YOUR TEACHERS MAY ask you to rehearse a song between performances in class. But it can be difficult to know exactly what that means. Here are 11 ways to rehearse a scene, monologue, or song outside of class that will help you specify, personalize, and awaken your work.

1. Learn the text exactly
Learn the notes, the lyric, or the dialogue exactly as written — every comma, every quarter note, and every interval. You may choose to vary from this later on. But exact learning and memorization is the essential starting place.

2. Speak the lyric as a monologue
Speaking the lyric text freely as a monologue is one of the best ways to lift it off the page. A frequent challenge of acting musical texts is the natural tendency to learn the words as syllables attached to each pitch and note value. Monologuing the text returns it to being ideas, needs, and feelings. Be able to speak it completely free of the rhythm and phrasing of the song. You will absolutely pay attention to those important facets of the song later. But for now master the monologue.

3. Integrate the lyric and the music carefully
After you’ve learned the music and lyric perfectly and can monologue the song freely, it’s time to begin reintegrating them. Start by speaking the text over the music, allowing it to roughly align with the music but still maintaining the meaning of the sentences and ideas. Then, step by step, re-musicalize the song, keeping the passionate sense of the lyric and adding all the value of the sung text. This will amplify the meaning of the lyric and add subtle musical value to it all as a song.

4. Breathe
Focus on how and when you breathe in the song. One challenge of singing acting is figuring out how to breathe, especially within lyrical lines or sentences. Composers and lyricists often present you with the obligation to breathe within a sentence so you can continue singing. Or you may simply need to do so at this point in your technical development. Think about the sense of the lyric, the musical phrase, and where you must breathe. Then begin negotiating phrasing based on that. Be intentional, not simply reflexive, in your breathing. There may be good reasons to breathe or not within a phrase.

Students rehearse a scene during the 2018 International Thespian Festival.
Students rehearse a scene during the 2018 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Susan Doremus.

5. Examine your character’s relationships
Who are you speaking or singing to? Why do they matter to you? Make it important, and make it specific. This will add fuel to your work. You can be the partner. The audience can be your partner. They simply have to matter to you — and this usually has to do with (a) what they’ve done to you or you’ve done to them in the past or (b) what they can do for you now.

6. Fight for an objective
What am I fighting to make happen right now? Keep it specific, and keep it immediate. Every good objective lives in the partner, even if the partner is you! You are fighting to get them to do something for you right now. And it has a test. You’ll know when you’ve won or lost. You don’t get to stop until you win or lose.

7. Make opera-sized physical choices
Play the scene or song at 11 on a physical scale of one to 10. Overdo the physical actions — but do so truthfully. Don’t mock the character or relationship. Play it huge and hugely important. This can help you find high stakes, passion, and other choices that you can scale to the size of your performing space and the style of the piece. You may even decide that some of those huge choices are perfect as you’ve done them.

8. Work with a partner
Almost every monologue or solo song is actually dialogue between two or more characters. Even those that are soliloquies often have absent partners. So a living and highly responsive partner can be incredibly useful in your rehearsal. The partner must be told what she feels about your character and the important given circumstances of the scene and relationship. This way, she can react logically and specifically. Partners: You are alive! You are reactive! You are not a flesh mannequin. Rehearse the song or monologue as a scene and hang on to the discoveries and triggers that your partner provides you. You can use these when you’re working alone.

9. Record yourself on video
Use your phone to record your work, not to be put up on YouTube but to review for your own study purposes. It is natural to be a bit self-conscious watching yourself at first. But get over it! This practice can be invaluable. The objective for this rehearsal technique is to allow you to check pitches, musicality, phrasing, physical behavior, accuracy to the text, and clarity of your choices. It’s not about how much you weigh or your funny nose. That’s a different conversation.

10. Say what you want
As you monologue or sing the song (and you can use this technique for non-musical pieces as well), demand what you want of the partner before each phrase. Simple short phrases like “Love me now,” “Back off,” “Forgive me,” “Kiss me.” Simple, direct, imperatives — you must do this now — can awaken the text and make it personal. So you’ll say the demand, still in the moment of the song or scene, and then speak the line of text: demand, text, demand, text, demand, text, and so on.

11. Take the note
Every class or lesson you attend is filled with possibilities. Some notes are given to you in response to your work, others are given to classmates but they might be equally useful for you. Keep that notebook in your hand and take the notes. Then at your next practice, apply the relevant notes to your work.

These techniques will keep your rehearsals alive and productive. Happy practice!

This story appeared in the October 2015 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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