Memorizing Lines

Any Tips on Memorizing Lines?

Off book — the dreaded state of no script. Like Linus putting down his blanket.

Some actors are very good at memorizing lines. Many struggle with it, just like every group in every area of life.

All I can do is give a few tips I used when studying for all the big essay tests I took in college and graduate school (yes, all essay, no multiple guess in those days).

It always helps me to go, in steps, from the big picture to the precise details.

Do a “skeletal outline” of the play and get it down in your head. For A Shakespearean Tale, it might be:  London, NYC, Alabama — Gas Station, Grandpa’s Place, Gas Station — Imagine, Typing Pool, Good Word, Mother’s Song, Go Down Yonder — whatever is most relevant to you. I have found that when I have a timeline, or a skeletal outline, I can hang all the little details on it where they belong and it is all much easier to remember.

Look at things scene by scene and ask yourself some basic questions.

Take, for instance, the character of Earl Shylock, the Alabama lawyer in A Shakespearean Tale, as he enters the office of Macbeth and Macbeth in 1955 New York City:

  1. Where did I just come from?
  2. How did I get here?
  3. How do I feel?
  4. What do I sound like?
  5. What is my business here?
  6. What message do I have to deliver?
  7. How do I feel about that?
  8. How are they going to feel about that?

Talk about it with someone. This helps you get into the character as well as give you a map in your head of where you are going when you are “under pressure” [either on a test in school, or on the stage]. Athletes literally visualize every action of their race, their dive, their routine. You need to do the same.

Earl Shylock, Esquire, and Phebe Hamlet

Rehearse your lines OUT LOUD, with the moves, even if you have no one listening. That’s how you will be delivering them — not in your head. These lines are designed to be spoken, not read. This engages your whole being, mental and physical, and your whole body, not just your mouth. You’d be amazed what that type of integration does to anything you are doing. This will also help you get the right words down correctly. The writer wrote it that way for a reason.

Though there are times getting the basic “gist” of the line can end up with you saying something even more effective than what was written (if you are “into it.”)

The audience really wants to get to know your character. They want to know why they should feel sad or happy or why they should be laughing. Communicating that is your job.

Then there’s that old, inescapable discipline — practice, practice, practice.

Sorry — no way around that one, no matter what you’re doing. (Believe me, I’ve tried. No silver bullet.)