Ah, the joy of memorization… I honestly don’t know any actor who truly, really enjoys memorizing their lines. It’s something that simply HAS to be done. There is no way around it. No cheating! Sometimes we have to memorize just a few words or short sentences. No biggie. Sometimes it’s pages and pages of dialogue and/or a long monologue as a cherry on top. So, how is it done?

I’m sure every actor has his or her own technique (or secret) and some are better and faster at it than others. Since I don’t have a photographic memory, I have to just get down and do the dirty work: repetition, repetition and more repetition! I have to go over my lines until I’m sick of them. The only way I know I have my lines ‘down’ is when I can rattle them off in a monotone voice at a breathless and unnatural speed, automatically, when I’m doing something else, like folding my laundry or doing the dishes. Getting there can be a challenge sometimes, because there always seems to be that ONE word or sentence that trips you up. Every time! Arghhhh! It can be maddening!

It IS a pretty neat feeling once you’ve conquered that pesky hangup and it’s all smooth sailing from there on. Another consolation is the fact that memorization is good for the brain and helps keep it in shape. As a matter of fact, I now try to memorize something every day if possible – a phone number, a phrase or lyric of a song. I really need to apply this logic to learning another language…

Anyway, what is YOUR technique for memorization? Do you have any tips or tricks? DO tell! :)


2 thoughts on “Memorization

  1. I used to just cover the text with something that I could move down the page while I spoke the lines. Every time I got a word wrong, I’d start again from the top. This method stopped working for me, when I was about 15.

    Somebody suggested it’s a good idea to break the script down into very small chunks and learn each chunk thoroughly before moving on to the next. I think that’s the most rational approach, if there is actually a decent interval between getting the part and needing to be off book. Somehow, the interval is often less than decent.

    It’s important to begin right away. Where deadlines are involve, procrastination games and displacement activity will drive you crazy.

    For plays, I used to not even start learning lines until the director was done messing around with the blocking. My excuse was that I needed my muscle memory to aid my recollection of the lines and vice versa. This approach got me fired from Blithe Spirit because the director changed all the blocking at every single rehearsal, so there was no time to learn such an enormous part.

    Quite a few years ago, an actor recommended I should record my lines and replay the recording endlessly until I could say every word perfectly in time with the recording. Nowadays, I do this with a computer, so I can put the lines on an mp3 player and on a CD that I can play in the car. This method worked for me pretty well until I had to learn the Charles Condomine part for Blithe Spirit: something like 300 pages. I believe they produced a three-and-a-half-hour version with no cuts whatsoever!

    I always use index cards. On one side, I write the cue and on the other side I write everything I have to say and do until the next cue. This still works, up to a point, but I have to allow myself a realistic amount of time to get this done; I’m unlikely to learn 250 cards in three days.

    Very recently, another actor suggested I should just write down the first letter of every word and then practice saying the lines, just looking at those letters. This has proven to be a surprisingly quick way to memorize a long complicated monologue. This method can be further refined by cutting all the letters and just writing down the punctuation, but I’ve never bothered trying that.

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