This is a short interview with a performer from a recent revival of the 1976 opera “Einstein on the Beach” by Philip Glass. As described in the interview the text is mostly “streams of numbers or phrases that seem nonsensical.” There are few acting challenges more demanding than the nonsensical and the abstract, where there’s nothing to connect the dots from one line to the next. Memory often works like a trail of breadcrumbs, but what happens when there’s no trail and no bread? Here’s what performer Helga Davis had to say about learning the text:
That was the hardest part for me. There’s nothing for you to grab on to in the way that we need logic to communicate. There’s nothing. It was maddening. I would say the text while washing the dishes, while walking, cooking, anything. I would just keep saying it out loud. I recorded it in an MP3.
But for a long time it didn’t work, and I really couldn’t understand how I could possibly memorize this work. Then a funny thing happened: when we got into rehearsal, the language got attached to movement, and suddenly I didn’t have any problem at all. Connecting the text to the body was the key. I still have trouble just saying the text, but if I do the movement I can reel it off easily.
That is a great piece of advice when you’re learning lines from a play without “logic.” Instead of putting your memory tricks in words, put it into movement. When you move like this, you say this. Instead of using your brain to remember the words, use the body.
What memory tricks do you have to remember abstract dialogue?