I belong to several online discussion forums including “Plays and Playwrights” and LinkedIn’s “Theatre Producers”. When I opened my email yesterday, I saw the question posed, “Does anyone have any Memorization Techniques?” Seems “Keith” was going to be playing a large role in 3 weeks, (dress in one; tech in 2) and has 275 lines – many of them in excess of 60 words – to memorize. Keith went on to say he’d been cramming all month, reading them aloud, recording them, replaying them for hours and has just started on the cue cards. I felt kind of bad reading about his dilemma. I’ve never had any problems memorizing lines, once performing the role of Doris Ulmann in a play about the famous photographer with over 30 full pages of lines just for her and other times having just two or three weeks of rehearsals to get solid on lead and supporting roles while performing in or directing other plays.So I was curious to read what others had to say. Richard suggested hiding the script on stage. Eeek! I’ve directed actors who wrote notes on the set to the utter dismay of the stage manager and set designer. Deborah said “Break your lines up, where they make sense, compartmentalize your lines. Spend a half to an hour a day on them, even fifteen minutes makes a world of difference.”
Angie gave a strong response: “A combination of some of the above works best—read the piece several times out loud to get the shape and the tune of it in your head; record the piece— preferably on a line learner app where you can playback a version with only your Q lines and then strictly spend a set time every day going over and over it until it’s in. Rehearsal sets it in place as you listen to your fellow cast members and when blanks occur, your position onstage, who you’re looking at or even a mental image of the page in your head can jog your memory… Relaxation is very much the key—stress does not help at all!” William said to “get up and walk around as you memorize sections. Think of one descriptive word per section to implant an emotional memory cue. If you are an auditory person, he said, try differing pitches and inflections for each word as you memorize.
Last in the line of the suggestions was the one that works for me—from Jennifer, “For longer passages and monologues, it helps me to write them out longhand.” And that is what I do. At least I used to do it that way. Now my favorite is to type the lines. It seems typing and seeing what I’m typing somehow registers in my brain to the extent that on some lines, I only have to type once and I remember it. If a speech is long I then write it several times, and before no time it’s in my head. Once I have my lines separated out from the script, I study them, without making choices as to how to say each line. After all, they are just words until you develop relationships with other characters and react honestly to situations. During rehearsals, the words begin to make sense. If you are truly committed to a scene and listen to others onstage, you’ll know when to say your lines and why you are saying them. As quickly as lines come to me, they disappear in the same manner. Once they are no longer needed they’re gone. It’s not the same for words to songs. I can still remember the words to pop songs I sang in the 70’s. So maybe setting your lines to music may be of benefit— it’s worth a try. And if it works for you, send your suggestion to Keith.