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. This is just new to me, so I'm not used to working in this way.
Brent: No question 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 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’re at liberty to 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.
Denise and I continued our conversation about other ways to link sections that didn’t flow coherently, not uncommon when a character is prone to free association. We ran through some exercises that require visualizing and associating incongruous things in vivid ways. Expect more detail about this process in future posts when we talk with an improvisation teacher, an art museum director, and a cartoonist for The New Yorker.
See Denise glide effortlessly through her monologue weekends through October 25, 2015, at the Half Moon Theatre, Grab a seat on stage if you can; she’s a terrific cook!