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Off Book Is Coming! 5 Hacks To Help You Memorize Lines

Every actor’s approach to the craft is unique and beautiful. How you “act” varies greatly depending on your technique, schooling, and even psychological makeup. Each actor is a snowflake, drifting through this merciless tundra of an industry with as much grace, determination, and courage as they can muster. It’s a thrilling example of the tenacity of the human spirit.

But even in this intoxicating whirlwind of a life, we actors have one thing for certain. One little strand from which we can draw some sense of security, continuity, and trust…You’ve gotta know your gosh-darned lines.

5 Hacks To Help You Memorize Lines

Whether it’s Shakespeare, Simon, Sophocles, or Sorkin. Whether you just graduated grade school or Yale University. If you don’t have your lines memorized, your fellow actors will have (to quote the aforementioned Billy Shakes) “no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.

So in attempt to avoid becoming said prune, Here are some tried and true tips & hacks to help memorize lines.

1. Abbreviate Them

Write out the first letter of each word, leaving all capitalizations and punctuations in place. So “Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.” would become “G N, G n! P i s s s, t I s s g n t i b m.” This gives you just enough of a map to make sure that you’re word-perfect, while still providing a challenge.

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2. Writing Them

Pretty simple but it works. If you have a monologue or speech that keeps tripping you up, rewrite it over and over again. The key here is to handwrite it. The physicality will help give this technique sticking power.

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3. Record Them

Record yourself speaking the lines & listen to this recording as you go about your day. When I use this technique, I make sure to speak them relatively monotone so that I don’t get stuck in a certain inflection.

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4. Get moving!

You’re not going to be onstage, staring into a corner, and reciting your lines like a robot, so don’t practice them that way! Go for a jog, do jumping jacks, heck, even devise an interpretive dance for each line (surprisingly effective). It’s one thing to be able to recite lines when you’re giving 100% of your focus. Incorporating movement will be a truer test, and a closer representation of what’ll be required of you in rehearsals and performances.

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5. Use The Buddy System

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Having a friend or fellow cast member with you can keep you accountable, I mean who doesn’t want to look good in front of their peers. Even better, invite your scene partner to go through lines with you. Not only will this help you get off book, but odds are you will get comfortable with each other during the process. This will reap further rewards when it’s time to perform together on stage.

*Just make sure the friend is someone you know will help keep you accountable, not the one who just wants to talk about last nights GoT.

Bonus Tips!

  • Familiarize yourself with the script first. It’ll be much easier to memorize once you have an idea of the character and the structure of the scene.
  • Sleep help converts new information from short term memory to long term memory. Review your lines as you’re dozing off, and you will be shocked at much you recall in the morning!
  • There’s an app for that! Some folks swear by The Rehearsal 2 App. It’s essentially a recording and teleprompter in one. Pretty genius, if you ask me. But at 20 bucks, it costs a bit of a pretty penny.
  • Avoid the traditional “I’ll just repeat this line 2,000 times until I get it” strategy, as this will cement not only what you’re saying, but also how you’re saying it.  You want your speech to be naturally influenced by your character’s intentions and tactics, so be careful not to memorize inflections and tones.

What do you do to memorize lines? Leave me a comment with your tips and tricks!

Lauren Tothero

Written by Lauren Tothero

Lauren is an LA-based actress who received her BFA in Theatre from NYU. She’s the founder of Daily Ingenuity, a blog that promotes balance and emotional well-being among emerging actresses. Visit Lauren's Blog

3 Comments

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  1. I use a voice recorder app on my tablet. I will record a few pages of the script, reading everyone else’s lines and leaving blank gaps for my own. This not only lets me practice in the car as I’m running errands (plug the tablet into the audio jack and play through the car speakers), but more importantly, it helps me learn what my cue lines are so I know when it’s my turn to speak. 🙂

  2. I’m a first timer playing Mr Beaver in a local Lion Witch Wardrobe production. Loving it BTW.
    I read, wrote, typed and buddied. But once I had a bit of a handle on them I used the same method as Tanya above, recording the other parts leaving gaps for my own. I would play this several times a day, sometimes checking against the written lines, sometimes just blindly (going where fools have gone before?). But it worked. I picked up my lines easily and quickly and now just run through them twice a day from the recording to keep them fresh. 4 more shows this week.

  3. I use the recording-but-leaving-space-for-my-lines technique. However, after the gap, I will record my own line. This way, I can learn my lines without depending on the physical script at all.

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