Memorizing lines for actors

7 pm. You just received an email that you have a callback for tomorrow morning and along with the email sides with ten pages of lines. Or you should take over in a theater play as the actor is sick and you have one week to learn 2 hours long play. Or maybe you are just bad at memorizing and want to work to improve yourself. Whatever the situation, this is the article for you.

Memorizing lines

The brain is a muscle, and the more you practice, the better it works. So if you want to master your memorizing technique, you could be inspired by Anthony Hopkins. He was memorizing one monologue or poem every week as he mentioned in the interview for the behind of scenes of the movie Red Dragon. He also said – “If I should do the reshoot [The silence of the lamps] today, yeah, I could pick it up within a half an hour the whole scene, because it is in there, somewhere.” Here is the whole interview:

We are all the same and unique at the same time. So many things work well for us the same way, and many things are specific for every single of us. And it is the same with memorizing. This article will give you a few tips on remembering your lines, but as everyone is unique, some of them could work better for you, some of them not. And it is all fine, it’s about how you develop your brain and as I said a brain is a muscle, so practice, practice, practice. It is never too late. You can master your memorizing skill.

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Read it

Yeah, I know. It is pretty obvious. How can I remember the lines without reading them right? But with a first read, put immediately intention in the meaning behind, try to understand the character’s motivation, why they are saying what they are saying. It will help you memorize lines better, but also, you will start work on the character.

There is a fantastic book about fast learning. It’s called Limitless by Jim Kwik. Jim Kwik is a great coach to teach you how to learn faster. He is also creating podcasts, and here is one directly about memorizing lines.

Write it down by hand

Using your hand makes your brains remember it better. I have already mentioned the advantages of handwritten notebooks, as we call them nothingbooks, in my previous articles as “Opening Creativity, part 1 – Observe.” You can have one special nothingbook dedicated to monologues, scripts, lines, and whatever your acting career asks you to remember. Just write the lines down by your hand and be conscious of all the words you write down. Then, you can use another technique called quiz yourself when you have all the lines written down.

Quiz yourself

Cover your lines and quiz yourself. Grab a paper and cover the lines except for your line about the remember and the first cue line and try to remember it until you know it without looking at it. When you get it, you can move on. Or another technique, you are exposing only the cue lines and trying to answer with your lines.

Record yourself

Yes, record your lines on your phone and listen to them as much as you can, when you are doing your laundry, shopping, working, or just anytime you can. If you are learning dialog, record two versions. One, where you have all the lines, and the second, you record only the cue lines (the line of the other characters) and when your line is coming, be silent for the time of your line during the recording. When you are silent say your line twice in your mind, because, in your mind, you are saying it faster. Then listen to recording and you practically answering yourself on the recording, pretty fun huh?

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Sing your lines.

By singing your lines, your brain will catch it faster. Sing along with the song on the radio, but use your lines instead of the original lyrics.

Mnemonic Device

This technique works great for long speeches or monologues, not only for those. Write down only the first letter of every word in your lines. For example, “Catch your muse” will be “C Y M.” Now, try to say the lines, just watching the first letter. MAGIC. Here is a video for a better understanding.

Run your lines with somebody

You can ask anybody to help you to run your lines with you. It could be your roommate, brother, mother, friend, etc. But it is always better to ask another fellow actor, as you will feel accountable and give feedback to each other.

Go for a walk or have a nap

The walk is a fantastic thing to relax and sort your thoughts. Try to go for a walk and not think about the lines. Walking and just sorting your thoughts might bring you to a kind of meditative state of your mind. Then, when you return home, you should be more ready to continue memorizing lines.

Or have a nap. According to Matthew Walker – a nap will improve your memory. Yes! It is commonly known that sleep is a crucial thing in our lives, and we are always keeping ourselves awake and want to do more and more, but by sleeping more, we can achieve more as our body and brain work better. You can learn more about sleep in the fantastic book “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker. After a nap, return to memorizing lines, and you will see it just work better. Believe me, and if not me, believe Matthew Walker. But don’t take me wrong. Sleeping or napping with the script under your pillow wouldn’t do the trick, I tried. And if somebody can master this technique, ask him and please let me know!

My procedure of memorizing lines

Suppose you are wondering how I remember lines. Here are my techniques. I usually record two versions—one version with all the lines. Then, I listen to it during the day, and when I am pretty solid with the lines, I listen to a second version. The second version only has the cue lines and blank spot where my lines are supposed to be. So I am listening to it and answering myself in a dialogue. Usually, these techniques are enough for me. Still, if I don’t feel confident, I write all the lines down by my hand and start using the quiz yourself method, so I am covering all the lines and going from the top and exposing only the cue lines, and answering to them in my line and checking if I am correct. By these techniques, I can learn the text pretty fast.

And here is one bonus video at the end of how Jim Parsons is memorizing lines.

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About the author:

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I am a never-ending fighter for the perfect ART, enjoying the process of unperfectness. I am many things and nothing, but my main focus is acting. I've studied at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts. I've been an actor in Theater Around The Corner, Moravian Theater Olomouc, Theater DiGoknu, or Mlada Scena II. And I am working hard on my craft.

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