My Foolproof Method for Memorizing a Monologue Fast in 8 Easy Steps

Updated: Jan 6



I think of memorization and learning as a process of cognitive digestion. When you eat, you don't swallow food whole. You tear it into pieces, chew, coat it with saliva. Your stomach and intestines break those pieces down to individual nutrients to be absorbed by your body. Memorization should be done similarly. Follow the following steps to break down your monologue to make it easier to memorize.



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1. Reformat the monologue so it resembles a verse monologue, with only one or two phrases per line.

When it comes to a contemporary monologue, we are used to seeing it printed on the page as one big block of prose text. This isn't particularly conducive to memorization. The eye sees the text as an intimidating, undistinguished blob, which makes it more difficult to penetrate and absorb it.


For example, let's take Nina's famous monologue from the Chekhov play, The Seagull:


Nina. Why do you say you kiss the ground I walk on? I ought to be killed. I’m so tired. If I could rest…rest. I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. I’m an actress. Well, no matter…(Hears Arkadina and Trigorin laughing in the dining room.) And he’s here too. Well, no matter. He didn’t believe in the theatre, all my dreams he’d laugh at, and little by little I quit believing in it myself, and lost heart. And there was the strain of love, jealousy, constant anxiety about my little baby. I got to be small and trashy, and played without thinking. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, couldn’t stand properly on the stage, couldn’t control my voice. You can’t imagine the feeling when you are acting and know it’s dull. I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. Do you remember, you shot a seagull? A man comes by chance, sees it, and out of nothing else to do, destroys it. That’s not it…What was I…I was talking about the stage. Now I’m not like that. I’m a real actress, I act with delight, with rapture, I’m drunk when I’m on the stage, and feel that I am beautiful. And now, ever since I’ve been here, I’ve kept walking about, kept walking and thinking, thinking and believing my soul grows stronger every day. Now I know, I understand, Kostya, that in our work…acting or writing…what matters is not fame, not glory, not what I used to dream about, it’s how to endure, to bear my cross, and have faith. I have faith and it all doesn’t hurt me so much, and when I think of my calling I’m not afraid of life.


Now let's reformat that text so it resembles a verse monologue. You might come up with something a little different. The most important thing is to make the text visually easier to read.


Nina.

Why do you say you kiss the ground I walk on? I ought to be killed. I’m so tired. If I could rest…rest. I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. I’m an actress. Well, no matter…(Hear’s Arkadina and Trigorin laughing in the dining room.) And he’s here too. Well, no matter. He didn’t believe in the theatre,

all my dreams he’d laugh at,

and little by little I quit believing in it myself, and lost heart. And there was the strain of love, jealousy, constant anxiety about my little baby. I got to be small and trashy, and played without thinking.

I didn’t know what to do with my hands, couldn’t stand properly on the stage,

couldn’t control my voice. You can’t imagine the feeling, when you are acting and know it’s dull. I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. Do you remember, you shot a seagull? A man comes by chance, sees it, and out of nothing else to do, destroys it. That’s not it…What was I…I was talking about the stage. Now I’m not like that. I’m a real actress, I act with delight, with rapture, I’m drunk when I’m on the stage, and feel that I am beautiful. And now, ever since I’ve been here, I’ve kept walking about, kept walking and thinking, thinking and believing my soul grows stronger every day. Now I know, I understand, Kostya, that in our work …acting or writing…what matters is not fame, not glory, not what I used to dream about, it’s how to endure, to bear my cross, and have faith. I have faith and it all doesn’t hurt me so much, and when I think of my calling I’m not afraid of life.


Do you see/feel the difference? Printed this way, the text is already much easier on the eyes, which allows for better mental clarity when analyzing the text. Each phrase now has a lot more space to breathe. The eye is able to pick up the words one line at a time.


2. Divide the monologue into beats. Put a space between each beat.

If you've taken formal acting classes or have a bit of training, you most likely are already familiar with the task of dividing your script into beats and assigning a distinct objective to every beat. This is a way of scoring your script for action, which helps bring specificity and juice to how you play the role.


You're going to do the same thing here. A beat division occurs when there is a significant shift in thought or intention. You can feel it when the text moves distinctly to something different. Beat divisions are somewhat subjective; different actors may divide up the same text in slightly different ways. That's fine. It's ultimately the actor's choice how they'd like to play the scene or monologue.


Here is how I chose to divide the Nina monologue into beats:


Nina.

Why do you say you kiss the ground I walk on? I ought to be killed.

I’m so tired. If I could rest…rest.

I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. I’m an actress. Well, no matter…(Hear’s Arkadina and Trigorin laughing in the dining room.)

And he’s here too. Well, no matter. He didn’t believe in the theatre,

all my dreams he’d laugh at,

and little by little I quit believing in it myself, and lost heart.

And there was the strain of love, jealousy, constant anxiety about my little baby. I got to be small and trashy, and played without thinking.

I didn’t know what to do with my hands, couldn’t stand properly on the stage,

couldn’t control my voice. You can’t imagine the feeling, when you are acting and know it’s dull.

I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. Do you remember, you shot a seagull? A man comes by chance, sees it, and out of nothing else to do, destroys it.

That’s not it…What was I…I was talking about the stage. Now I’m not like that. I’m a real actress, I act with delight, with rapture, I’m drunk when I’m on the stage, and feel that I am beautiful.

And now, ever since I’ve been here, I’ve kept walking about, kept walking and thinking, thinking and believing my soul grows stronger every day.

Now I know, I understand, Kostya, that in our work …acting or writing…what matters is not fame, not glory, not what I used to dream about, it’s how to endure, to bear my cross, and have faith. I have faith and it all doesn’t hurt me so much, and when I think of my calling I’m not afraid of life.


Now you can see we've broken the text down even further into more distinct, understandable chunks. We can see each beat as it's own entity. We can focus on what's going on with each one and see how it relates to the piece as a whole.


3. Name each beat.

Now you could go ahead and do your acting work, assigning objectives and tactics to each beat. That would be helpful as well. But for our purposes here, we are going to name each beat as a brief summary of that beat. What is the basic essence of what is being said? We want to better understand and absorb the monologue, so we are looking for the basic storyline that is running through it.


Here is what I came up with:


Nina.


I should be killed.

Why do you say you kiss the ground I walk on? I ought to be killed.


So tired. I’m so tired. If I could rest…rest.


Seagull. No, actress. I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. I’m an actress. Well, no matter…(Hear’s Arkadina and Trigorin laughing in the dining room.)


Trigorin killed my dream. And he’s here too. Well, no matter. He didn’t believe in the theatre,

all my dreams he’d laugh at,

and little by little I quit believing in it myself, and lost heart.


Bad actress. And there was the strain of love, jealousy, constant anxiety about my little baby. I got to be small and trashy, and played without thinking.

I didn’t know what to do with my hands, couldn’t stand properly on the stage,

couldn’t control my voice. You can’t imagine the feeling, when you are acting and know it’s dull.


Man destroys. I’m a seagull. No, that’s not it. Do you remember, you shot a seagull? A man comes by chance, sees it, and out of nothing else to do, destroys it.

Real actress. That’s not it…What was I…I was talking about the stage. Now I’m not like that. I’m a real actress, I act with delight, with rapture, I’m drunk when I’m on the stage, and feel that I am beautiful.


Soul grows stronger. And now, ever since I’ve been here, I’ve kept walking about, kept walking and thinking, thinking and believing my soul grows stronger every day.


I have faith. Now I know, I understand, Kostya, that in our work …acting or writing…what matters is not fame, not glory, not what I used to dream about, it’s how to endure, to bear my cross, and have faith. I have faith and it all doesn’t hurt me so much, and when I think of my calling I’m not afraid of life.


The beat names act as landmarks. They build a spine or through line which allows us to see the basic story structure of the monologue. Let's put all the beat names together and see if that provides any insight.


I should be killed.

So tired.

Seagull. No, actress.

Trigorin killed my dream.

Bad actress.

Man destroys.

Real actress.

Soul grows stronger.

I have faith.


We can see that the beat "man destroys" works as a pivot point. The monologue shifts in a more hopeful direction after those lines. The overall journey of the monologue is one of despair and descent, followed by a hopeful, spiritual upward soaring (even though it's possibly delusional.)


4. Highlight, underline, or circle the key words in the text.

Highlight, underline, or circle the key words in the text, so they can stand out as you read and practice. These are the most important words and are the most memorable. They can help scaffold your memorization of the entire monologue.


For example:


That’s not it…What was I…I was talking about the stage.

Now I’m not like that. I’m a real actress,

I act with delight, with rapture,

I’m drunk when I’m on the stage, and feel that I am beautiful.


Do this for the whole monologue.


5. Memorize one beat at a time.

Now we are in a good position to start really committing the text to memory. You can easily create flash cards if you'd like. Have the text on one side and write the beat name on the other side. Use different colored index cards, or otherwise somehow mark the flash cards with different colors to visually distinguish them from each other even further.


Get on your feet. Speak the lines aloud and experiment with blocking and acting. Figure out what your character is doing. What are they fighting for? How are they trying to change the person whom they are speaking to? What are they going through moment to moment?


Focus on the highlighted keywords. Meditate on them a bit; what images pop up for you? What associations come up? It's okay if they have no relation to the actual meaning in the text. For example the word "rapture" makes me think of the Blondie song named "Rapture," or the Christian Rapture as described in the Bible. Allow your mind those little diversions. Making connections like that will hook the words more deeply in your memory. Feel free to doodle on your flashcards with any images representative of the text.


6. Spend most of your time and attention on the lines/beats you know the least.

We have a tendency to always practice our monologues top to bottom. This ends up resulting in us knowing the beginning and the ending of the monologue really well, but the middle can often escape us. Spend more time on the parts of the monologue you know the least. To do this, sort through your beats. Set aside the beats that you have down pat. Drill yourself on the beats that are iffy. Once you feel confident you have all of the beats memorized, put the text back together in the correct order and run through the monologue top to bottom a few times to make sure you're making all the connections.


7. Solidify the blocking/staging for your monologue.

Decide exactly how you would like to stage your monologue. Where will you move? Will you use a chair? The physical blocking will be another system of hooks for your memorization. When you practice your monologue again, use the staging and really act out the monologue.


8. Revisit the monologue in spaced intervals.

We remember things better when we space out repetitions in increasing intervals. How you time your intervals depends on when you want the material memorized. For example, if you need the monologue memorized in a day or two, you might use these intervals:

1st repetition: After 15-20 minutes

2nd repetition: After 1-2 hours

3rd repetition: After 6-8 hours

4th repetition: After 24 hours


Okay, maybe you're even more pressed for time. Let's say you need the monologue memorized in 3 hours. Try these intervals:


1st repetition: After 10 minutes

2nd repetition: After 25 minutes

3rd repetition: After 45 minutes

4th repetition: After 1 hour


Got only an hour?


1st repetition: After 5 minutes

2nd repetition: After 15 minutes

3rd repetition: After 20 minutes


These intervals aren't set in stone. Feel free to adjust according to your needs. But you get the general idea; space things out.



Want to learn more? Check out my FREE MASTERCLASS, Memorizing Lines the Smart Way


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