I just received a question on this topic from a reader named Christopher:
"I have just finished a successful run in a play in which I played the lead male part in 'Arsenic and Old Lace.' The only blot in the show (at least as far as I was aware) was me dropping a line and corpsing for a few moments on the last night. I was mystified and am extremely angry with myself as I knew the lines very well having worked my socks off in preparing for and performing the role. I know anything unpredicted (almost) can happen in live theatre. Is there any advice, however, or comment you can give to encourage actors who will face similar situations?"
Hi, Christopher- thanks for your question! I am sure there are tons of actors in the same predicament, and I am so thrilled to be able to address this on the blog. The best encouragement I can offer is two-fold:
1) Give yourself a break. It happens to everyone, even the best of actors, and it's part of what makes live theater exciting.
2) Audiences rarely notice that an actor misses a line. They may notice something shifted in the performance, but they rarely know what causes it. And in those rare moments where they do notice it, it reminds the audience that they are seeing live theater, which is exciting!
Losing your lines can happen for many reasons, most notably: a) being too tense and not being present in the scene; or b) being too relaxed and not focused on the action of the scene. Make sure that you are really listening to your scene partner and working off them- this should help in those moments when you think you might go blank.
Since it is inevitable that, at some, point, every actor goes blank on stage, the best way to handle it in the moment is to try to move forward with a sense of humor. Try going onto YouTube and looking for clips of live performances where actors forget their lines- often times they say something funny, the audience starts to laugh, and once everyone relaxes they are able to move into the next moment. Even in a drama, where laughing is less desirable, keeping your humor about you will help you to get through the moment with more ease -- which is better for everyone involved.
Lastly, shake it off when the show is over. Like I said, the audience will rarely notice what the problem is. And luckily, you'll have another day to try again, another thing of beauty in live theater.
I hope this helps- please let me know if you need anything else!
Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.