Saturday, January 23, 2016

Memorize Deeper, Faster



 

Normally I’d avoid blogging about something as pedantic as how to memorize your lines.  But we’re working on a bloody big play. And a quick internet search for memorization techniques produced an astounding array of crappy suggestions.  Such as this Chicago Tribune article on the topic. And you’d think Backstage magazine would have something helpful to say on the matter; instead they produced this.

So let’s take a poll.  Who here memorizes by studying their lines for fifteen minutes and then taking a nap to let it sink in?  Brilliant.
 
 
Let's get real
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work on a number of two and three character plays where you’re tasked with memorizing an hour or more of lines.  Kiss of the Spiderwoman, by Manuel Puig, is one great example: two actors that never leave the stage.  So I’ve built up some techniques for quickly learning lines.


Break it up into sections
Do your script analysis before you try to memorize.  Identify the arc of each scene, your intentions, and when you shift tactics to get what you want.  Don’t let it become one big scene.
  
Review before and after each rehearsal
Hopefully you’ve got a fantastic stage manager (thank you JB!) who tells you the scenes you’ll be working on in advance.  Set aside 40 minutes before each rehearsal for learning lines: spend the first 15 minutes reviewing the scene you worked during the last rehearsal, and the last 25 minutes reviewing the scene you’re about to rehearse.  Working this way you sandwich your rehearsal time with the director and actors with individual study.  This technique alone often gets me 80% memorized by the time the play is blocked.
 
Sometimes it's hard to carve out 40 minutes of focused memorization time. One of the easiest solutions is to arrive 40 minutes before your call.  Sit in your car-- or outside if it's a nice day-- and work your lines.

 
Connect your blocking to the lines
I’ve said it before:  blocking is dialogue.  If the director isn’t giving you clear blocking, give it to yourself.  Make sure that the movement is motivated by the line; that way, your blocking will pull the lines up out of memory.  (Oddly enough, it also helps you remember your blocking better, too....)  Commit to the blocking until your lines are solid and then start exploring new movement on stage.

Walk and talk
That monologue tripping you up?  Take your script and go for a walk.  Research actually supports the idea that physical movement like walking aids memorization. 

Understand the prompt
Getting lost in the dialogue?  You’ve already broken the scene into its smaller actions during your script analysis.  If you're still running into road blocks, spend time looking at your partner’s lines.  What are you reacting to?  Where’s the prompt?  It’s not always the last thing the other character says; you might be dwelling on something they said a page ago.

What doesn’t work
Everybody is different, so I’m sure some actors will object to my “don’t” list.  But these are things I find aren’t helpful in memorizing quickly and thoroughly.  Silently re-reading the script over and over.  Learning isn’t about ingesting information, it’s about regurgitating information.  Don’t just re-read the script, get up and act it out.   SPEAK your lines. Test yourself.  Audio recording your partner’s lines.  You may learn something from recording all those lines, but unless you’ve got a three-hour car ride it’s probably not helping much.  Skip it.  Using mnemonic devices.  Okay, I would never have thought to suggest this because frankly it’s insane, but mnemonics was actually suggested in one of the articles above. Let me be clear: never use mnemonic devices.  They’re good for memorizing license plates but have nothing to do with your character or the play.
 
There's a lot of working expertise out there-- what works for you?  Any technique you use as an actor that I haven't mentioned?  Anything I've said that you disagree with?  Chime in.  Make it your own.

 

 


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