Carole Schweid launched her acting career in New York City in the 1970s. A member of the original Broadway cast of A Chorus Line, Carole also worked with Broadway legends like Bob Fosse (in Pippin) and Shelley Winters (in Minnie’s Boys, about the Marx Brothers’ pushy stage mother). She’s performed in regional productions of Caroline, or Change, Cabaret; Over the River and Through the Woods; Crossing Delancey; The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife; Broadway Bound; and a one-woman play on the life and work of American choreographer Agnes de Mille at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. She studied Theater at Boston University, has a BFA in Dance from Juilliard, and has directed over 100 short plays in her role as Artistic Director of Westport, Connecticut’s popular lunchtime play-reading series, Play With Your Food—a brilliant name for a lunch and staged reading event. I had the good fortune to sit next to Carole in the audience at a show back in 2015, and we reconnected recently.
Carole: Hi, Brent! How are you?
Brent: Great, thank you! And you?
Carole: Wonderful. My friend and I loved meeting you at Shows for Days. You asked me a question about learning a role.
Brent: Yes, I did.
Carole: Here's a story. I did a play last May at the Public in Maine, as the bubbie (the Jewish grandma) in Crossing Delancey.
Brent: I loved the movie with Amy Irving. How did the play go?
Carole: To my distress, I had a really hard time nailing those lines. To be fair, I had just moved the week before, so I was tired.
Brent: Fatigue and stress definitely influence memory.
Carole: But I worked on the play for weeks beforehand. I got into rehearsal and there were places where I just could not get it right. It was so frustrating. I'd go through the entire play before rehearsal, going over every scene.
Brent: Did you run lines with anybody? Having a scene partner often helps.
Carole: I talked my closest acting buddy every other day for consultation, a reality check, and support.
Brent: Sounds like useful therapy. What did you do next?
Carole: Then I started writing out the part longhand. Finally that helped, with the lines and with the confidence.
Brent: Great! Writing out the part is a wonderful technique, for both visual and physical reinforcement.
Carole: And then—the best help of all—was a speed-through rehearsal.
Brent: Right, that’s where everyone delivers their lines and performs the action at a faster rate—to help prevent the pacing from dragging. I know it’s often used in comedies.
Carole: Right, and I realized that I was sort of playing the part in the wrong rhythm, that I was focusing so much on the words, that I was missing the play—or actually the rhythm of the play.
Brent: What do you mean by that?
Carole: When you learn a dance, you might talk about the idea, or what the dance is about. But the first thing you do is learn the steps. Once you've learned the basic steps, you start practicing the steps together in phrases of movement. Then you put the phrases together and eventually, they add up to a dance—where each step leads to the next step, each phrase leads to the next phrase, and the whole dance adds up to something more than those separate steps. You want to learn the steps correctly, but that's not the overall goal.
Brent: What a terrific analogy!
Carole: With Crossing Delancey, I think I got so fixated on the individual words that I almost forgot that the words, while important, are only parts of phrases, which are parts of longer thoughts that all add up to something. Once I remembered that it’s not just about the words, I got on the right track. Then it was exhilarating. Pretty helpful, right?
Brent: Absolutely! This must have improved your engagement with the other cast members.
Carole: As I became more aware of this, I started to get more and more out of rehearsing with the other actors. I started to relax and enjoy discovering the play as part of a group, instead of focusing on myself. Working on the play became a lot more fun. And the play got better.
Brent: Makes perfect sense. I also want to be sure we have a chance to talk about your work with Play With Your Food.
Carole: Funny you should ask about memorizing because for over ten years now, I have been Co-founder and Artistic Director of a popular lunchtime play-reading series, Play With Your Food, where audiences come to see one-act plays read (but rehearsed) by professional actors—preceded by a buffet lunch and followed by a talk-back with the actors.
Brent: It’s such a smart name for a series! Your performances take place around Fairfield County, Connecticut, so you can draw some heavy-hitting stage actors from New York.
Carole: We have remarkable actors who come back over and over to Play With Your Food. I think the actors say agree to do it because it's an opportunity to take on the challenge of a good play, while not having to invest the time into memorizing a part.
Brent: Right, a number of actors, like Charles Busch, have told me that memorization can be “a chore and a bore.” Others, like Bree Elrod, acknowledge that learning one’s lines is just part of getting into character.
Carole: At a staged reading, especially for professionals who know how to use a script, there is so much freedom to express yourself, engage with the other actors, and follow your instincts. Done well, it's "opening night with a script in your hand," and can be a thrilling memorable experience for everyone.
Brent: Elaborate on that. What do you mean “use a script”?
Carole: By “using a script” I mean actors hold a script in a way that their eyes can easily go back and forth from the script to the other actors with no extra moves. This is a skill that can be practiced, and like everything else, the more you do it, the better you get.
Brent: What’s the primary thing actors should know?
Carole: Be sure that scripts are held in such a way that actors do not cover their faces. This is also good practice for auditions, where you are expected to play a scene fully, but you also have the script in your hand.
Brent: That’s excellent advice for anyone who needs to deliver a presentation—don’t hide behind your notes and remember to make eye contact with your audience. Any final words for our readers, Carole?
Carole: I have a theory—I think remembering has a lot to do with listening and taking things in.
Brent: Good thought. An improv coach told me once to always listen more than you talk. I probably fail more often than I succeed, but just keeping that phrase in my head keeps me more in check. Thanks for your time, Carole!
Carole: Thank you! It’s been fun to focus on this.
Learn more about Carole’s fascinating theater history and current projects in this Connecticut Post article.