This post may contain affiliate links, so I may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Check out the disclosure for more info. And thank you for supporting free content!
Last Updated on
How To Learn Your Lines in 30 Minutes or Less
Have 15 minutes? Do Steps 1, 2 and 3 + 15 Minutes for One Other Thing
So, you’ve landing a sweet audition with a major casting office. You’re super stoked, but also super nervous – you’ve gotta be off-book, but you suck at memorizing! How are you ever going to remember all of these lines?
If you want to be an actor you are going to have to memorize lines – a lot! And that’s the good news, because it means you’re working, or at least auditioning. While some people are blessed with a photographic memory, most actors I talk to, especially new actors struggle to memorize lines.
This may not be an issue if you are auditioning for a 2 line co-star role on a your favorite TV series, but chances are you may also be doing a lot of classes and casting director workshops along the way and you don’t want to f—up.
Here are the best tips I’ve learned, from some of the top acting coaching in the world. I use them to this day before EVERY audition to learn lines super quick!
Part A: 15 Minutes
** Be sure to set the time on your phone and spend only 5 minutes on each!
Step 1: Read the whole scene first… twice. (5 Minutes)
Before you do anything else, read through the entire scene – just for information and to see what’s going on. Don’t focus on your character just yet or what you’re suppose to be doing, but find the story. Notice what point in the script makes you go “ah ha”… that’s the twist, or the pivot and it can be helpful to mark that. Having a solid sense of what the story is and where it’s going makes the words come out a lot easier.
Step 2: Read your lines out loud PLUS the stage directions in the first person. (5 Minutes)
Now go back and highlight your lines and read the stage direction out loud, using “I” for your character. For example: “Skylar walks into her office, distracted by the message on her phone. She’s shocked to see Ty sitting there but closes the door… ” – turns into – “I walk into my office, distracted by the message on my phone. I’m shocked to see Ty sitting there, but I close the door and say… “ At this point, it can be really helpful to go through the motions too. Do this a couple of times.
Step 3: Take it for a walk and get it into the body (5 Minutes)
We remember everything a lot more once we get it into the body. And actors tend to be very physically aware! Walk around your house or apartment or even the block while reading the script out loud – ‘acting’ out your lines. Connecting movement with text locks it in.
Part B: 15 Minutes
1b. More Body Work…
This may sound simple, but it works! It’s a technique that is a combination of yoga, Rolfing, and the Alexander Technique. It was taught to me by a coach years ago when I was learning Shakespeare. And Shakespeare is tough! Not only are there huge blocks of complex text, but the languaging is different and I didn’t know the meaning of the words half of the time. This technique is a double whammy – it locks the words into your body and helps to connect emotion to the text. It has to do with both repetition and spinal flow. It’s also part of Linklater voice work , which I highly recommend if you can find a class near you!
- Put your script on the floor in front of you but close enough so you can read it.
- Roll down through the spine like a rag doll.
- When you get to the bottom read ONE LINE out lout.
- Roll back up through the spine repeating that line. Now back down through the spine repeating the same line.
- Once you get to the bottom, repeat the steps with the next line.
This is another way to connect the text or thoughts with kinetic movement. What we hold in our bodies sticks.
2b. Try an Accent…. even if it’s really bad!
Could your character be Italian? Or French? A die hard New Yorker? A Southern Bell? Or a cranky, drunk granny? No… this is NOT for the audition! But it really helps to get you out of your head and how you “think” your character (you) should sound. It’s also a killer way to memorize lines!
Say your lines out loud in your best, or worst, accent. This has nothing to do with doing a credible accent and everything to do with exploring the scene from a different point of view. It’s also a fantastic technique to use to stop yourself from locking in a particular read and getting too rigid or over-rehearsed in your delivery.
3b. Record and Listen
We all learn in different ways. Some people are visual learners, others auditory and others kinetic. Most of us tend to do best with a combination of learning styles, but have one style that is dominant for us. I’m covering all bases here, but this one will really help you if you are an auditory learner – and it’s super simple.
Grab your smart phone and read the entire scene out loud while recording. Actors that I work with typically find doing different voice for each character helps. Better yet, have someone read with you if there is someone handy. Play it back… again and again and again. BONUS: Let it run while you do other stuff… like housework etc. Then try to say your own lines along with the recording.
4b. Work it Into Your Morning Routine
I am a super practical and super efficient human being, so I love this one for it’s multi-tasking aspect.
Tape your sides around your bathroom, to the wall or the mirror, someplace you can see them as you get ready, brush your teeth, shave, do your make-up etc. Glance at the lines and say them out loud when you can. Seeing the page like that will help to solidify them in your mind and you’ll know what lines fall where. It also helps you to lock in the lines while focusing on something else.
NOW… Rehearse with Someone….. Always!
This is mandatory… before EVERY audition… seriously. You’ve got to say your lines out loud and with another person’s interaction. If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ve probably got your lines memorized by this point, but if not, rehearsing with another actor is probably one of the quickest ways to learn your lines and get a feel for a scene.
If you’re not off-book at this point, don’t be embarrassed to just read through with someone else; rehearsal and working out a scene is just that, it’s the work. Many times I’ve coached actors for auditions and they show up to the session apologizing because they’re not not perfect – who cares! That exactly why we’re working through it.
Rehearsing with someone is not about you presenting finished work, and if it’s another actor buddy, you have no one to impress. Don’t know anyone to rehearse with? Not a problem! There are 2 really great resources that I love for this:
Where to Find Rehearsal Partners
FREE Option: Facebook Group: Rehearsal & Self-Tape Partners For Actors
Just like it sounds, join the group and post a notice in there where you need someone to read with. You don’t have to be in the same city, many actors are rehearsing online these days using Facebook video chat, FaceTime, Skype, or other video conferencing software. The only problem I find with this is that you do need to plan in advance and although there are more than 4,000 members in the group, you may not always find someone who wants to give up their spare time to read with a stranger.
PAID Option: WeAudition.com
Can’t say enough good things about this service, absolutely love it! Yes, it is a paid service, (around $10 / month) and yes, you do have to pay someone to read with you. (usually around $5 / 15 minutes) but because you are paying you can almost always find someone. This is a really versatile and well laid out video conferencing platform that allows you to upload your sides and even record your audition all within one system. And yes, I use it a LOT!
Once you’ve gone through the basics, pick one, or all, of the super fun and useful memorization tips below. Eventually you’ll probably find a couple that work best for you, but if you have to cram for a last minute audition, by all means, all hands on deck and give them all a workout!