Line, Please!

As I painfully deliberated about the subject of this blog entry, I decided to discuss the one thing that can drive directors to the brink of insanity: line memorization. I’ve had some actors show up to their SECOND rehearsal with ALL of their lines (and everyone else’s, for that matter) completely memorized. And I’ve had other actors who desperately needed their lines written on strategic locations around the set DURING the actual performance like on a table top, a clipboard or even…their arm.


Yes, their ARM.


At any rate, how do actors learn their lines? Well, first and foremost, they need to be committed to the performance that lies before them. If they go into a production half-heartedly, then it will show. They won’t feel obligated to give their best efforts, either for themselves or for the entire team. It’s sad, but it’s true.

While I’m not an expert on this topic, here are the three ways that I have witnessed how people learn:

  • Visual Memory – This is that one person who was blessed with a photographic memory. They can see a passage of text, read it a couple of times and BAM! It’s etched into their memory like the words on the tablets of stone that Moses carried down from Mount Sinai. All it takes is the visual stimuli of the printed words themselves. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice!
  • Audio Memory – This person is more stimulated by what they hear rather than what they see. They memorize faster when they can actually hear the words spoken. If you are one of these people, perhaps making an audio recording of the entire script would help. Ask the cast for their help.
  • Muscle Memory – Did I just write, “muscle memory”? Yes, I did. And yes, there really is such a thing. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, muscle memory is “the ability to repeat a specific muscular movement with improved efficiency and accuracy that is acquired through practice and repetition.” Did that definition help? No? Well, pooh! I’m a muscle memory learner. I rehearse my lines in conjunction with any movements I might make on the stage, and it helps me memorize my lines faster.  I set up a miniature version of the stage in my living room, and I repeatedly run through the lines while I run through my blocking. The recollection of my muscle movements on the stage helps me solidify my lines in my head.

No matter how you learn, the key to memorization is repetition.


No matter how you learn, the key to memorization is repetition.

*rolls eyes*

Run through your lines when you’re in the shower, while you’re brushing your teeth, during your drive to work, whenever you’re on hold with someone from Mediacom or standing in a line at Star Buck’s. Shoot, I even run my lines as I fall asleep at night. And don’t worry, you don’t have to say your dialogue out loud, thus making yourself appear like you’re one Fruit Loop shy of a bowl of cereal. Just silently mouthing the words will still embed them in your memory without undue fatigue to your vocal chords.

A game to encourage memorization among an entire cast is the “ball” game. The actors all sit in a circle facing each other, and the actor with the first spoken lines should be holding a ball. It can be any type of ball.


Except a bowling ball.

*shakes head*

A bowling ball would be a bad idea. Anyway, whenever someone speaks a line, they should be the person holding the ball. When that person is done delivering their lines, they will toss it to the next person who has a line. This game forces everyone to pay attention and know the natural progression of the dialogue, so they know who speaks immediately after their lines. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.

But no matter what, your lines need to be so ingrained into your mind that you could recite them in your sleep, if needed. Remember, your fellow actors are depending on you to successfully deliver the goods. Days before a show, no one likes to hear the infamous words…

“Line, please!”


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