We know you’ve often wondered as a child how actors onstage or on set manage to memorize their lines for an entire movie or play. And now that you’ve found yourself entering the acting industry, you’re finally facing the overwhelming dilemma you’ve always wondered about long ago: how do actors memorize their lines?
Perhaps you have an audition this Friday and you have twelve pages of sides to memorize or you were honored to replace a major character and are now tasked with memorizing an entire full-length play.
Indeed, memorizing lines takes practice and constant repetition. However, there are a few ways to make the memorization process smooth, quick, and better yet, deep.
Memorize the first and last few words of your lines and the few last words of the lines of characters that lead to yours. By knowing the cue lines, not only will you be more prompt and timely in delivering your lines, you’ll eventually find yourself quickly grasping the gist, objectives, structure, and context of the story and characters in just a matter of few key words. This is also an effective way to familiarize the meanings of your lines instead of emptily memorizing them word for word. By learning cues alone, you’ll be focusing more on how the meaning of each line bridged the first few words to the last few words. That’s already taking in substantial subtext with just minimal effort! You’re welcome.
For most performers, there is no shortcut to memorizing lines. To learn lines, an actor must recite the play out loud over and over again. But the key here is actually hearing the lines being said out loud when you don’t have anyone else to help you. Take note that auditory learning is a learning style in which a person learns through listening. Now try adding stress/emphasis to some words with the help of your director. You’ll find yourself memorizing lines the way you memorize lyrics to a song you keep hearing. To make this more effective, try recording yourself and listen to the recording over and over.
Running lines with a partner is one of the most well-known methods of memorizing lines. The key is to run lines with your coactor, not your friend from physics class because running lines with another actor holds you more accountable. Allow the coactor to remind you of the director’s inputs and read stage directions to you. Through this, you also get to uncover more subtext behind the lines together to improve your interpretation and performance. Try it sitting and standing. Most importantly, listen to them delivering their lines. Inexperienced or poorly trained actors spend rehearsals staring blankly at fellow performers, waiting patiently to deliver their next line. Avoid this amateurish mistake. Instead, listen attentively to your partner’s message and respond in character at all times. This careful listening will not only generate a better performance but it will also help actors learn lines because the context of the dialogue becomes absorbed. Pay attention, and the other person’s lines will serve as cues or memory triggers during the performance.
Whenever possible, incorporate your stage directions while you speak your lines aloud. According to a scientific study conducted by psychologists Helga and Tony Noice, the combination of movement and speech strengthens a person’s ability to recall the next line. “Memory is aided by physical movement,” Noice says. “In one study, lines learned while making an appropriate motion—e.g., walking across a stage—were more readily remembered by actors later than were lines unaccompanied by action.” So make certain you accompany your lines with movements and gestures as directed by your director.
In an article published by the Chicago Tribune, Cindy Gold of Northwestern University suggests that after looking at a few lines (maybe one page), it is helpful to either go for a walk or take a nap. While you rest, the information your brain just processed moves from short-term memory to long-term recall, where you will be able to recall things easier. If you have ever tried waking up with a song persistently playing in your head for no reason, that’s exactly how it works. When you walk, roughly remember the sequence of events on that one page and slowly and independently “go over” the lines by memory. You are exercising muscles just by strolling, and that helps with memorization.
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