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Hello, fellow actors and directors, greetings and salutations!

Welcome back.

Last time you dropped by we were addressing “focus of attention” for an actor during rehearsals and performance. I’d like to continue this discussion, however, during rehearsals of Dancing at Lughnasa this week “the actor” asked me the perennial question: “when should I learn my lines?”

You may hear at least two different answers to this vital question from colleagues, teachers, and directors. I have a strong point of view on this topic based on my years of experience of being “the actor” creating a role and being the director of professional actors.

Focus: The words of your text encapsulate the story you are telling to an audience.

When it comes to line learning for amateur, community theatre actors and inexperienced student actors there is an argument for helping them to preoccupy themselves elsewhere.

I avoid any direct reference to the cause of their anxiety. Otherwise it will take up 99% of their unfocused attention. I usually do this by giving them an acting problem that will remove the focus from the words and solve the matter for them.

Focus: All the elements of a play should be organically memorised throughout the rehearsal process.

However, when faced with a new role, how do you begin? Do you first learn your lines?

First, read the play a LOT. Write down your first impressions of the story and the characters from an audience’s point of view.

Focus: Read the play as a story and in your minds eye, using your imagination, see the story being played out in the movie or stage of your mind.

Then if you’ve been cast in a professional production try to learn your lines. The bigger the part, the more you should know them. Nothing upsets the professional creative process more than actors, through sheer laziness, who don’t learn their lines.

Many actors justify their laziness with excuses like:

“Oh, I can’t possibly learn my lines, I have to know my character and my blocking too.”

John O'Hare On film set with 'the actor'

John O’Hare on set with The Actor

In my experience that excuse is rubbish and it’s the biggest time waster in rehearsals. Yes we know learning lines can be boring; it is repetitive and dull pouring over page after page, memorising. A real drag at times. But thousands of great actors before you have done it and trust me the pay off is immeasurable once you get up on the floor in rehearsals.

I’ve tried both techniques and I did find out the hard way. It’s obvious to say but you cannot really discover and explore with a book in your hand. Yes it’s a great thing to hide behind, to avoid committing and taking risks. As long as your excuse is “I don’t know my lines,” you can get away without being vulnerable, without giving a performance or even attempting one.

‘What happens?’ asked the actor.

Well, we arrive at the last week of rehearsals, your book is finally down, and only then is there a tiny amount of time in which to integrate your role, get your act together. But by that time everything is panicked, you move into the theatre, set, lights, costumes and you’re going to have an audience soon, your adjusting to notes and are feeling very insecure. So by then you don’t dare try anything or be open to receive anything new.

Being prepared and ready before rehearsals begin is a point I feel strongly about.

NB: Don’t get caught out, there’s no need to be confused about where to focus your attention as you prepare for rehearsals.

Looking forward to our next discussion about our glorious craft.

Hang on tightly, let go lightly, and remember, dare to be vulnerable.

Best wishes,


Copywright 2016 John O’Hare.

John O’Hare WAAPA (BA Acting), QUT (MFA) is a teacher and director at NIDA, QUT, WAAPA, ACTT and ACA.  Co-founder of O’Punksky’s Theatre, awards include 4 Green Room Awards, Logie Award and Irish Times Critics nominee. Stage productions include seasons at Playbox in Melbourne, Belvoir St, Griffin Theatre and the Eternity Playhouse in Sydney. Film and TV credits; Packed to the RaftersHome & Away, The Cooks, Wildside, GP, A Country Practice, The Leaving of Liverpool, Heroes II – The Return, Child of the AirBlackrock, A Long Road to HeavenJB and The MuleTough Nuts, Cops LAC, Rogue Nation and First Australians. Follow John’s blog for a practical advice on acting, as well as in-depth discussions about being an actor today in a world of instant communication.

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