As a kid, if I sat next to my father while he read me a story, I always read along silently with him. When he realized this, he moved to sit facing me while he read. Now that I was audience only, I received the story much differently. Using my ears and not my eyes changed the nature of the experience for me.
When you are strictly the listener, you pay attention differently. Your imagination becomes more active when you aren’t deciphering letters on a page. When I simply listened to my father read, I converted descriptions into images, and in short order, I had a film going in my head. When he read “Prince Caspian”, I felt the rocking of the ship and the wind in my hair.
Read the words on the page, however, and it is more of an intellectual exercise. We can’t fully give ourselves over to the experience with our nose in the book. Why?
Eye contact. You need eye contact to connect with other human beings.
You need other things, too. You need to shut the output valve (speech, thought, reading) and open the input valve. You need to listen to what they are saying and how they say it. To pay attention to what they are communicating to you. To stop thinking ahead and just receive what they are sending you.
But it starts with eye contact.
Make some serious eye contact with your scene partners, and you open the circuit. You will find emotions rising up in you of their own volition. Some might be the emotions you’d expect; some will surprise you. The important thing is that they show up. You’ve got real emotion happening on the stage then, not your “idea” of what an emotion looks like. Remember, the audience knows the difference between the two. They don’t have to be actors to discern it. They just need to be human beings.
Your brain will show up for every rehearsal. You need to make room for the rest of you. Getting your nose out of the script and looking at your scene partner(s) is essential to achieving that.
Just because you haven’t memorized your lines yet is no reason to bury your face in the script early in rehearsals. On the contrary, this is the time you want MOST to get in touch with your scene partners. At this early stage, you have fewer preconceptions and prejudices about the play and your character. You haven’t been through the scene a couple dozen times, so it is still fresh enough to potentially emotionally affect you in surprising ways. That unfiltered response is what you’re looking for.
When it IS your line to speak, you want to do a modified version of the Open Door reading. (More on that later.) When it isn’t your turn to speak, you need to dart your eyes back and forth between your scene partner and your script, looking at the script ONLY to gauge when it is going to be your turn. (“Her speech takes up five lines; I can look at her for a while.” Or, as you’re saying your line, “She only has one line after this, so I’ll stay with her for it and then look back down at the script for my line.”)
The script is an aid, not a crutch. It takes self-discipline to learn to do this. But it makes all the difference and is worth the effort!
See Part I here.