A few words on memorization and ‘Wretch Like Me’

photo 1Last night, I ordered a veggie pizza. shoved the coffee table out of the living room, dragged a stool and a chair over near the fireplace, and waited for Team Wretch’s stage manager Robin DeLuca to arrive and kick off a fresh bout of rehearsals of ‘Wretch Like Me!’

With the San Francisco Fringe Festival kicking off in just over a month, and with ‘Wretch Like Me’ in the lineup this year, after trying to get in for about ten years, we decided it was time to, you know, rehearse the show we haven’t performed since last August 16, when Robin ran sound and stage managed my final performance at the Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh, closing out our time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Sheri Lee Miller, who’s directed the last few runs of the show, is rehearsing another show tonight, so it’ll be just Robin and me (and Gillyweed) this time.

After Robin arrived, ate a piece of pizza and scratched the head of my three-legged cat Gillyweed, she fired up the computer to see if all the sound cues were still in place (some weren’t, and needed to be reloaded). Then, with me reading from the script I’ve barely looked at in a year, we ran through ‘Wretch’ from beginning to end.

It was weird.

I’ve been doing this show, in one form or another, since July of 2009, and every time I come back from a a hiatus to launch a new run of the show, I am flummoxed at how little of the script I still remember. It doesn’t help that I keep rewriting the thing, of course. Not that I’ve rewritten it much this time. With the exception of a tweaked opening scene, the restoration of a few lines cut for the very-short Edinburgh run, a slightly revamped version of another scene cut for Edinburgh, and the insertion of one BRAND NEW paragraph setting up the moment when Cindy wets her pants for Jesus—it’s the same show we did in Scotland.

photo 2Anyone curious about how far the script has evolved is invited to read the ORIGINAL 17,000 word script, which was published in it entirety on line in the North Bay Bohemian newspaper. Believe me, it’s a HUGE departure from the current version, weighing it at a trim 9500 words. That first one, by the way, I managed to memorize (more or less) in just two weeks, which is how long I left myself between finishing the script and taking the stage for an opening night I had already booked and advertised. David Yen, the original director of ‘Wretch,’ was as patient as he could be with my decision to book a run before the script was finished, but I knew myself. Without a deadline, I will wait forever, spending my time instead on projects I DO have a deadline for. So there I was, with 17,000 words to memorize in two weeks.

Last night, running a show with a mere 9500 words, was technically easier.

But I still had a remarkably hard time remembering much of it at all. Yes, I remembered it. Vaguely. I remembered the story, and certain lines and bits, but I was as far from word-for-word as an actor can get. So I just read from the script, gently baptizing myself back into the verbiage and story of ‘Wretch Like Me.’ By this morning, it was starting to come back to me.

But I suspect it’ll be at least two or three weeks before I can rattle it off the way I once did.

And no, the fact that I wrote it doesn’t make it easier. Why do people always think that? Could YOU write 9500 words and then recite ten verbatim? Of course not. Most of us can’t write a grocery list and recall more than three or four of those items once we get to the store. Memorization is always hard work, regardless of who wrote the words you are memorizing.

The cool thing is that, after so long, it really does seem fresh and kind of new.

And there were moments, last night, standing there in my living room, the smell of cold pizza still lingering in the air, when I would read a passage aloud, and part of me would think, ‘Wow! Cool. That was nice. What a cool moment. What a cool story!’

At those times, I could faintly recall the reason I started doing this whole project all those years ago.

It’s a cool story. And it touches people.

I might have to work to remember every word of it, but I’ll never forget that part.

I’m so lucky to have an opportunity to perform this story again.

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