’m beginning to turn the corner a little bit on this difficult issue.
The central problem is that students don’t necessarily see the benefit of getting ‘off-book’ as early as possible because they see the lines they say to be central to the action. I think it comes from the way students learn in other subjects, where they keep their revision books right up until the last minute before the exam and then regurgitate than information as quickly as possible. If that is all you are going to do with it, why learn that information earlier? I think students see the same with their lines. As long as they have learnt it by the exam, why do they need to learn it before it?
Well, getting that mind-set to change isn’t going to happen – even when you stress the importance of physical movement, eye contact and gestures are to the assessment criteria!
From my observations over the years, students don’t spend enough time doing word rehearsals, which is one thing that can alleviate this problem. Students have a tendency to get up and act it out, every time, stopping and starting, chatting and debating through the rehearsal. However, they are not getting familiar with the text enough. In professional theatre the text is simply read aloud a lot, to give the actors time to get familiar with the text, when their lines are, who they are saying it to and how often. These subtleties are often lost when you immediately get up and act it, especially when that is interrupted by students discussing the play. Don’t forget, that unlike professional actors, only our most die-hard of students will go home and read the text on their own, so won’t have any other time other than in your lesson to get familiar with the text. So a time saving device for later on in the process is to take time out at the beginning of the process to do a read through of the text. My students being every lesson with a read through – very quickly they do it from memory as well.