Being off-book is ideal. Being off-book is what I want to see, when an actor walks into an audition. When an actor knows all the words, and can just flow through the scene – that’s absolutely the goal. No papers in front of your face, no looking down at the page, no struggling with a word you can’t remember.
However – I’d trade a look down at a page, any day, for the smoothness of staying in character, rather than see that moment when your eyes go far away…and then fearful…and then frantic – darting – squeezing shut – before “…um…what’s the next line?”
I was with you! I was right there with you in faraway land, caught up in memories of your tragic childhood story that defines who you are as a person…until BAM. Vanished. All the good feelings swept away when you forgot what came next. I’m sorry to be harsh – but you’d created a little bubble, and I was right there with you in that bubble. In breaking character, you popped the bubble. And now I’m sad, and I’m judging you a little bit. Of course I’ll let you go again, but this time when we get to that same spot – I’ll sitting here waiting to see if you get the line this time around, instead of paying attention to your choices.
I don’t want to see you looking down at the pages of the sides, I don’t want to see you struggling to remember the next word, I’d love if the papers weren’t in front of your face. But – staying in character is more important.
I’m not saying I want your eyes glued to the page for the sake of continuity. Stuttering on a word is not the same as forgetting a line. I want your eyes off the page and up as much as possible without throwing off your train of thought. I can see when you lose your place in the scene, and stop thinking as the character and start thinking as yourself. That’s what I want to avoid. But flubbing on a word and then saying it again? That’s not the same thing. You can do that and not lose me or your focus.
In my opinion – you should always bring the sides in with you, but keep them tucked in your back pocket unless you need them. If you know there’s a spot where you get stuck, every time you practice the scene – you better have that page handy to get you through it without breaking.
And if you feel so confident that you don’t need the pages with you – kudos to you. But when you forget what comes next, stay focused in the scene. Give me a signal that you need the next line, and I’ll give it – but keep focused and STAY IN CHARACTER.
I can’t stress this enough.
Yes – being off-book is the goal. But I’d rather see your character, than how well you recite words. Find the balance between keeping your eyes off the page, and showing me your choices without breaking character – and I’ll be happy.