Kendal Hartse and I met a decade ago at Boston Conservatory, where she was a stand-out in the musical theater department, and I headed up marketing and communications. It’s no surprise that Kendal went on to settle in New York City and appear on Broadway in shows like Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Equally at home acting, singing, or dancing, Kendal has also performed on tour and in regional theater in the roles of Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Nellie in Floyd Collins, and Baptista/Lucentio in Taming of the Shrew. It was a delight to catch up with her recently for this interview.
Brent: Wonderful to reconnect with you, Kendal! Tell me, what was the most challenging role you ever had to prepare for in terms of memorization?
Kendal: I think the most challenging role I had to prepare for in terms of memorization was probably when I played both Lucentio AND Baptista in Taming of the Shrew at the Virginia Stage Company. It always seems harder for me to memorize when I'm working on multiple characters. If I have one character arc to worry about, I have an easier time committing the text to memory since it follows more logically.
Brent: Yeah, two very different characters in the same show definitely counts as a challenge!
Kendal: When you jump back and forth between two characters—who sometimes have polar opposite goals and wants—it can be tricky to keep the sequencing in your head and follow the line of the story. This production had the added challenge of learning music both vocally and instrumentally (violin and electric guitar). Add all of this to only a two-and-a-half-week rehearsal period, and you've got a challenge!
Brent: So, how did you approach what amounts to a four-part role?
Kendal: I came at it by working on each character individually. I memorized all of Lucentio before I started memorizing for Baptista. When I'm faced with learning multiple tracks in a show—like this case, or as an offstage cover, or an onstage understudy—I like to take them one at a time. I think it's easier that way and also less confusing.
Brent: Tackling them separately makes sense. What about your method of both speaking and listening your lines?
Kendal: For this show, as in most shows, I made a recording of the text that I would listen to when I was walking around town or riding the train. When I was at home I'd speak the text with the recording while looking at the physical page, and then without the page, and then without the recording. This helped me come into rehearsals virtually off-book (something I like to do), and the rest of the memorization fell into place easily once there was blocking.
Brent: A number of actors have told me that commitment to character facilitates memorization. How has this helped you master your lines?
Kendal: Commitment to character is hugely helpful in mastering lines. I think that if you are in character and thinking within the world of the play, the text usually makes sense. Knowing how the character thinks, speaks, and moves makes saying her text logical. When I played Sally Bowles in Cabaret, I found this commitment incredibly helpful, especially since I had to use an accent.
Brent: Interesting. Most people might think that an accent is an extra burden, not an aid to memorization.
Kendal: Just as I find it easier to learn words in songs—the melody makes the words so much simpler to memorize—an accent is a great help in memorization. It gives the text a cadence and a rhythm. In the case of Sally, how she spoke was SO specific that the memorization came easily.
Brent: Have you ever gone up on your lines during a performance?
Kendal: I have absolutely gone up on my lines in a show. I've heard people refer to it as "going into the white room," which is exactly what it feels like. You're going along, talking, saying your lines, when suddenly—POOF!—everything disappears. The text is gone, the stage is gone, your scene partner is gone. You are just in that white room with no idea how you go there or how to get out.
Brent: Yikes, how do you get back on track?
Kendal: I'd say nine times out of ten, I snap back pretty quickly. If you just breathe, just take a deep breath, the text is usually right where you left it. Your brain and body know it; you just have to trust yourself. It feels like you were gone forever, but it's almost always just a few seconds. I've rarely if ever been so stranded and for so long that another actor had to jump in, but if your scene partner is really present with you, sometimes just looking at them and being present with them is enough to get you back on track.
Brent: Sounds like you’ve had to do this for others.
Kendal: I've occasionally had to help other actors in this situation. I memorize aurally, so I often know my scene partner's lines before I know my own. This helps me be able to repeat, ask questions, or maneuver around any dead air if someone seriously goes up.
Brent: I’ve heard actors tend to know each other’s lines almost through osmosis. Being present and attuned to the flow of a well-written show facilitates that.
Kendal: To go back to commitment to character being helpful, I once had a situation where an actor I was performing with missed a big entrance, but my fellow actors and I were able to improvise an entire scene in her absence thanks to being in character and knowing all of the text really well. We just made something up!
Brent: An entire scene! That is phenomenal! OK, final question. Any final advice for anyone needing to learn a script or speech?
Kendal: If it's helpful, my technique for memorization is to do a combination of listening and repetition. For longer scenes, I like to listen to recordings, and for long monologues I like to go line by line and sometimes word by word, stacking the monologue up in my brain. For example, “Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention” becomes: Oh. Oh for. Oh for a. Oh for a muse. Oh for a muse of fire, etc.
Brent: We started with Shakespeare, so let's end with him. Kendal, I greatly appreciate your time. Thanks for sharing your process with my readers.
Kendal: Thank you so much for asking me to do an interview.
Visit Kendal’s website to learn more about her work and see dynamic photos of her in various characters.