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Penultimate Stop: A Doddery Mrs Dixon

Unintentional Improvisation

By • Scotland
Yesterday I forgot my lines. I stood there on stage desperately searching for something to say. It happened during a monologue, so there was anyone else on stage to help me. I racked my brains to try and remember a line, any line, from the script. Then suddenly, one popped into my head. It wasn't the correct one, but at that point, it was good enough. It all ended well enough and the audience were none the wiser about my predicament. I ended up saying all the lines in the monologue. Just not in the correct order.

It got me thinking what a strange thing it is to be in that situation. I mean, of course I know the lines, I've said them every day without any problems for over a week now. I didn't suddenly develop temporary amnesia. All it took was a sudden lack of focus that was triggered by something else. Ironically, that something else in this case was the audience itself. My monologue is actually a telephone conversation. I spend most of it looking out at the audience. It's usually not a problem, but today I noticed something strange. Not a single person in the first few rows (as far as I can see before darkness swallows the rest of the rows) was looking at me. Not one! They were all looking at the music corner where someone sat at a piano, not playing! The sudden "What the...?" thought that jumped into my mind was my downfall.

It's my fault entirely of course (but why were they looking at the freaking piano???!!) In Edinburgh you must be ready for anything. For example, at certain points during the show we are treated to an extract of hardcore German techno dance music coming through the walls from the venue next door. This sudden intrusion tends to happen in some of the more delicate scenes of our play. It jars like a swear word in a church.

Sometimes it's very easy to "lose it". Sometimes it takes every ounce of will power within you to stop yourself from laughing out loud. Such an incident happened a few days ago. Because our get-in is rather quick, there remain many wires on the floor during the performance. I'm telling you, it's trip hazard paradise on stage and in the wings. It's taken us quite some time to get used to picking our way around all the wires. The first few days were mostly spend tripping and stumbling about, but now we've learned to live with them. Well, most of us anyway. During one scene transition, Simon comes on stage playing a rather camp gentleman. On this occasion, just as he was about to walk onto the stage, he caught his foot on wire. He gave a little jump to free himself from it, but already in 'camp mode', his jump turned into the funniest little frolic you've ever seen.

To his credit, however, Simon has already dealt with the most distracting situation we've had yet. In one of the scenes, he plays a sleazy salesman and addresses the audience directly. During one of our earlier shows, one woman was so overcome with emotion that she heckled him. She shouted out something rather strange (it involved Simon being introduced to intimate parts of her body) and Simon obviously heard it, but like a true pro, he smiled at her and carried on without skipping a beat.

The point I'm trying to make is that, as much as it might seem to be the opposite, we actors are not perfect. Especially in Edinburgh when the normal rules of theatre (and health and safety) seem to go out the window. I read a quote somewhere recently that I rather liked. It was said by an actor and it read, "I don't make mistakes. I make unintentional improvisations". Thats exactly right. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to...uh...I'm sorry I've forgotten what I was going to say.


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