What’s the best way to memorize quickly? Perhaps you have 12 pages of sides for a callback tomorrow morning or you have to memorize a two-hour play in a week because someone just dropped out. Whatever the reason, you have no idea how you are going to learn the lines this quickly.
You put the script under your pillow hoping to learn the lines by osmosis (doesn’t work). You tried having your four roommates sing your lines to you at three in the morning (totally creepy). You’ve done the old cover-your-lines-with-your-hand thing but it just feels like you’re cramming for a math test and it’s not sticking.
What’s an actor to do?!
Over the years, I’ve tried many different approaches and found these are by far the quickest ways to memorize lines.
1. The Rehearsal Pro app.
This is hands down my favorite way to learn lines. It’s the scene partner that never gets tired of running lines with you. If you can get past the fact that it’s $19.99, this is a game changer. You can highlight your lines in the app, record the other character’s lines, and use it as a teleprompter. Then it just keeps playing on a loop.
The secret for me is to whisper my lines and read the other character’s out loud when recording so I don’t get too caught up in the way I’m saying my lines, but I know how much time I have to say them. I will literally put my iPad on a chair and pretend I’m running lines with someone. It’s so much better than a tape recorder. Love it. (Time: Approx. 30 minutes for a 12-page scene.)
2. Write them out.
This is quicker than you think and you always remember the lines word for word when you’re done. I’ve used this for memorizing longer scenes with lots of speeches and find it works really well because you’re connecting your mind to the action of writing the lines down and seeing them at the same time. (I prefer writing them by hand instead of typing.)
Write out just your lines in one big paragraph, then run through the scene out loud. Do this five more times, breaking your lines into thoughts each time. The last time you write them out, see if you can do it without looking at the script and just think of the other person’s lines. (Time: Approx one hour for a 12-page scene.)
3. Run the lines with someone many times.
The first time you run through, just listen to the words. Focus on pausing between each line, really absorbing what’s being said and going over the scene many times in many different ways, playing with intention, actions, and pacing. Try it sitting and standing. Allow yourself to make mistakes and explore every way not to do it while getting comfortable with the lines. Focus on the “why” and the circumstances to learn the scene on a deeper level. If you forget your lines, you can find your way back because you really understand what’s going on. (Time: Approx. 30 minutes to an hour.)
I usually use a combination of these three techniques to prepare for every audition. I will write down the lines, then run them with the Rehearsal Pro app, then with another actor, during which time I speed through them as fast as I can. After that, I improvise the lines and see if I can come up with some added moments and reactions between the lines that feel authentic. Then I layer the writer’s words back on and blend it all together. This way, I am memorized but also flexible and open to direction and change.
At the end of the day, you want the lines to seem like second nature—genuine and authentic—as if they’re coming from an actual person with real thoughts and ideas. Auditions cause anxiety and while you may have lines memorized at home, when you walk into the room it’s easy to get distracted and forget. As actors, we need to prepare for this and be very, very memorized (but not locked into a pattern), so that we’re confident, relaxed, committed, listening, and open to direction.
*This post was originally published on June 25, 2014. It has since been updated.
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