Here’ the final installment in how actors memorize scripts. Part 1 was yesterday. These come from actors you know. As you’ll see, no two methods are even remotely similar.
repetition from rehearsals is very helpful. But, of course, on
"Cheers" we had lots of changes. That's why starting in the middle of
the week was so constructive.
I could study during the weekend. I
would mark the common consonants, like the "t"s or the "s"s or
whatever. Sometimes the letters were near alphabetical, but even if
they weren't the consonants gave me a landmark in my long paragraphs.
When memorizing lines, I make it a rule to lay off xanax or klonopin.
shows aren't that good, so it's difficult to stay awake anyway.
Usually, I read the whole script first so I understand the story. Then, I
sit in a chair in the corner of my bedroom and literally memorize page
by page, reading each line and the cues, and then by putting my hand
over my lines (i.e. covering up my lines) and trying to say them. It
helps me to say them out loud.
I stay with each page until I can
do the whole page and then move on. In a long play, I aim at only five
pages a day. For plays, I also like to know my lines as soon as
possible, even before we start, even though a lot of directors don't
approve of that (because, they believe, you get locked in to line
readings. I disagree- particularly in a really wordy play. I think if
you know the lines really well you can say them in any way that occurs
to you during rehearsal.
I also like to go over my lines in my
head wandering around the street - if I can do them with all the
distractions of the city - then I really know them, even though you look
pretty stupid to all the people passing you by .
It has to be a
little faster for film and tv - although I do the same things. It helps
me to imagine the blocking, even if what I imagine doesn't always turn
out to be correct.
Honestly, I'm not particularly good at
memorizing. I know people who are dazzlingly fast - they can read down a
page and they've pretty much got it. They almost never sit in a corner
somewhere and work on it... just by rehearsing and osmosis they get it.
Alec Baldwin's ability to memorize fast is astounding. Somehow, they
see the page in their head.
A bunch of people hire assistants to constantly grill the lines - I don't usually do that but it's really common.
It is fairly easy for me to memorize lines at this point.
there is an objective to whatever I am saying in a scene (ie: I know
what I want to say) so the lines are obvious to learn.
it is harder when there is a long speech. That is harder to learn - I
have to make sense of it for me then just say it over and over until I
know it in my sleep.
I have little clues for memorizing too: if I
have to remember a list of things in a speech I remember the first
letter of each word.
The hardest lines to remember are those in another language.
Actor 4 (a soap opera star):
great deal of it depends on certain skills that you're either born with
or you're not. If you are born with the capacity to memorize, so much
the better for you. However other factors do come into play. One of
those is your comfort and familiarity with the character you're
portraying. If it's new and you're just kinda feeling your way along,
might be slightly difficult at first. However, if it's a character with
which/whom you are completely familiar and at ease then you know,
almost before the writer puts it on the page, what you'll say and how
you'll say it. Another factor is the leeway, if any, that an actor is
given with his/her lines. On a soap, for instance, with sometimes PAGES
of dialogue or (heaven help us) a monologue, you (more often than not)
will be given a little room to ad-lib. Get all the correct information
out, give your partner their correct cue and make it sound natural and
real...and you can get away with a lot.
Stage trained actors
usually fare much better on the screen than the other way around with
regard to memorization. There's very little ad-libbing tolerated in the
theatre and so that training is invaluable when making the leap to TV
or film. However, the advantage of doing live theatre is the rehearsal
process, which can take weeks of doing the same scene over and
over...and THAT'S where much of the memorizing is done for the stage.
For the screen, big or little, if you are just not a good memorizer, the
only thing you can do is go over and over and over and over...and over
it with a partner or in the mirror. Sentence by sentence if you have
ago I was taught a method called the "key word" method for memorizing
commercial copy quickly when auditioning for commercials in NY where the
copy is presented to you when you get to the audition. You only have a
few minutes to look at it before you're whisked in to go on camera. The
"key word" is the word that jumps out at you when you are reading a line
and is different for everyone, but hopefully is the "heart" of a
sentence. You circle it and memorize it. Then in theory you have a list
of "key words" that bring up the complete sentence when needed.
my actress wife has also influenced me and her method is one that I
have used more and more the older I get. Seeing a picture in my mind of
the sentence and matching an action to it at the same time.
actor also has an action for each line. Actions being verbs. For
example, in typical arguments between two romantic leads in a scene,
often one character will get to a point where they "present", "list",
"defend" (all active verbs) their P.O.V. with a "laundry list" of idea.
In the actor's mind when you get to that place in the scene in my mind I
know what is to be said is the "laundry list", and I match that to my
action/verb "defend my P.O.V.", "present my reasoning", "list my
The process typically gets harder the older you
get because for most of us our memory begins to go, but with these tools
and techniques, hopefully we can stay adept at memorizing for more
years than we should. They are good brain exercises too. All
memorization ... jokes, poetry, speeches, etc. are good for our brains.
what is called a "quick study" -- I can learn pages in a few minutes.
Apparently, that has to do with what side of the brain you work on --
and that's not a choice!
I learn through images. I see a line
and I see the picture of the line. For example, "I love you, you're the
greatest man I've ever known, but if you don't clean up that office,
I"m going to leave you!"
I see the man I love standing in a room full of paper which he is not putting in a trash can and then I see myself leaving.
The picture -- to the action -- to the line.
there is a word I get caught on and then I use a muscle memory
technique. The brain is a muscle and if you lift 20-30 times all the
muscles (the tongue etc.) remember. So, I repeat by rote over
and over and over until the muscle remembers and then I don't have to
think about that word -- it comes -- the muscle just
my acting technique, Meisner, learned in grad school -- lines are just
an extension of the physical action. So when you are working out the
part you are in motion moving from
set piece to prop to person etc.
and it's like a dancer with choreography you just know what the action
is your playing and you move in that direction and the lines come
because you know where you are headed based on the intention and action
of the scene.
Thanks again to all the actors who participated.