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Memorization Tips

Compiled by Mandy Rees and Zoe Saba

Memorizing can be a stumbling block for many actors. Fortunately, there are many approaches to help you master your lines. Experiment with various techniques until you find what works best for you. 

Word-for-Word

Remember, lines need to be learned word-for-word, just as the playwright has written them. Though it is sometimes tempting to paraphrase— especially in the face of a difficult or complex speech—the actor must resist this temptation and honor the words the playwright has chosen. How your character speaks reveals a lot of information about your character’s thought process, background, and personality. You will find being accurate will make you more secure on stage, will lead you to discoveries about your character, and will maintain the integrity of the play.

Memorization Techniques

General Guidelines

First, read your script several times through: Before you start to memorize, it will help you to simply read through your lines without any effort to remember them. Read them out loud several times. You will find that by first becoming familiar with the script, the memorization process will be easier.

Review your lines daily: If you work on your script daily, it will not be such an overwhelming task. Try spending several short sessions each day, not more than an hour at a time. Even a ten or fifteen-minute session can be beneficial. Try reading your script every day when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed.

Carry your script with you all day: Use the "empty" moments of your day to review your lines. These might include when you are waiting for someone or something, when you are travelling, or when you are relaxing. Five minutes here and there can pay off.

Have a plan: Divide your script into sections and set dates for when they will be memorized. Start by reviewing what you have already memorized, then work on new material.

Take it step by step: When working on a section, read each line aloud slowly. Concentrate on each word, including the small words (such asand, or, but, if). At intervals, put the script down and check how much you remember. When one line is memorized, move onto the next until you can remember the entire speech without looking at the script. Then move onto the next speech, until you’ve gone over them all. As you go on, the chucks of dialogue that you are able to practice without using the script should get larger and larger.

Understand what you are saying: Look up words, phrases and references you don’t know. Be sure you understand everything you say. Also look up any pronunciations you aren’t sure of. Once you learn something wrong, it’s much more difficult to re-learn it. 

Find the logic in each line: Ask how the cue line triggers your character's response, why does your character need to say those words at that time, and why are no other words as effective?

Visual Reinforcement

Highlight your lines:Emphasize your lines in the script with a highlighter or underline with a brightly colored pen. Use a different color to mark your cues (the lines or actions just before your line).

Use flash cards. Write your lines on one side and your cue lines on the other side.

Kinesthetic Reinforcement

Handwrite your lines: Copy them several times until you know them.

Get up on your feet:Move while you memorize; walk around the space as you say your lines.

Aural Reinforcement

Record your lines: Record your lines in a neutral voice and listen to them in your car, on your phone or tablet, or at home. When your lines are memorized and you want to practice, record your cue lines (or record your scene partner saying them) and leave silent spaces on the recording for you to reply with your lines.

Read with a partner:Arrange to have someone read the other character’s lines so you can learn where your cues are.

Additional Practice

Italian Run: When you have a solid handle on your lines, you can practice an “Italian Run”—speaking the lines out loud as fast as you can, in order, word perfect. As soon as you can do an Italian Run without stumbling, you’ve pretty much got it made.

You might enjoy looking at these articles about memorization:

https://www.schooltheatre.org/HigherLogic/System/DownloadDocumentFile.ashx?DocumentFileKey=6faffbae-98e9-420b-8071-4f21eabcf58a

http://www.contrastcreative.com/blog/memorization-techniques-for-actors/ 

https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/6-simple-tips-for-memorizing-lines/