It’s late at night, and once again I find myself sitting up in bed reviewing my lines for a performance tomorrow. During the Rush Hour season, the memorizin’ requirements can be substantial, so here are some tips…
Start in a quiet place. Minimize distractions until you really have your lines down. At THAT point, distraction can actually become helpful!
READ IT FIRST! Read the entire piece through at least 3 times before you try to memorize the first line. This technique will help you understand what you are learning, how the words flow and what other characters are doing… all of which will add meaning to what you are learning, making it easier to remember. This is a MUST DO for memorizing music! Always be really, really familiar with the way an entire song sounds so that you can memorize your part in context.
Say the lines out loud.
I write my lines down. Just like spelling practice as a kid. As I get faster, I just write the first letter of each word until I can say the lines faster than I can write or scribble them down.
MOVE AROUND! Once you think you know the lines, walk around. Imagine the audience as you speak, envision the theatrical environment. This will help prevent the deer in the headlights moments when you have to add blocking later (see glossary).
I use gestures to help me memorize. Adding a specific movement to a line can trigger the words. Just keep things natural looking, and don’t add a movement for every word!
Add distraction. Once you have the lines down pretty well, let the dogs in the house and keep practicing. Go in the same room as the kids, turn the radio or the TV on, and keep working! If you have kids old enough to read, hand them a script and have them read the other character’s lines. Be sure to tell them not to rescue you unless you ask for help. Be fair to your rehearsal partner by stating your expectations clearly before you start. Do you want them to correct you? If so, should they correct every minor mistake, or just make sure you get the general idea of the line.
Don’t memorize the “ACTING” as you learn the lines. Unless you are directing yourself, memorizing HOW you will deliver the lines as you learn the words themselves can set your performance in stone, and cause problems when you begin acting with others. A director may want a different interpretation and you may be so sure of your character’s own motivations that you don’t leave room for the other actors to explore THEIR parts because yours is so locked down. Try memorizing the lines in a monotone at first, THEN memorize them using a different interpretation every time you read the line. Play with different emotions, say the line happy, silly, angry, sarcastic, evil, with a lisp, with an accent. Take a line and add an emphasis to a different word each time you say it.
example: HOW now brown cow. how NOW brown cow? how now BROWN cow. how now brown COW!
I use that same technique when I am not sure how to interpret a line. By changing the emphasis of each word, you can explore the writer’s intent in a variety of ways.
Try this example out loud: I will not go to the corner store right now. I WILL not go to the corner store right now. I will NOT go to the corner store right now. I will not GO to the corner store right now. I will not go to the CORNER store …. OK, you get the picture.
All the repetition helps.
I have a friend who has a recorder app on his phone. He records the entire script in various character voices including his own lines and listens to it over and over saying his lines “with himself.” He records a second version where he omits his own lines and reads all the other characters’ lines. He uses the first recording until he has it down, and uses the second version to test himself.
Often I get STUCK on the same line, forgetting in the same spot each time I come to it in a script. If I can’t remember what comes in the next sentence, I drill and drill about 5-6 words, over and over, taking the last few words I know and the first few words of the next line where I get stuck and repeating them. No breaks, no “punctuation”… just the words flowing from the solid phrase right into the trouble phrase.
Example: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” Let’s say I get the first half, but can’t remember the method part… here’s the way I would say it over and over…. “madness yet, madness yet, madness yet” Then add more….” madness yet there is method, madness yet there is method, madness yet there is method.” Then I would do the whole phrase until I had it down. THEN, and only then, would I allow myself to add the phrasing and interpretation for meaning.
I might set myself a goal such as saying a line perfectly 10 times before I allow myself to go onto the next line.
This will vary according to your own group and director’s preference, but generally… during a rehearsal, don’t keep your script open and in your hands… know your lines well enough to roll them up in your back pocket, tuck it under your arm, toss it on the floor nearby. A rehearsal is not a first read-through… be better prepared than that if you possibly can. (This assumes, of course, that it is not a blocking rehearsal that requires you to make notes on your script).
During a rehearsal, there should be someone on book (watching lines) for you. If there is, just say “LINE” clearly and HOLD CHARACTER until you hear the line. If there is no prompter… pick up your script, find the line and carry on with as little fuss as possible.
Saving my number one tip for last…. I work on my lines right before I go to sleep. I find that they solidify in my mind overnight. When I wake up, I review them in my head before I get up. If there are weak spots, I work those that morning and voila! I find giving myself two nights to sleep on it, cements things in very well. For beginners, have your lines learned at least a week before you are expected to have them down, if at all possible. Then shorten the prep time as you get better at it.
NEVER wait until the day of the performance to memorize your lines. Show up for the final run-through with a script in your hand??? Dont. Just dont. That is the BEST way to send an entire cast into panic mode. When a director doesn’t trust you to be prepared, they will start making rules… rules that affect the whole cast and can cause hard feelings… and since creative people like us tend to dislike rules anyway, ‘tiz a far, far better thing thou doest when thou cometh to the play prepared.