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Yay! You finally got a juicy audition! The role is good, the pay is good, you’d get a sweet credit, PLUS have an awesome platform to express your talents and gifts. And if all goes well, you’ll have some killer footage for your reel. You eagerly tear into your sides only to find you have 2 scenes and 4 pages of dialogue to get through. Your self-tape isn’t due until the day after tomorrow but it’s already close to bedtime and you have to work in the morning…. How are you ever going to get through this in time for your self tape and remember all of your lines in the process?
For some actors, memorization is naturally easy. For others, it is a point of panic every single time. No matter where you fall on that scale, memorizing lines is, and will always be, an essential component of single audition you do and every project you work on throughout your career, so you might just as well get good at it.
Even if you’re the kind of person who has trouble remembering your own phone number when it’s new, help is on the way. I dug deep not only into my own toolbox of memorization tricks, but also reached out to a bunch of my actor friends to round up some of the best bits of advice and ninja tips they use for memorizing lines.
In the process, we all helped each other, got refreshers on points that needed reinforcing, and all together became stronger in our own line memorization methods and systems.
From the tips below, take what is useful to you. But honestly, if you are a new actor, I would recommend you tying them all and finding a system you can repeat again and again.
1. Don’t get caught in the trap of tackling the lines first.
Remember, this is a whole scene; it involves story telling and you are there as part of the story. Read through the materials a couple of times first just for information and to really figure out what’s going on and who’s doing what to who. If you know what’s happening, the lines will make a lot more sense.
2. Print it out.
I am a huge fan of going paperless, but not where scripts are concerned. Something different happens when you have the printed materials in your hot little hand. Print out your sides, and go to a local copy shop if you have to. Take the time to highlight your lines, noticing where there are breaks, pauses and other actions.
Personally, I’m a visual learner, so seeing the color-blocks on the page also helps me. I remember what words or what thought has to go into each color block.
3. Eliminate distractions.
This is not the time for multi-tasking. If you really want to ace this audition, you’re going to have to give it a chunk of your undivided attention. Set aside some time, and pick a place with as few distractions as possible. No computer. No TV. No constantly buzzing cellphone. Just give yourself a little bit of time and peace of mind to focus.
4. Read the whole thing out loud.
This part of the work is not silent. As my voice coach use to say, “It’s public work; you’ve got to do it eyes open and out loud.” Read through the whole scene, your lines and the other character’s as if it was playing out. Do funny voices or actions if it helps. Read through it several times just to hear the words and feel out the scene, not for memorization yet. Get a sense of the emotional highs and lows, what the subtext is and how the relationships are playing out. Take note of any copy that you are stumbling on repeatedly, or maybe something that is a memory trigger for the next line or what happens next.
Also important is text that plays off what was previously said. What words or themes are repeated between the characters or does one character play off another. This happens a lot in comedy, and the jokes won’t land if you get a word wrong.
5. Know what you are talking about, truly, deeply.
If you’ve you’ve gone through the scene a few times already, you should already have a sense of it. Now take the time to read each line individually, pausing at the end of each line, rereading it and really absorbing what is being said, to who, and why. Try it different ways, not as a matter of getting it wrong or right, but more about just playing with it and experimenting. What can you discover in the process? Stay open and stay fluid.
6. Record. Replay. Re-listen. Rehearse.
One of my current favorite tricks for line memorization involves using my cellphone. First I record the whole scene, everyone’s dialogue, including my own. For the other characters, I use charactery voices that embodies the voice and attitude of each character as closely as I can within the circumstances. This helps me to see the other character’s point of view and engages the imagination. This recording is labeled “Project Name 1 – Full”.
Then I record a second pass, still doing the other character’s voices but acting my own lines out silently or in a whisper. This file is labeled “Project Name 2 – Practice”. Now I put on my running shoes and me, the phone and my AirPods go for a walk. I listen to the full scene recording several times, to try to get all of the dialogue. Then I play back the practice recording where I’ve left space for me to say my own lines. Any place where there is any hesitancy is going to show up fast. I like to carry the script with me as well so I can go back and hit the trouble spots again and again, re-reading the text for correctness.
7. Find a buddy and engage your imagination.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of rehearsing with another actor. Family and friends, while well-meaning and helpful don’t always pick up the nuances of a script and aren’t always able to play along. Other actors though are almost dying to play with you! My two favorite sources for rehearsal partners and readers are the Facebook Group Self Tape Readers and WeAudition.com. I’ve been a member of WeAudition for a couple of years now ( p.s. Get 25% off WeAudition.com with the discount code MAG 25 ) and have read with hundreds of other actors for their auditions, and have found people to help me with mine almost every single time. It has literally changed the way I prepare and audition. I prefer to find someone to trade with as opposed to calling actor friends because we are all busy and I never want anyone to feel pressured. If you have a few go-to buddies, awesome! But I’d still suggest you switch it up every once in a while so you don’t get stuck in a pattern or too complacent.
8. Record yourself acting the scene.
This takes two devices, but is totally worth it. Something different happens in the body and the mind when the camera is rolling. Take the rehearsal or practice recording you did in Step 6, play it back and act out the scene like you are doing your self-tape. Again, notice any stumbling blocks, words you’re tripping over or consistently forgetting and go back and workout that section of the dialogue again and again until it flows smoothly.
9. Sleep on it. I mean it!
If you can, if there is time, absolutely sleep on this. Do your work on the scene and leave it over night. Your subconscious will get to work on it and I can almost guarantee you will wake up with fresh awarenesses about the characters and the scene and probably remember more that you think. I also find I have renewed energy and far less pressure when going back to it a second time.
10. Last but not least, repeat… again and again and again.
Anyone who has ever done live theatre, corporate presentations or public speaking, will tell you that by the twentieth, fiftieth or one hundredth time (not kidding!) that you’ve done that particular speech, you could literally do it in your sleep – absolutely nothing will throw you. While you may not get the time to practice 100 times before an audition, give it all you’ve got! The better you know the text, the more freedom you have to play during the actual audition and hopefully on-set taping!
Go over the scene as many times and in as many different ways as you can in the time allowed. Play with the with intention, actions, pacing and emotions. Try it sitting and standing. Allow yourself to make mistakes and explore as many ways not to do it, as there are to do it. Focus on the ‘why’ and the circumstances not just what you’re saying. As you learn the scene on a deeper level, you’ll be getting more comfortable with the flow and the lines will start to come naturally. And the real beauty of really learning the scene and not just the lines is that if you do stumble, trip up or forget a line, you’ll always find your way back again.
Having to memorize lines for an upcoming audition can be stressful for sure. Even for people who find memorization easy, there is the added pressure of performance and all of the nuances that go with that. Trust me, casting directors and producers do understand this, but they are under pressure and time constraints as well, and they simply need to find the best actor for the role – fast. The harsh reality is, even if you don’t have your lines memorized, or are “off-book” to use the industry term, a dozen other actors will, and they are going to have a stronger shot at booking the job. They are going to show up hungrier, wanting it more and better prepared, and that get’s noticed.
There are going to be parts of any profession that you don’t like or even find challenging, but in the end that’s what makes it so rewarding! Be that person who wants it more and goes the extra mile. And memorization is both a muscle and a skill – you can build it, strengthen it and learn it. Try to find the fun in the process along the way. That’s really one of the big things that makes this profession so cool …. getting paid to play!
Questions or feedback? Head to the comments section below. I respond to every one!
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* Please Note: I am not an agent, manager, or casting director. I do not procure work for actors. All information, workshops and coaching are for educational purposes only and are not a guarantee or promise of employment. Thank you for being here!