Updated: Jan 5, 2021
We actors are almost never taught effective methods for memorizing lines. Sometimes we are given advice that is counterproductive. So it's not surprising that left clueless and without the proper guidance, we often make mistakes that make memorization harder for ourselves.
Line memorization doesn't have to be a slog! Give your memorization a turbo boost by avoiding these common mistakes.
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1. Memorizing by rote.
Acting teachers very commonly advise their acting students to memorize their lines by rote, meaning they memorize through sheer repetition and deliberately block out any effort towards textual meaning or the acting work. This is not only extremely boring, this is a MASSIVE waste of time. I call this blunt force memorization. It's like using a hammer to smash the words into your head. Sure it does eventually work, but it takes forever, and you wind up exhausted and with a giant headache. AND THEN, you have to spend additional time actually working on the role and figuring out how you will play it.
For God's sake, do the acting work as you are memorizing. When you are reciting your lines, don't just sit there and say them in a monotone for the sake of repetition. ACT IT OUT. Get up and get the words in your body by blocking the monologue or scene. Analyze the text and break it up into beats. Come up with objectives for your character; find subtext; find the juicy layers. What's going on with your character moment to moment? The more richly you understand and work out the text in this way, the easier it is to memorize! Just by doing the text analysis and acting work, you may even find you've memorized chunks of your scene or monologue without even trying!
2. Always practicing top to bottom or beginning to end.
When we practice or recite a scene or monologue, we tend to always start from the top and we either peter out part of the way through, or we manage to find our way to the end. What is the result of this? We end up knowing the beginning part really well because we've given it so much repetition. We might also know the ending fairly well, but we're a lot less sure of the middle sections.
Yes rehearsing top to bottom to some extent is important to make sure you have all the lines in the correct order. But when you're memorizing, don't always start at the top! Give more time and repetition to the lines you know the least, which often are the lines in the middle. Do this so you can eventually feel confident about all of your lines.
3. Not paying enough attention to your partner's lines.
Your lines don't exist in a vacuum. When memorizing your own lines, it's important to pay attention to your partner's lines as well. Your partner's lines give you context. You need to see what your lines are in response to. Acting is actually reacting. So how is your character reacting? How does what your partner says make you feel? How is it prompting what you say? Hook your lines to your partner's lines. Knowing your partner's lines to some extent, will help you learn your own lines.
Need more help with memorizing your lines? Check out these science-backed tips.