Sometimes the simplest, oldest things can make the difference between a hit and a flop. Sometimes it's as simple as the melody of the lines.
Hand a friend a page and have them read it. Most people coming to a period will drop the tone of voice.
At each period.
But in my very first Speech class with Mrs. Small in South River High School she taught us when coming to the end of a sentence to point UP.
She gave line-readings too, and forced us to mark up the text telling us to pause either before, or after, important words, and before, AND after, Really important ones. And she taught us to breathe, and to take a breath in important pauses so we'd have enough breath left at the end of a phrase, or the end of a sentence, or the end of a line, to be able to hit that last syllable.
She taught us to point UP our lines.
I was at a play last week where No One pointed-up their lines. It was torture. The people on stage dropped, or swallowed, the final syllables not only of every sentence, but every phrase along the way. That made the melody of the lines predictable, and that meant they had no shape.
It was worst late in the play, when a lot of weight was given to long, significant pauses between really short lines. It was like a tennis match in which each player instead of hitting the ball up over the net intentionally whacked the ball Down, like a seconds-left fourth quarter when the team ahead was merely running out the clock, not trying to score.
The point was, they were doing everything else Right. All three of them were smart, they understood the play, they understood their characters and the interrelations between them, they knew who had something to hide and when it would have to be revealed, they knew why those pauses were there. And they would have worked, too, if the melody wasn't so leadened by the fact that, at every line, they grounded the ball. And they'd been doing it since the beginning.
I'll bet if they changed only that One detail in the play, it would be a much better play. An hour or two of lines-drill practicing pointing-up would have sent each line Up, over the net where, as a cue, it could be returned with another up-beat. And that would work whether the exchanges were flurry-fast, as in the first two scenes, or full of long, slow rallies and lobs in the third.
You can't hit a decent lob with a down-stroke, can you?
Maybe I'm just over-trained on this idea. But I think Mrs. Small was right.