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have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

  • 1.  have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-02-2018 22:35

    We open The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard in 9 days, and the Senior playing Birdboot hasn't memorized his lines. Today he was crying to me that he's tried and tried but there doesn't seem to be anything else he can do - the lines aren't sticking. He doesn't see how he can put any more time into it b/c of school work and college apps, but he's trying and he works every evening and it's still not sticking.

    Oh, and he wants to miss tech so he can go away for the day with his friends for his 18th birthday. No backing down on that one.

    Our off-book deadline but still able to call for lines was Nov 13. He wasn't even close. Totally off book deadline was Nov 20. Again, no progress. On Nov 13th I told him if he wasn't off book the day we returned from Thanksgiving break I was going to have another actor understudy and take over the role. He said that wouldn't have to happen. 
    I talked to his mom, who promised to help. She said that over Thanksgiving they worked every day. She even hired a tutor to come in and help him. After Thanksgiving, he still didn't have even a single monologue memorized, and certainly not any of the rat-a-tat-tat back and forth lines. 
    And I didn't cut him and put in the other actor because ... well, I just should have.
    Now here we are, 9 days before opening, and I don't know what to do.

    The actor I could substitute for him (currently playing Simon) has a nearly photographic memory and has most of Birdboot's lines memorized simply b/c he's been in rehearsal. I'd have to get another actor to play Simon.

    Would you cut this actor?
    Another option: have him perform script in hand.

    I might add that I do not see doing a play in high school simply as a "learning experience." No, I want this to be damn good.

    Thank you!


    Arden Thomas
    Sequoyah High School
    Pasadena CA

  • 2.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 05:25
    Cut him. Put the replacement in, find a new Simon. In the end, the play is only as good as the weakest link, this time that's him. You have been more than patient, and given more than enough chances, now you have to move forward for the sake of the cast and your program. That lesson, the "Everybody is replaceable" lesson, is one of the greatest lessons we have to teach. As painful as it is whenever we have to teach it, it is valuable to the student and all the students in the play.

    my .02

    Jeffrey Davis
    Plainsboro NJ

  • 3.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 06:03
    I have cut actors last minute when I knew that they were not committed and not going to memorize (only when I've had a photographic memory student ready to step in like you do). I have not cut them when I know they are trying extremely hard and doing their level best. I've also cut actors (maybe once) early in the rehearsal time when I knew that they simply wouldn't be able to memorize the lines (such as a student with a lower level of ability in general). I once had a lead that had a 4.0 GPA, extremely committed, etc, etc but simply could not memorize to save her life. I ended up hiding scripts all over the stage and had a prompter behind a couch. It wasn't the greatest but it worked. I think you have to take into account the effort that the actors is putting in. Usually the actors that I have that don't memorize lines well do pull it off by dress rehearsal week. I've also had students who were just lazy and then were scrambling to memorize by that last week and then had real trouble with just memorization. I looked up tips on how to memorize lines and got some good ideas- such as having students record other people saying lines (or themselves in different voices) and then silently mouthing their own lines so that there is a blank space in the recording and playing it back and having them try to say their lines. Have them playing it over and over- while driving, while in class if they have nothing going on, etc. Or writing down their lines over and over.
    Rachel Cunningham
    Elwood Jr/Sr HS Guidance Counselor
    765-552-9854 ext 1156

  • 4.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 06:49
    It seems to me that you have already answered your own question. He needs to be replaced. His unreasonable request for tech week and lack of this basic commitment of memorization shows that he's not interested in taking it seriously. I would have reached out to parents sooner than this to see if they can help with memorization, but at this point, he's left you no choice. In the future, have understudies ready to go. I just finished a successful run of The Miracle Worker in which, a week before the show, four understudies took over because of cast moving away due to the devastating Hurricane Michael that came through our town. If I hadn't had them, I would have had to cancel. Good luck.

    Bruce Taws
    Mosley Drama Director

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  • 5.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:03
    The refusal to budge on the tech rehearsal alone is enough for me to cut them. That's one of the most important days of the rehearsal process and a birthday to hang out with friends (who feasibly some of whom should also be at that tech) is not acceptable.

    Joseph Gels
    Theatre Teacher
    Boston Latin School
    Boston MA

  • 6.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:04
    Replace him.  I've been in the same boat several times.  Either work ethic, personal issues, overwhelming schedules ... all are reasons why this happens.  Sadly, too many kids do not think about the "team" of other actors, crew, etc. that make up the show.  Therefore, use it as a teaching moment and replace him.  We all want to do the best shows we can, but the realities of working with kids often derails our best intentions.

    Worst case scenario: put another actor or stage manager in the role with a script in hand.  Even in professional theatre, these things happen.

    Break a leg!

    Josh Ruben, M. Ed.
    Fine Arts Head
    Northwest Whitfield HS (dba, The Northwest Theatre Co.)
    Tunnel Hill, GA

  • 7.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:28
    I have felt your pain! With limited time, I think it is also ok to require the actor to perform script-in-hand. For the entire play, not just for trouble spots. I have told actors that it is too late to recast their role, but they will not throw off those who did the work. When they take the script, they broadcast their lack of work ethic to the whole audience, without putting any other student in a stressful situation.

    If you recast, I would get consent from the actor you would like to put into the role. I have definitely been in situations where an eager younger actor wants to really show their dedication, so they will memorize a crazy amount of text in a short time! But I would never want to "throw" that pressure on a kid without their blessing first.

    Rebecca Black
    Wayland MI

  • 8.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:29
    Oh, and missing tech should be the deal breaker for being considered for roles in the future.

    Rebecca Black
    Wayland MI

  • 9.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:51
    My very first year of teaching, I had to do this.  I cut my Curley in Oklahoma three days before opening.  My Ali Hackem stepped into the role because he had been through the entire rehearsal process and knew the show.  I found a brand new kid to taken on Ali.  It was one of the smartest decisions I ever made although it was nerve-racking at the time.  The rest of the cast pulled together to make the transitions work.  The students learned that I wasn't bluffing about the importance of doing their homework and learning their lines.

    Other directors I know avoid this issue by publishing a rehearsal schedule showing the breakdown of scenes.  Then, when they block Act I, Scene 3 for example, the actors come in with that scene memorized.  At the beginning of the rehearsal, they run lines before they ever start working on anything else.

    Terry McGonigle
    Springfield OH

  • 10.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 08:51
    I have replaced actors for 1. not memorizing lines or 2. not completing a character sketch. Both of these are in a contract signed by every student. You have been given good advice, and I feel if an actor has a script in hand, it should only be because they just got the role last minute. Of course you were trying to give this student all the time he needed, however, KEEP IN MIND YOUR ENTIRE PROGRAM as a whole. Everyone is watching, so if you allow a student to perform who has not done what was required, you will always have to. Deadlines will never be considered serious again.  It is a hard thing to do, but once I removed a student (and I have done this for both reasons mentioned above) students realized that meeting deadlines was serious and there would be consequences for not doing so. I am lucky that once a student was removed that message was delivered strong enough it lasts for years, so that I have not had to do this very often.
    If you wait any longer, you are making it harder for the student stepping in.

    I often wonder about students who claim they are doing everything in their power to learn lines, but can't even say a monologue. Something is rotten.

    There are consequences for missing deadlines. This is a life lesson that ever person needs to learn. Better the young man lose a role in a play for not doing so, than something more serious (like missing out on financial aid for college). Not only will you be helping your program and future shows, you will be helping the young man in the long run.

    I feel your pain, but encourage you to do what is best.

    Valerie Farschman, Drama Director
    MLS Theatre Company, Troupe 1422
    Marion L Steele High School
    Amherst, Ohio

  • 11.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 09:04
    I have replaced an actress that was not ready. I replaced her with the understudy and offered that she could play the role for our matinee, if it was memorized.  No surprise, she was not ready and never played the role.

    If, as the student and parent say, this student has put that much work in then I would be concerned that he has some neurological/ memory issues.

    Myndee Washington
    Music/ Drama Director
    Union Park Charter Academy
    Wesley Chapel, FL

  • 12.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 09:17
    I cut my Ismene in Antigone for both persistent absence from rehearsal and failure to learn her lines.  I gave her several clear warnings about the issues, which she acknowledged.  When nothing changed, I took her aside privately and told her that since nothing had changed, I needed her to return her script and withdraw from the production.  Because of the way everything had proceeded, she gave me no argument.  She clearly wasn't happy, but she understood that this was the way it had to go; she turned over her script and left the rehearsal.  I then promoted one of my more promising female chorus members to the role of Ismene, and brought in a replacement for the chorus part, figuring that someone who had already been rehearsing the show could step into a principal part late in the game more successfully than a complete newcomer.

    You seem to have reason to make a change, and the responses on this board give you clear precedent from your colleagues.

    As to the tech rehearsal issue, I had a similar experience when one of my Gemini in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum approached me just before we began our final dress rehearsal to tell me that she could only stay for Act I because she needed to attend her best friend's Sweet 16 party.  I told her that generally no one was allowed to miss a dress rehearsal, especially for a purely social reason and most especially with no more advance notice than this.  She seemed upset, but walked off without an argument, and Act I proceeded.  I thought her lack of response indicated acquiescence, but when we started Act II, she was gone.  Perhaps she thought herself irreplaceable, especially since I was lucky enough to have an actual set of identical twins to play the Gemini.  But I simply pulled a chorus member aside (as we had enlarged the complement of courtesans beyond the named ones, in order to increase participation) and gave her the part.  The next night, my original actress showed up, furious to find someone else in her costume, but I stuck to my guns and told her that she had been removed from the show because of her disobedience to my instructions.

    What was it Ann Landers used to say? ... No one can take advantage of you without your permission ...?  Student-actors will take advantage of teacher-directors if they see that they can do it and get away with it.

    Jeff Grove
    Theatre Teacher, Aesthetics Department Chair
    Stanton College Preparatory School
    Jacksonville FL

  • 13.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-04-2018 15:14
    You guys are amazing! Thank you so much for helping me see the big picture, in terms of the integrity of the program, the artistic excellence of the show, and the responsibility we have to hold students accountable.

    I cut the actor, replaced him with the actor playing Simon, and found a new Simon - all in 1 day! And what a difference last night's rehearsal made, with people in the roles who WANTED to be there and had a super positive attitude! The whole cast has rallied around each other. Amazing.

    Arden Thomas
    Sequoyah High School
    Pasadena CA

  • 14.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 11:48
    I would cut him to teach him a lesson. It will also be a signal to students in future productions. If you do not meet my deadlines, you cannot participate.
    Best wishes.

  • 15.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 12:02

    It seems this kiddo is sending conflicting messages.  On one hand nose to the grindstone, doing everything possible, over the top memorization tutor and still can't get lines straight (in a shorter show no less) and on the other having no respect for the rehearsal process.  Without knowing the student, I would tend to believe the second and not so much the first.

    I've always subscribed to the idea of "assume positive intent" so I should believe first that the student is working to get memorized.  BUT I also subscribe to the idea that as Educators, we need to think of the entire group in the process and draw the appropriate lessons for them and support them when they fall short.

    I would absolutely not put this student on stage with the script.  You would be sending a clear message to everyone else that there is no need to memorize their lines.  I would probably talk to the student and parent and discuss the situation and remind them that I had given the student several opportunities to show progress and that has not happened so I will need to recast.

    Bottom line - if a football player can't remember the routes they don't get to play.  Lines are the bare minimum expectation of an actor and without them the character, blocking, business, energy etc...will be lackluster and certainly not adding anything to the team. We need to set a standard, help them get them and hold them accountable when they don't.  

    Amy Learn
    Ballwin MO

  • 16.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 16:10
    Yes, cut him. I've done it before and would do it again if necessary. I typically give them one last deadline and tell them they are out of the show if it isn't met. Sounds like you've already given more than one chance so I say you have good grounds to let him go.

    I always cast understudies for reasons just like this. If you have any ASMs or other tech people that have been in rehearsals it is likely that one of them will pick up the part easily.

    Good luck!

    Kristi Jacobs-Stanley
    New Orleans LA

  • 17.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-03-2018 18:07
    I would cut the actor. It's simply not fair to the other performers who are working hard. Young actors have to learn to take their craft seriously. Use it as a real life teaching moment: If an actor signs an Equity, or SAG contract in real life, and they can't deliver, they are fired. Show business is 90% business. 10% show.

    Darnell Jones
    Shaker Heights OH

  • 18.  RE: have you cut an actor for not memorizing lines?

    Posted 12-04-2018 10:16
    Sometimes the actor is so stressed because he can't learn the lines that the stress becomes the impediment. Replace him, he might appreciate the relief. But missing for a party, no.

    John Perry
    Retired Theatre Teacher