Drama Desk winner and Broadway actress Denise Summerford delivers a star-turn in I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, a one-woman comedy about the madcap adventures of a single New Yorker looking for love while cooking a three-course dinner on stage. It runs through October 25, 2015, at the Half Moon Theatre, in residence—appropriately enough—at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
Brent: How excited were you to take on this role?
Denise: When the theatre’s executive director asked me to do this show, my initial reaction was NO WAY! How would I even begin to memorize a 56-page monologue, and then perform it while making antipasti and pasta—from scratch, no less!—with audience members on stage?
Brent: It does seem a bit like scaling Mount Everest.
Denise: Memorizing a one-person show is just not fun. In everybody’s job there’s always some piece of it that you loathe. For me, it’s the tedious process of memorization. If it's a musical, it's so much easier, as there is usually choreography to help with the lines or lyrics. Or, in a play with other characters, your line usually comes in response to someone else’s. With a one-character piece, it’s just you! This is just new to me, so I'm not used to working in this way.
Brent: It's true that prose is often harder to memorize than verse or music. The rhythm, rhymes, melodies, and physical movement help. So what have you tried?
Denise: My process is usually very calculated. I figure out how many pages I need to memorize and when I need to be off book by. Then I divide it up by sections, or little chapters, and figure out how many of them I need to memorize per day to be off book by my deadline.
Brent: It can be tough to memorize in a vacuum.
Denise: I’ve been trying different methods of memorizing, but I’m a very visual person and I like to attach physical business to what I’m saying to help in the memorization. So once I get to connect the words with the pasta making and the other cooking, it will be much easier. I read and re-read the chapters over and over and try to attach it to something I will physically be doing in the play or something I can visualize or really “see” in my head. Sometimes I'll even remember lines by where I was physically when I was studying them. Weird, right?
Brent: Not at all. The Ancient Greeks pioneered the idea of a “memory palace.” They would associate consecutive ideas of a speech or script with a place they knew well, such as a house, public building, or park. They would do a mental walk-through of the space when they performed and reconstruct the content.
Denise: This is fascinating! I love the term "memory palace." Makes total sense, and that's what has always worked for me, but I never understood why.
Brent: You can use physical locations on the stage or from your rehearsal space at home. Think of a sequential route through your house. Perhaps it's front porch to foyer to hallway to dining room and so on. Link each section of your monologue to that room in progression; you can even use fixtures and furniture as triggers for the details.
Denise: I love it! I'm going to work with what you've suggested and see how it goes. It's so bizarre, but I always seem to blank at the same spots. So, transitions or a new thought that comes out of left field.
Brent: Another way to link sections that don't flow together logically is by using your imagination in really absurd and visceral ways. Say you have three disjointed sections in this order: one is about a cat, another about cigarettes, and the last about getting a phone call. Link the cat to cigarettes in some crazy way—perhaps you "see" a cat as a hoodlum, sitting on a stoop, smoking a cigarette and up to no good. If the image makes you laugh or recoil, that's good! To link cigarette to phone call, imagine that when you pick up the phone, a bundle of lit cigarettes jumps out of the receiver and burns your ear. You won't forget that sensation!
Denise: Thank you for offering your help!
In a follow-up email, Denise let me know that “linking things together by using absurd images totally worked!” Marking up the script with annotations next to difficult transitions also helped. The act of writing and seeing the words on the page is good physical reinforcement.