Based on a reader’s question I surveyed a number of very successful actors and actresses to learn how they memorize scripts. Their answers were all fascinating and wildly different. There were too many to squeeze into one post so tomorrow I’ll share the rest. I’m sure a few of you have methods of your own. My thanks to these actors for their generous participation. Memorization is just one of the many skills I don't have to be an actor.
the scene a few times. Try not to read it out loud a lot. Then get a
pad and scribble your dialogue as quickly as possible without worrying
about being able to read it back later...no punctuation. Write as fast
as your brain goes. Keep doing that until the lines come fast.
have someone read the scene with you a few times, or do it yourself
covering the dialogue with something until you get to it.
If they're good lines it'll go quickly. If they're crap lines, do the same thing but curse a lot while you're doing it.
have a lousy memory. And it isn't - for me at least, though I expect
this may be generally true - something that gets easier with time,
since, with time, one's memory declines.
I HATE memorizing.
there are 2 categories of memorizing: 1) Theater - must be word
perfect. Them's the rules, since the script is "rented" from the owner,
not purchased. 2) tv/film: depending on who the producers are, who the
director is, how much clout the writer has (lots if he's a producer -
as you know), one may be able to get away with a bit of
paraphrasing...or "improving". More in drama than comedy, I think.
Here's how I memorize, and it's totally obsessive/compulsive.
number all my lines. If there is more than one scene, and the scenes
do not immediately follow each other, than I treat each scene
separately. After numbering, I go through the scene, making sure I can
do each line by memory. Then I make sure I can do each pair of lines by
memory. 1&2. 3&4. 5&6, etc. Then I do 2&3, 4&5,
6&7, through to the end. Then by 3's. 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, etc. Then
2-4, 5-7, 8-10, etc. Then 3-5.... Then by 4's, 5's, 6's, until I'm
doing the entire scene's lines from memory. If there are lengthy
speeches, I also treat them as separate entities with this method. This
is a method of my own devising, and probably a rotten way to go about
it. Some people simply look at dialogue and remember it. Some people
should not ever step in front of my car.
And that's how I do it. If working creatively is heaven, then my process is hell.
and one also has to memorize cues...or just wait until there's a
lengthy silence and then begin speaking. Cues, sometimes, are actually
more difficult, unless they actually "cue" the next speech.
Friendly cue: What time is it?
Unfriendly cue: I'm feeling kind of...mushy.
Good question. It just comes from a combo of looking it over and the
repetition of saying the lines. I think I'm a visual learner because
if I can visualize the type and where it was on the page, the words
come. It's probably second nature at this point. It's also really great
for me to have at least one night of looking at it just before bed.
Then, somehow, the next day ...as if by magic....it's there. ( I go into
a terrible panic when handed pages on the set!)
Overall, I would
say that the more often someone practices the skill the better they
become at it. I'd advise a new actor to work on various monologues
regularly .....just to become easy with the skill (I'd recommend
I do have to say that good writing is easier to memorize. Bad writing can be a real struggle. CSI is a nightmare!
truth is that the only time I actively memorize is when the lines are
awkward or poorly written. Then it is sometimes necessary to go over the
words again and again until you find a way to make them 'fall
trippingly off the tongue'.
When doing a play, where everything
must be learned at once, I usually find that by the time I have studied
my way through the script several times I have already picked most of
them up. The thing that seals it is the blocking process; suddenly you
just know that when you cross down stage left and pick up that glass you
The same is true when you are shooting movies and long
form TV. You just do it scene by scene, and working with the other
actors makes it all come alive and be much easier.
Now sitcoms -
that can be a real challenge since those darn writers just keep fussing
and adjusting up until the moment they are thrown off of the sound stage
by the janitor after the final taping. I made the mistake of telling
the Charles Brothers that I was a very quick study. It got to be a sort
of game with them to give me brand new lengthy orations just as the
stage manager was counting down. Certainly kept me on my toes!
Tomorrow the rest. Hope you find this topic as fascinating as I do.