Learning lines can be the most daunting part of a production for me. It’s time consuming, and can honestly feel like busywork in comparison to the richly imaginative and enlivening emotional work that goes into the creation of a character. Alright, I’ll say it: I really, really, really do not like learning lines. The weird thing is, however, that because I HATE going into rehearsals not being off-book (I end up not being able to do any of the work that I love. How am I supposed to successfully focus in on what I’m feeling on stage when I’m trying to remember if the next word is an “and” or a “but”?) I have become a line learning pro. I have memorized two acts of a Lanford Wilson play overnight. I have learned Shakespeare monologues on the D train between the 36th street stop in Brooklyn and Broadway-Lafayette in Manhattan. I memorized all of the lines in my most recent one-act over the course of a rehearsal. I wish I could tell you that my line learning tips and tricks have resulted from a long career of carefully planning weeks in advance to learn my lines in a timely fashion and then honing those long-term techniques down to very short term ones, but that would be a bold faced and quite cheeky lie, because my line learning abilities have resulted from three things:
- I want to get the words out of the way and get to the good stuff
- I want that to take as little time as possible because I am busy literally always.
- I find learning lines super boring.
Here are my top five ways to learn lines in a time-sensitive, not ultra-boring, not super-duper labor intensive way. Take these tips and tricks and use them well.
- Say your lines in as many foreign accents or funny voices as you can muster. I wish I could say I haven’t spent hours of my life spouting Shakespeare in my mirror with a silly foreign accent or terrible lisp, but that would be a lie. One of the quickest ways I know of learning my lines is by saying them in a goofy way. When you get caught up in the task of trying to wrap your mind around saying your lines in a completely foreign way, you end up learning the words much more concretely and permanently than you might guess. Bonus: it’s hilarious, and you don’t end up getting into a rut of saying your lines the exact same way every time. You find yourself reacting to others on stage much more successfully because you haven’t memorized intonations on the words (never do that!).
- Pull out your cell phone, and say them wherever you walk like you’re having a nice chat. I have found that if I run my lines out loud while walking down the street and holding my cell phone up to my ear, nobody questions what I’m doing, and it is the easiest time to work memorization into my already hectic schedule. If you do this you can run your lines anywhere you go at any time. If you are a person who has a crazy hectic schedule, this one is for you. Bonus: you won’t get distracted and forget your lines when you have to walk around and actually act on stage/screen because walking down the street is so distracting anyway. You will have your lines MASTERED.
- Do something while memorizing. Do the cha-cha, wiggle your toes, dice celery, I don’t care. This is so important. I find that sometimes I will have my lines completely mastered when I am at home on my couch memorizing, but the moment I step on stage in rehearsal and have to actually do actions with the words I completely forget what I’m supposed to be saying. If you do something while memorizing this is less likely to happen. You will be so used to saying your lines with a ton of distractions going on around you that there will be literally nothing that can distract you. Bonus: you will be unbeatable in any speed-throughs you have with your cast.
- Learn them on set. While this is obviously not something that may work for film actors or anyone who doesn’t get a ton of rehearsal time the way most theater actors do, learning your lines on stage with other actors can be so insanely helpful it is crazy. You begin to learn the lines in association with where you are on stage or what your emotional state is at that point in the play, rather than just having to learn them cold. Bonus: the more you rehearse on your feet, off book, the better your piece will be.
- Say your lines into a tape recorder. I have had acting teachers who have sworn by this one. Say all of your lines into a recording device over and over, and listen to them wherever you go. Say them with the recording at home. Then erase the whole thing, and record only your scene partner’s lines leaving empty space between lines so that you can use the recording to run lines with. Bonus: you will know exactly when your cues are (which I find equally difficult in some cases).
What are your line learning tips or tricks? What part of a rehearsal process do you find most difficult? Let us know in the comments section!