That unmistakable gravelly voice caught my ear from across the exhibition hall. The actor and playwright is a force of nature, even off stage. We ran into each other at an antique show in the Hudson Valley.
Brent: I’ve been a huge fan of yours ever since I saw you do Torch Song Trilogy in 1983. You changed my life for the better.
Harvey: Thank you.
Brent: You wrote the book for Newsies, Kinky Boots, and so many other great shows. You’ve also played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof—twice!—and won a Tony for your role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. How do you approach memorization?
Harvey: Aaagh! Don’t get me started! Memorization is awful, and it just gets harder as you get older. But you just have to do it. You know what some actors are using these days?
Brent: I don’t know. Teleprompters?
Harvey: No! Earpieces! They get their lines through a wire! Another actor in a play I was in recently used one, and it was just a disaster.
Brent: It must be distracting and may even take you out of character. I saw Angela Lansbury use an earpiece in Blithe Spirit. I figured it was just something elderly actors used.
Harvey: Nah, some of the younger ones use them, too. It drives me crazy. Although someone is writing a play for me now, with long monologues that I’ll have to learn. Do you have a technique?
Brent: I have my own, plus what actors like you have shared with me. Phillip Boykin and others said that they write out the lines by hand, record them, and play them back over and over.
Harvey: Jim Parsons told me he does that, writes the lines out by hand.
Brent: Kate Wetherhead said that she relies on the character to drive memorization, asking questions like, “what would compel her emotionally to say these lines?”
Harvey: Makes sense. And I suppose if you write your own play it’s easier to memorize.
Brent: Actually, Charles Busch had an interesting caveat. He told me that it can be tougher because you're tempted to keep tinkering with the lines. But you’re better off sticking with the first version.
Harvey: I can see that. When I did Fiddler on the Roof I learned the part in 10 days.
Brent: The muscle memory of the music and choreography help cement the lines. And you’d done it before! One more thing: do you know the Ancient Greek concept of the “memory palace”?
Harvey: What’s that?
Brent: Basically, you associate sections of your monologue with a place you know well, like your house. You do a mental walk-through of the space and reconstruct the content in sequence.
Harvey: Sounds complicated!
Brent: It’s really not. Take my card. We’ll talk!