We did our first full runthrough of Henry, with the designers in attendance, yesterday. I was petrified that I wouldn't have all my lines for it-- I feel a responsibility to set an example, as a senior Equity actor, even though I have the largest line load except possibly for Henry himself-- so I had spent the two or three days before madly cramming lines. I was fairly well satisfied with that aspect; I only had to call for line a half-dozen or so times, which is not bad for this stage. It's not much fun learning a lot of lines fast-- it's really drudgery of a kind-- but I'm really happy to have it behind me. Now, actually running them, and huting down and eliminating inaccuracies, is much more enjoyable.
It's an interesting phenomenon with learning lines, especially under pressure. I've known for many years that I can get a lot of words memorized in a fairly short time (a gift I think I inherited from my mother), but that they remain for the first couple of days in what I think of as "shallow memory;" I can regurgitate them slowly at first, picking my way word to word and aided by the verse rhythms (if any), alliterations and such, and whatever word associations I've been able to build in. It can be a painstaking process, and always feels fragile and tenuous; there's not much momentum or "swing" to it. But then, within the next two or three days, even if I haven't gone back to look at the text again, the lines have moved into "deep memory;" they begin to flow fluidly, with my sense of them pegged not so much to individual words as to larger syntactic structures; I can think the intention of the speech and lo, the words will be there to supply the thought. It's a little mysterious to me-- I think it may have something to do with the unconscious, the source of the idea of "sleeping on it"-- and as I say, it's been a familiar phenomenon for much of my life as an actor. It was only recently, with my increasing familiarity with the world of computing, that I was furnished with a metaphor for it. It's very like the distinction (as I understand it anyway) between random-access memory and the hard drive; and it provokes in me some interesting speculation on the degree to which computer-science development has aped the structures of the human brain. Anyone have any thoughts on that?
In any case, the show is in a good place three weeks into rehearsal, and with three more to go before we open July 11. Jim, our director, seems pleased and confident, although given the scheduling vagaries of a five-show season, we only touch Henry two or three days in the week ahead. For me personally, now that I've more or less mastered the text of the long (411 lines of verse in our cutting), demanding scene of the fall of Wolsey-- Shakespeare's Act III scene 2-- I am starting to really appreciate what a wonderful role Wolsey is. The language, the complexity of the character, the range of intellect and emotion, all make it a terrific challenge and a role any actor would kill to play. How fortunate for me that, when I finally get to perform in Henry VIII after years of waiting, it's to do a role of such richness and scope!
Today, the company's day off, I took a hike up past the Chautauqua to the base of the Flatirons, a trail I last trod in 1966, when I found a climbing partner, scaled the Third Flatiron and rappelled off the back edge, a vertical drop of 100 feet or more. Lovely views of the rocks and of the city below, friendly hikers on the trails, and a proliferation of mountain bluebells. This is truly a gorgeous place. A few pictures:
The trail above the Chautauqua
The Third Flatiron
The University from high up