by Joshua Nicholson
lesson is for anybody, thespians and non-thespians alike. There
comes a time in everyone's life when he/she is required to memorize
something. In the context of this lesson, we'll be focusing on
memorizing monologues and dialogues, but these methods can be used
in the memorization of any small or large chunk of text.
I first started acting, I didn't really have much trouble memorizing
my lines. I had no set method of doing so; I just did it. I guess
what happened was that we went over the scenes so many times, script
in hand, that I just automatically began memorizing. I know that
that's bad form and that actors should put some work into memorizing
the lines while at home (or any other place where you have the
time to do it).
memorizing while rehearsing might get the job done, it doesn't
help in the quality of the performance. Rehearsal is supposed to
be the time where you really get down to the nitty-gritty of your
character, finding the character's personality and its relationship
to the other characters. If you're memorizing while you're rehearsing,
you might be so focused on getting the lines right rather than
the way they are delivered (volume, intensity, inflection, etc.).
I understand that, during the first few rehearsals, you'll have
a script on stage, but you'll notice that it's actually a hindrance
because you can't very well put your focus on something or someone
if you're reading lines from the script. You also won't be able
to work with your properties (props) as well, having one less hand
to work with. So, your responsibility is to memorize the lines
as quickly as possible, and the methods I'm about to show you should
help in that.
I got larger roles, I noticed that the lines got a bit longer.
I could no longer use my "memorize while rehearsing" method. I
had to devise a method for memorizing these insanely long lines,
some of which went from one-half to two and a half pages!
I did was this. I memorized in small chunks, then put them together.
I'll give you an example. Here is the Preamble for the Constitution
of the United States of America:
the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide
for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure
these blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States
that is one LONG sentence! But, it won't be hard for you to memorize
using my special method. Now, the trick to this method is "don't
get ahead of yourself". You've got to take things slowly, or else
the words will all start to bleed together.
one in memorizing something is to read the passage all
the way through so that you can know the context in which
everything is stated.
two is to re-read a small portion, once to yourself, then
three times out loud. Now, choosing the size of that portion
is where it gets a little iffy. I usually will take on an entire
sentence…if it isn't too long, that is. In the case of our example,
a single sentence is definitely too long. So, we'll take
it in small chunks.
first section will be, "We, the people of the United States…".
That's it. Don't try to go any further with it. Just take that
small chunk. Once you've read it to yourself, then read it three
times aloud, finding the proper inflection and tone. After that, try
saying it without looking at it. If you can do it perfectly
three times in a row, you're ready to move on to the next chunk.
three is basically a repetition of step two except you're adding
on. This time, we'll tackle, "…in order to form a more perfect
union…". Use step two to memorize that little chunk. Once you've
said it perfectly three times without looking at it, say from
memory the first part you memorized followed by the second part.
Once you're able to say that entire piece (the first part and
the second part) three times without looking, you're able to
four is adding even more on in a similar but different way.
Using step two, memorize, "…establish justice…" and, if you feel
lucky, "…ensure domestic tranquility…". Once you've got that, add
the third part to the second, and just say from memory
the second and third parts. Once you can do that, go back
and add the first part. When you've conquered that without
looking at it, continue on with the memorization.
five is to repeat step four over and over again. Memorize
a fourth chunk and add it to the third. Say the third and fourth
from memory, then say the second, third, and fourth from memory,
and finally, the first through the fourth.
memorizing huge bodies of text, you'll get to a point so far down
that it is really exhausting to go all the way back to the beginning
and begin quoting; it might be so far back that you forget the
new material that you just memorized. So, don't always go back
to the beginning of something. Go far back enough that you're confident
that you know what's going on, then move on. In other words, if
you're memorizing a multi-paragraphed piece, don't always start
back at the first sentence of the first paragraph. Treat each paragraph
as you treated each chunk in steps three and four. Quote them two
paragraphs at a time, then three, etc.
these monologue memorization steps will help you get large chunks
of text memorized quickly. But, you can't stop there. The brain
has a funny tendency to forget large chunks of new material very
quickly. So, you've got to keep it fresh in your mind. Take breaks
every half-hour or so. Then, see if you can get right back into
the groove of things without looking at the script.
you can't stop there, either. Sure you might remember the stuff
today, but let a few hours pass, and see if you can do it all from
memory. Test yourself the next morning, while you're taking your
shower, getting dressed, or whatever; see if you can still remember
what you memorized the day before. You've got to keep this new
material current in your mind for at least a few days before you
can be sure that you've got it.
a few days of perfect quotation have passed, you can slack off
a bit and just do it every other day. But, don't slack off too
much. The only time you can completely slack off is when the run
of the show is over. By that time, you'll have some of these line
indelibly burned into your brain to where you can quote them years
might think that memorizing dialogue should be no different. Though
they might have a few similarities, there are still some major
differences. The biggest difference is that, aside from memorizing
your lines, you have the extra task of memorizing things other
key to memorizing dialogue is "go one line at a time". It's not
helpful to just blaze through huge chunks of dialogue; doing that
will get you familiar with the dialogue, but it will make your
job of memorization a little harder later on.
first thing you've got to do is find out where you come in. When
I said that you had to memorize things other people say, I didn't
mean that you had to memorize the whole script. I meant that you
had to memorize at least the first and last bit of the line that
precedes yours. In doing so, you'll have a good idea of when you
also pretty good to become familiar with the entirety of the subject
matter of the preceding line. This will save you when someone blanks
out or skips around the lines on stage, especially during a performance.
It will give you the chance to cover up the mistake and save the
show from going into a dead silence, humiliating everyone who is
performing at that time.
line preceding yours (or the last bit of that line) is called the "cue
line" or the "cue". Some plays, such as anything written by Pat
Cook, can be wildly confusing and can have a bundle of stuff flying
at you from left field. So, it's not always good just to memorize
the cue. You've got to be familiar enough with the preceding line
(and the entire scene, for that matter) that you can step in with
your line when the basic gist of the preceding line has been conveyed.
a side note, it's also good to read through the entire script at
least once, even if you're just in one scene. This will allow you
to get a better sense of where your character fits into the whole
scheme of things, but that's for another lesson.
back to memorization. Once you've found where you come in, read
aloud the entire portion of the scene that you're in, your lines
and everyone else's. This should give you a good idea of your purpose
in the scene. Once you've done that, you can start with the memorization.
by memorizing your first line. A great way to do this is to use
the methods explained in the previous section. Once you've memorized
your first line, get something to cover up your line (i.e. a piece
of paper, a book, your hand, etc.) and read aloud the line before
yours. Then, see if you can come in with your own line. If you
nail it, move on to your next line.
your next line is close by, become familiar with all of the lines
in between yours, becoming especially familiar with the line that
directly precedes your next line. A good rule of thumb is to go
ahead and memorize two lines preceding yours. That way, you'll
be sure to come in at the right time. [NOTE: if the lines preceding
yours are huge, memorize at least the last sentence or two. That
should get you by.]
your next line. Then, cover your line and read off your cue line.
Once you're able to say your line perfectly three times in a row
right after reading the previous line, move on to your next line
and repeat the process.
you've gotten a page or two into the scene, try doing all of your
lines thus far by memory, reading everyone else's lines aloud and
covering your lines when you say them. After saying your line,
uncover it to check if you made any mistakes. If you did make a
mistake, don't flippantly blow it off; correct it. Go back a few
lines and try it again, using the same method of cover and uncover.
This is the best method of correction because you get a real sense
that you have fixed your errors rather than saying, "Oh, I'll just
fix it next time around."
the chunk method and run the scene a few pages at a time when you're
first starting out, then run entire scenes. If you can get a helper,
have them read everyone else's lines while you quote your own.
If you can get some together, run lines often with the other cast
members. Be sure to work out problem areas with the other cast
members. You're all in this together; work as a team.
running of lines can also help when memorizing monologues. Have
someone follow along when you're delivering your monologue so they
can catch mistakes that you might not know that you're making.
Well, I think I've said my piece on memorization. Be sure to at least try these
techniques. You might be surprised on how well they work. If they aren't
working for you, you might be trying to conquer too much at once. Take
things slowly. The old saying "slow and steady wins the race" is very prevalent
when it comes to memorization.
again, some people just learn things differently than others. Use
whatever method best serves you. If you feel you've got an even
better method than mine, email me at [email protected].