Most stage actors have been through this moment more than once:
You are on stage, performing some big, important role in an extremely dramatic play. Your co-star delivers her line, and you know it is your turn to speak, but you cannot remember what you are supposed to say.
A half-second goes by, but it feels like two-hundred years of dead silence. The audience has no idea, but you are in the grip of every actor's nightmare.
Then suddenly, you don't remember your line... But you quickly think of something else to say. Something perhaps close to the meaning, and something very much within character.
Whew! You just dodged a bullet. And while you will be punishing yourself by banging your head against the dressing room door, the truth is you kept the ball rolling. That is when improvisation becomes more than just a fun game; it's a theatrical life-saver.
With that in mind, try this constructive and often hilarious activity called "Off-Script."
How to Play:
One person reads from a randomly selected script, preferably a two-petrson scene. For best results, choose a more contemporary playwright; works by Shakespeare or Aristophanes will be a little too complex. Instead, try Arthur Miller or Lillian Hellman.
A second person listens to the words and then incorporates him/herself into the scene.
Let's say the first performer is reading from The Glass Menagerie.
Amanda: How old are you, Laura?
Now, the second performer does not need to worry about saying the actual response to this line. For this activity, the performer simply assumes the role of "Laura" and tries her best to respond in character.
Here's how the scene might play out:
Amanda: (From the script.) How old are you, Laura?
Performer #2:(Improvising.) Why, I just turned 19 last week.
Amanda: (From the script.) I thought you were an adult; it seems I was mistaken.
Performer #2: (Improvising.) Well, I am old enough to vote. Have you thought about who you are voting for, mother?
Amanda: (From the script.)The what?
Performer #2: (Improvising.) The vote. You know, the election that's coming up. I wonder who the next president will be.
Amanda: (From the script.)He must have had a jolly exposition.
As you can tell, there are times when Amanda's scripted responses do not make any sense, and that is precisely the point. How well can the second performer make sense of the responses? How well can the performer listen and respond effectively to keep the scene going.
Obviously, a great deal of comedy will spring forth from this activity. Aside from the brevity, actors learn two valuable skills: how to listen and how to react.