#15: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?

Dear Friends,

We’re almost finished with table work – one more scene to discuss this afternoon – and then we begin putting the play on its feet.  Consequently, we’ll all start memorizing our lines (if we haven’t already), so I thought I’d write a post answering the most-frequently-asked question at every post-show talkback I’ve ever been a part of:

How do you memorize all of those lines?

(I’ll be honest– it’s asked so often that it’s a bit of an in-joke in the theatre community.  Articles have been written about it, as have other blogs.)

I asked this question of some cast members:

 Alexis McGuinness (Viola): I memorize my lines by writing them all down.  I am very OCD about it.  I read the line aloud, I repeat the line aloud, and then I say each word as I write it on paper.  I try to memorize the punctuation as well.   When I get stuck saying lines in the exact same cadence each time, I go running and say the lines aloud.  It’s hard, my breath is freer and breaks up the tones I normally use.

 Andrew Truschinski (Fabian): I memorize by tons of repetition and through scene work with other actors. Once you start working with other people, it begins to feel like there’s nothing else you could say than what’s written in the text.

Brandon Vukovic (Curio): I never really sit down to “memorize” my lines.  Once something’s up on its feet I find they just come to me.

Brian Gill (Orsino): Ideally I take my script and go for a very long walk along the lake.  I’d did this in Chicago as well so it’s kind of cool do be able to walk along the same lake in two different states.  For whatever reason, this helps the words sink in easier.  I’d imagine it has something to do with the whole mind/body connection.  What’s funny is that by the time I’ve memorized a speech this way I always remember where I was in my walk.  For example, for France’s speech in King Lear I remember walking through the very crowded and chaotic Dog Beach in North Chicago;  For Prince Henry in 2 Henry IV it’s the park and trails that lead to Lake Bistro here in Milwaukee; and for Twelfth Night it’s the office in my apartment because it’s too bloody frigid outside to walk anywhere!!!

Robert Spencer (Feste): I learn my lines by reading them a zillion times; the morning hours seem to be the most productive for me.  I find it best to glean the basic ideas and then attach the actual words to the thoughts.  The word by word memorization comes from visualizing them on the page.  As a young actor, I was a very quick study, but now it seems to take forever.

Jefferson Slinkard (Sir Toby): Ah, the age old question asked at every talk back and donors cocktail party since dialogue came into being.  Okay, here goes: Hopefully, we have lots of time spent poring over the scenes and mining them for all possibilities in interpretation.  That helps.  Then if I  prepare for a staging rehearsal by reading over the scene several times and thinking through my intentions and actions I start to develop a need for the lines.  Then in blocking we usually go over the scene several times; refining the intentions and actions.  If I don’t have a monstrous amount of lines in the scene, I will usually have them down pretty well by the end of the blocking rehearsal.  Then I just review the blocking and lines together and in subsequent rehearsals I get plenty of repetition to seal the deal.  If there is a lot of dialogue to learn, I add the method of taping all the other lines in the scene, leaving space for my lines, and I run through the scene with the recording.  Finally, when I am pretty confident in the lines, it is then helpful to run them with someone else “holding book” for me and correcting my mistakes.  It takes a lot of patience to hold book for another actor as this is a tense struggle to get the lines perfect.  That’s a pretty in-depth answer that could best be summed up in one

Mark H. Dold (Malvolio):  By the grace of God.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.   I’m one of those actors that can’t learn lines by rote. I need to have an experience that enlightens me to say WHY I say these words. BUT, I truly believe it has nothing to do with that actual words that are being said but how and why we are saying them.  The words could be gibberish, or in another language, but if the action behind it is appropriate then you are playing the scene as the playwright intended.  So…in short hand…I need to discover the physical/emotional journey of the scene first.  Then the words just seem to come out on their own.  If I’m having trouble remembering a particular section that usually signals to me that I don’t truly understand what’s going on in that section or I don’t understand my characters needs/wants/desires in that section.

I’ll keep you posted,



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