How to Memorize: Don't Get Locked

Article Image
Memorizing lines is a must for all actors. But how you memorize can determine your ability to change when taking direction.

Most actors rush to have their lines down cold. It's the first thing they do. If you're one of these 'get these suckers down first' actors, you may be doing more harm than good.

Here's why: Whether for an audition, play or TV/film script, you're saying legally approved copy. So you need to say the words as written, with permission to improvise.

But what if the director wants you to do it a different way? What if your thoughts on how to play the character didn't agree with the thoughts of the director or client?

If you're locked into one way of internalizing the words, it will be very difficult to change. If you rush to memorize, you may be locking yourself into one way of thinking about the delivery of the lines, and lessen your ability to take direction.

Many actors tend to go through the back and forth process of staring at the words, pulling the script away, then trying to repeat what they just stared at in an attempt to memorize.

Danger, warning Will Robinson!

You may be locking yourself into one way to internalize those lines. You'll lose the ability to adjust to a different way of thinking about them.

Thus, your best bet is to not memorize with one particular way of feeling the lines. Let these lines come at you in many angles, so you won't be locked into one mode of delivery.

Here's some good tips to prevent this problem:

Get a partner to repeat your lines back and forth with you, over and over again. Start with each individual line, then expand to several lines at a time, so you hear them aloud from someone else. The continuous hearing of these lines in different tones and inflections will keep you from being locked into one way of memorizing them. The same lines, your lines, back and forth. Each moment will bring a slightly different read.

Write your lines down on paper. Whether a monologue or a scene, writing your lines on paper will help you solidify them in your mind. You can do this many times—it's for you only. A pain, sure... but it helps.

Speed Read. Don't act, just say the lines quickly. You'll trip up at first, but after several attempts, you'll get them down.

Actively listen to your partner. Once you have the memorization down, have someone do the scene with you. Focus on actively absorbing your partner's lines before you say yours. No two moments are alike, and if you listen and absorb honestly, you'll get in the habit of responding honestly each time.

Acting isn't about the words—if it were, we'd hire readers.

Time is still money, so you still need to know your lines cold. It's part of your professionalism. The above steps should help you memorize and learn lines in a way that allows yourself the ability to internalize, adjust, and stay in the moment. You won't be locked, and taking direction will much easier for you and help your acting.

Todd Etelson is the founder of Actors Technique, NY, which specializes in Kids and Teen Acting and Audition Technique Training in NYC. He's a top youth acting coach, training Manager and Agent talent for TV/Film and Stage. His career began in television on "Puttin' On the Hits" and "The Academy of Country Music Awards" for Dick Clark Productions in Burbank, CA. His credits include TV, film, stage, commercials and public speaking to both parents and actors. For more information, visit
Author Headshot
Todd Etelson
Todd Etelson is a top NYC kids and teen acting coach, specializing in on-camera television, film, and audition technique. In 2004, he founded Actors Technique NY (ATNY), a TV and film school for serious young actors.
See full bio and articles here!