Three Ways to Memorize Lines for a Play or Musical
Before you jump into all the fun stuff of participating in a production, let’s address the large elephant in the room–memorizing lines. For some people this can make or break their experience. Let’s talk about three ways to memorize lines for a play or musical.
Being part of a production can be a very rare life experience filled with exciting moments, making new friends and creating a project with other imaginative beings in the span of about six weeks.
“Really?” You say. “It will happen that quickly?”
If you have ever tried to memorize lines, you know the anxiety that comes from trying to do so. I’m here to tell you that memorizing lines does not have to be stressful. In fact it can be fun and more like a game, so read on.
What is Memorizing by Rote?
Memorizing by rote is the act of practicing your lines many times in hopes that you will take them into your brain and the lines will be there when you need them.
Is memorizing lines difficult? It can be for some people.
It isn’t as difficult as you think.
Can a person be too old to memorize? Nope.
According to education.com: “Age can and often does negatively impact memory capacity, but aging doesn’t necessarily always affect memory. An older person who has an active lifestyle, including regular physical activity, mental activity, and social interaction, could have a short-term memory as sharp as someone several decades younger.”
So there! You can’t use your age as an excuse or reason you can’t memorize lines.
Three Ways to Memorize Lines
The first method is to walk the blocking and memorize lines as you do so.
“What?” you say, “It’s that easy?” Yup.
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
Step 1–Find a place in your home with some furniture pieces to use as stand ins for the set.
Step 2–Designate each furniture piece as parts of the set (the table and chair is the kitchen, for example)
Step 3–Go through your lines reading your script saying the lines aloud.
Step 4–Your second time through, WALK the first scene in which you speak, slowly memorizing the lines using the blocking to help you. Remember: take this slowly and don’t force it!)
P.S. A good director will give you blocking and/or help you to find the right blocking for your character.
This method isn’t the one which works best for me, but some people prefer it.
Record your lines with your cues.
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
Step 1–Go through your script and record the line(s) of the person right before you
Step 2–Leave some room on your recording for the amount of time if you said your line immediately.
Step 3–Record your line(s) right after the cue.
Step 4–Begin at the top of the show and learn your lines one by one.
People who have a commute like this method because they can listen as they drive.
Method #3 (Best Method In My Opinion)
My daughter was an avid performer when she was a young person. Usually, she had no problem memorizing lines, but one year I agreed to allow her to perform in two shows at once. (Yeah, I know, I know…)
Needless to say, her life became very stressful trying to keep the two shows straight. However, she used one of her favorite ways to study for tests to learn her lines–FLASHCARDS!
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO.
Step 1–purchase a bunch of notecards from at Officedepot.com and number them
Step 2–on the back of the card, write out our lines in LONG HAND
Step 3–on the front of the card, write out your cue lines in LONG HAND which are just before yours.
Note: The mere action of writing out the cards in long hand helps your brain to remember them. Don’t try to memorize them as you are writing them–relax and just write out the lines focusing on writing them.
Step 4–put the card in numerical order and read through them. Read the cue line and your line preceding it.
Step 5–now we begin memorizing the lines. This is a building block method so don’t hurry.
Work on a few flashcards at a time, building on the card pile as you go.
I portrayed Penny in You Can’t Take It With You and she spoke constantly. I used the flashcard method to run my lines. However, it was a little tricky to rehearse as I drove down through the mountains from Estes Park to work. Just a little dangerous. (Oops!)
There are other methods to memorize lines, but these three are the ones I am most familiar with and suggest to my actors.
Please Don’t Do this
When I directed On Golden Pond an unconfident and naive actor thought he could leave his lines on notecards around the stage and occasionally refer to them.
He never figured that my stage manager checked the set each night prior to the curtain and took off anything which looked like trash. Hmmmm. Guess whose notecards weren’t on stage when he needed them.
Maybe he should have used the flash card method?
If you’d like to learn more about my directing experiences, check out Eighteen Ways to Make Your Directing Experience Less Stressful or you’d like some production advice Critical Steps in Budget and Royalties
Everyone has their own way to memorize lines. My advice? Please don’t learn them numerically! All you need to have happen is one person doesn’t say their line and your whole numbering sequence is off. Yikes.
See ya next time!
I’d love to hear about your acting/directing experience. Contact me at DhcBaldwin@gmail.com or Deorah Baldwin.net.