Learnin’ Lines

One of the most frequent questions people always ask after seeing me in a show is “How do you remember all those lines?”  It’s the bane of most actors.  I mean, what about asking how you feel about the part or what was involved in creating this character that is different from you?  But it’s the feat of memory that impresses most people.

We don’t use our memories as much as we used to.  How many people have to memorize poetry in English classes anymore?  I remember my grandmother reciting a poem she had to learn by rote when she was in elementary school.  It’s a shame that we don’t work on our memorization skills.  Like any skill, if it isn’t used, it atrophies – which is one of the reasons why I like acting in plays.  Unfortunately, I tend to forget everything once the show is over.

A show like Rope’s End is challenging because there’s only two characters, so by default I will have a lot of lines to learn.  I did the play Romantic Comedy by Bernard Slade a few years ago and although there were 5 characters in the play, I had lines on every page of the script except two.  I had to stop watching TV for over a month to get my lines learned!

And last year, I performed a one person show that I had written.  That is a feat of memorization not recommended for the faint of heart!  I don’t usually get scared before performing, but I was terrified before EVERY performance!!

Some people like to have their blocking done so that they can match their movements with their dialogue.  For example, when I walk to the phone, I say…  Although there is merit to that, there’s also a dependency on your physical actions which might change inadvertently if the other actor does something unexpected.  I prefer to try to learn my lines independent to action.

And I don’t know any better way to learn my lines than by straight memorizing them.  But I like to do a few things to help.  Obviously, reading the lines over and over helps.  I also like to transcribe my lines to another document, so I will have written out my lines at least once.

Another thing I like to do is to read out my lines to a recording device, so that I can listen to my lines in the car or when I go for a walk or ride on the train.  This way, I’m using my visual and auditory senses to help me get my lines down.

So, this weekend, I will ask my wife to read the script with me and I will record it.  Later, I’ll edit the recording into smaller bits so that I can work on individual scenes or beats.  I’ll start the transcription next week.

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