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Tips and tricks for memorizing long lines

Whether you booked the role in a play or film, or you have a 7-page monologue audition to submit by tomorrow, memorizing lines can be challenging. But with the right practice and preparation, getting those lines down will be the least of your worries. With this step-by-step process, you’ll learn to train your brain to deliver each line naturally instead of spouting them out robotically like a repetitive record player.

I'll leave the simple version here. It's short and sweet like condensed milk! But if you want my more detailed version (like a gallon of milk!) just keep reading… We like having you here so take your coat off and stay a little while! (We don't actually have milk though… And you probably didn’t have a coat on…) Anyway, here's the list!

  • Read once all the way through

  • Read again making any notes you need to understand your character and how you want to perform the scene

  • Read out loud as if it's a cold read. Do this as many times as you need until you have the character performance down

  • Write your lines down two or three times or until you can write the whole scene out correctly without checking

  • Record yourself performing the scene the way you’d like to perform it on stage/set, then listen to it on repeat as many times as needed

That was the super speedy version, so technically you can go memorize your lines now. Good luck with your audition!!! But I still have more to say, so if you have time for a hypothetical glass of milk, I shall continue. :)

Before you even start memorizing you want to break down the scene by paying attention to the actions and discoveries of your character. Read the script from start to finish so that you have context for the characters' decisions. If it's an audition, you probably won’t have as much information to go off of so you'll have to create it yourself in order to give an intentional performance. Once you've read through all the material available, you can go back and make whatever notes you need to better understand your character ( I'll be posting a more detailed blog on character breakdowns soon ).

Now you want to start acting out the scene three or four times with the script in hand. At this point, it’s okay that you aren’t memorized because you have the script right in front of you! Just focus on the discoveries your character is making at every moment of the scene and how you want to present them. Play with it, and try a few different ways out to see what sounds good.

Once you feel comfortable with your “cold read” performance of the scene, sit down and write out all your lines. Read a sentence out loud, then write the whole sentence down without referencing the script if you can. Once you finished that, perform the whole scene out loud again while reading if you need to, then write it out again! This time, try writing each line without checking the script. At this point, if you feel like you can write all your lines down without checking back at all, you're ready to rehearse off book!

If you still don't have it down, or the scene is longer, it’s okay! I’d recommend taking a break at this point. With all this hard work, your brain deserves a rest. This will help you retain your lines better and avoid burnout.

Another trick to try is to record yourself performing the scene and listen back to it as many times as you need. Even going to sleep with it on repeat is a good way to get it ingrained in your head. I personally don't like doing this too much because then the way you performed it in the recording is the way you remember it and can be more difficult if you want to say it a different way later. It also doesn't come out as naturally If you are too repetitive with the recording as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I’d recommend this method for actors who are constantly on the go or trying to review the scene on set or backstage, but it’s still better to devote all your attention to learning the lines naturally instead.

One recording method that is really helpful is to record the other person's lines, then give yourself however much time you would need to perform your lines/actions before reading the next line. That way you can run your lines with yourself as many times as you need to. It is much better if you actually have someone who can run lines with you though because then they can correct you on the spot if you got anything wrong.

While every method is subjective to the individual actor and their learning style I find it most efficient to associate each line with whatever action you are doing in the scene. This helps to intentionally build your character’s world more, especially in auditions, where you have to imagine it all yourself anyway. As you memorize the lines, practice delivering them with the appropriate emotion and intention. It will help you remember the lines more effectively while simultaneously improving your acting in the scene.

Bonus tips for everyone enjoying that glass of milk I offered:

  • For monologues or scenes that are extra long, try breaking them down into smaller sections and then combining them once you are comfortable with both.

  • As you practice your lines, make sure you are moving frequently since our directional awareness can affect cognitive recognition. Change up your environment by practicing in different places. A really good way to test yourself once you feel like you have your lines down is to face the mirror and recite your lines all the way through without making any mistakes. Then turn to the right and do it again, but any time you mess up you have to start over again facing the mirror. Once you can correctly make it all the way around, facing every direction without messing up, you're ready to rock and roll!

Daniel Ward is an actor, writer, and contestant finalist of Broadway Bound Live Season 2 and can be contacted on Twitter @wordsofward34 or Instagram @wardledorp

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