Have to memorize lines for a play or musical? There are a lot of techniques. Let me tell you about a few that are backed by science. I’ve been involved in the theatre for many years and I’ve done a lot of memorizing of both lines and song lyrics. Typically, actors and singers use repetition – and don’t get me wrong – that works, but there are other ways to get those lines into your head. Ever heard of interleaving? How about using the Method of Loci (often called the Memory Palace) to memorize the sequence of an entire play? Impossible? Nope. Let’s take a look.
Techniques Mentioned in the Episode
- Repetition: typically, actors use rote repetition to memorize their lines. Repetition is often looked down upon my memory experts, but the reason it often works for actors is that they combine repetition with distributed practice: the repetition is done again and again over a period of time (the rehearsal period), which is better than trying to cram all the lines into your head in a short period of time. Also, ideally, when you repeat the lines you do so with no inflection in the voice. This is a technique used by Sandford Meisner as a way to allow actors to practice lines while observing the other actors and reacting to them in a way that is natural to the moment and not pre-planned.
- Understanding Your Character’s Goal in the Scene: What’s the objective of the scene? What do I (the character) want? What do I want the other character(s) to DO? Example: I want the other character to give me money, or I want him/her to say something. How am I going to get that to happen? Example: I’m going to intimidate him, plead, manipulate, etc. A very “verb-driven” approach.
- Great post by acting teacher Jane Lucas: What I’ve Learned About Learning Lines
- Interleaving: don’t always memorize your scenes in sequence as they occur in the play. Skip around the play when you memorize. Study Act 1 Scene 3, then skip to Act 2 scene 4 for example. This approach challenges your brain more and can “cement” the lines more firmly into your mind.
- Practice while doing a boring activity: give your mind two things to do at once – say your lines while doing an activity like throwing and catching a ball, cleaning dishes or even juggling (if you know how to do that well).
Instead of coaching her students to focus on memorization, she instructed them to make every element of the play real to them… [Uta] Hagen asserted that creating those particulars will lead the actor to the lines – Jane Lucas
As you make your particularizations, much of what you have to say will become inevitable – Uta Hagen
My Recommendations for Books on Acting
- Audition – Michael Shurtleff
- Respect for Acting – Uta Hagen
- True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor