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Jenna Russell learns her Urinetown lines

Jenna Russell learns her Urinetown lines

Jenna Russell’s Urinetown diary: Week 3

Published 5 February 2014

Urinetown The Musical rehearsals continue apace while Jenna Russell ponders line learning techniques, procrastinating and looking deranged on public transport:

I’ve had a busy old week. Luckily for me I had Monday off which gave me the chance to clean the house, wash some clothes and recover from a crazy but very lovely Sunday. It was also a great opportunity to do some line learning. 

Line learning! Why is it that when I have to do line learning suddenly everything else in my life seems to demand my full attention. I always put it off. I have a few – really annoying – actor friends who seem to have the supernatural power of looking at a page of dialogue and then knowing it instantly. How does this happen? It’s not fair! 

For me it’s just hard bloody work! I’ve tried every trick known to man: write the lines out, wander around the house talking to myself, record the dialogue and listen to it in bed! I even bought a line learning app but ended up almost throwing my phone across the room in frustration because I couldn’t work the damned thing. 

In the end, for me, I can only seem to learn something once I have blocked the scene with the director. That way I have some moves to anchor the lines to and then it’s just down to good old rehearsal repetition, and script revision in my spare time, usually on the train or bus! So always bear in mind if you see someone on public transport pulling silly faces and talking to themselves it’s more than likely to be an actor than a madman, although the two are not mutually exclusive! 

I’ve tried a new technique recently that involves me using my phone. I’m pretending I’m having a phone call, thus enabling me to say my lines out loud without fear of people thinking I’m bonkers. When adopting this trick however, always put your phone on silent in case you do get an actual phone call, which can be very embarrassing!

We are now slowly going through the second act, mapping out a first draft of blocking for each scene and staging the musical numbers. 

The show is unusual in that there are hardly any small two or three hander scenes. Almost every scene involves the entire cast and each scene contains numbers that the whole cast perform in, so patience is called for. 

I have to say though, this is one of the most joyous rehearsal periods I have ever experienced. The creative team are brilliant, accessible, full of humour and fantastically specific about what they want and where the piece is going. That kind of leadership in a rehearsal room makes for a happy company, which is just as well because we had our rehearsal photographer in attendance this week. I resisted the urge to wear a corset and don false eyelashes, settling for brushing my hair, checking my teeth for spinach and holding my tummy in instead!

The dialect session I mentioned last week is bleeding through into the work now. It’s always a fascinating thing to find an entry point to a character. Obviously taking in what you say in the play, your actions and what others say about you is the first step, but the next ones are always more subtle. It could be the rhythm of speech, tone of voice, shoes you are wearing, the fit of your clothes or your accent. 

The Brooklyn tone that the ‘poor’ are going with is very muscular, earthbound and streetwise. Using it instantly frees you up physically and emotionally. These people live by their wits and every day is a matter of survival. They know very well what they need to do to get some much needed money, whether it be crying in front of some rich person who might show them mercy or beating up someone who tries to steal their cash. It’s all very liberating.

We ended our week with a sneaky look at our set in the scenic workshop where we got to rehearse on the actual revolving floor. That was amazing. We also had a day almost entirely dedicated to the stage fights with the best in the business, Kate Waters aka Kombat Kate. She is out of this world. I’ve had the great good luck to work with Kate a few times and there really is no one better.

So the first draft of blocking is complete, the dance numbers are in place and the fights executed. Next week we start working in detail from the top again. So I’d better go and do a bit more line learning… or check some emails, look at stupid things on YouTube and play Candy Crush!!

"I even bought a line learning app but ended up almost throwing my phone across the room in frustration"

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