During my sophomore year, I played the lead in our high school rendition of Chicago. For those of you who don’t know the show, Billy Flynn’s an arrogant defense lawyer who specializes in getting convicted women out of jail. His character has several scenes with copious amounts of dialogue—like the one that took place in his office between a man, his murderous wife and, in this case, me.
One night during that exchange, I kept getting ‘lost’ in the dialogue and accidentally repeating an exact line from earlier in the scene. This would trigger the other two actors to go back to that spot in the scene as well! I ended up doing it three freaking times that night.
It was like a really bad version of Groundhog Day.
Looking back on it now, it’s clear to me what the problem was: I hadn’t listened to the script. I’d memorized it, of course, but I hadn’t listened to it. So without really knowing or feeling what I was supposed to say, I only had word cues to guide me. I was holding on to that memorized script like a life raft. To let go and dive deeper, meant sinking—or so my young mind thought.
What I didn’t understand then, was that if I’d listened to the script and really connected with what it, and therefore, what I was actually saying, I never would’ve gotten stuck and I certainly wouldn’t have sunk.
This lesson learned is one that I try to use every day—because our industry is an industry of collaboration, and you can not collaborate without listening to other people.
Think about it. If you go into a brainstorming meeting, a place where you go to find answers and possibilities, and you already have The Solution in mind…how good a listener do you think you’ll be in that meeting?
The script is already running in your head, there’s little room for thinking about what is actually being said, because if you go off ‘script’ you might lose your position, your thought, your pre-conceived answers. You might think your solution is your life raft, but it may be more like a whirlpool—swirling you around and around, but not actually getting you anywhere.
Other people have wonderful ideas, sometimes they even build on idea you have. But you’ll never know if you stick to the script. And you’ll really never know if you don’t listen.
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