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The Artist’s Journey: Zoë Chao – Week 3 - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

The Artist’s Journey: Zoë Chao – Week 3

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Each week, The Artist’s Journey will provide an insider look at the creation of a production, from first rehearsal to opening night, through the eyes of one of the show’s key players.

Zoë Chao is an actress in the UCSD graduate theatre program and is co-starring in Surf Report. This is her first professional production.

Surf Report cast and creatives

Me and Director Lisa Peterson.

A lot of non-actors ask the question: “How do you ever learn all those lines?” When I’m musing on the topic of acting in the wee small hours of the morning, my questions are more along the lines of “What am I doing with my life?” or “Please, God, let me land a successful HBO series as soon as I graduate so I can pay off my loans!” I seldom reflect on the act of memorizing lines – it’s the least glamorous part of the profession. However, no matter what the project is, I find myself consistently unprepared for the challenge. It always feels like I’m starting at zero.

These past two years at school have taught me many things, but mostly it’s changed the way I pay attention to the writing, the words and punctuation. There is so much to be discovered in studying a character’s rhythm. Do they speak in run-ons (like Bethany in Surf Report) or short sentences? Do they rarely finish their thoughts (like Bruce) or pepper their conversation with pauses? At UCSD, we’ve studied Shakespeare, Mamet, Pinter, Beckett, Odets, Chekhov and Williams and the key to unlocking these master playwrights’ intricate stories all lies in the language. Perhaps that seems obvious, but I certainly had to relearn this. You’ve got to trust the language and be specific.

The same goes with doing a new play. It’s our job as actors to stay true to the text. Word perfect. This week we’ve incorporated last minute rewrites that have tightened up some dialogue. Annie comes in to hear how it sounds and flows. If something isn’t working in rehearsal, she goes back to the drawing board. Her revisions, no matter how slight, always seem to streamline and clarify.

Back to the dreaded task: the hardest part about memorizing lines is just getting yourself to do it. Find someone who’s patient and generous enough to run lines with you. My mom has been running lines with me since my debut in Peter Pan. She’s taken me through musicals and was there pounding Naomi Iizuka’s words into me for my first straight play, 36 Views, my sophomore year at Brown University. Here in San Diego, I’ve had to lean on my West Coast family; budding sociologist Stephen Meyers and stage manager extraordinaire Lauren Juengel have been pulling me through Surf Report. Dipping graham crackers in soy vanilla milk while agonizing over the text also helps.

Today, I noticed several dubious glares in my direction during a shuttle ride into rehearsal. While the engineers and historians across from me read their books, my last minute studying looked like I was talking to myself.

All this does pay off, however. That moment when the words tumble out of your mouth effortlessly…it’s like flying. Memorizing is actually a really physical process. Once the words are in your body, it’s magic. It’s like that moment when doing all those drills in soccer practice starts to pay off, or when your fingers take off on the piano, and all of sudden you’re not just plunking Chopin, you’re playing him.

Only when you’ve truly memorized your lines inside and out, up and down, page numbers and all, does the real work begin. Wishing and hoping and thinking and praying this will happen soon for me in Surf Report.

I’m also including some pictures from our trip to Pizza Port. Maybe we’ll see you guys there next time!

Surf Report cast and creatives

Kevin Fitzpatrick (assistant stage manager), Liv Rooth (Jena), Annie Weisman (playwright) and Linda Gehringer (Judith).

Surf Report cast and creatives

SURF REPORT cast and creatives enjoying some pizza!