What’s My Line: 17 Memorization Tips

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

One of my favorite ways to express myself creatively is to share a story onstage with other storytellers.

I recently appeared in a farce where I had to memorize just under 30 pages of lines and stage directions. I’ve been acting since second grade and have had roles that involved double that amount, however:

  • I hadn’t done a show in a couple of years
  • I just turned 50
  • And, I’ve had some recent experiences with menopause brain

Would my longtime memorization process still work?

Thankfully, it did.

During the rehearsal period, my castmates and I shared some of our tried and true tips with a new performer (who knocked it out of the park!). If you plan to be in a show, haven’t been in one in a while or have to memorize something you’ll be performing or presenting in front of any group for work or fun, you might find some of these tips helpful. Feel free to add your own in the comment section. These are written with a dramatic or comedic play in mind. Please note, musical theatre is a whole other beast with music and choreography, but there is always dialogue – both with music and without!

Here’s a glimpse into an actor’s process:

  1. Highlight all your lines. Basic, I know. However, the action of moving your highlighter over each line tells your brain, “This is important.” This simple step immediately kicks things off in a positive way.
  2. Read the ENTIRE play multiple times to familiarize yourself with and understand the whole story.

    someoldfaves

    A few old friends.

  3. Follow the text with your finger while saying your lines out loud.
  4. Review lines before sleep and upon waking. The semi-altered states will help you better absorb the lines.
  5. If you have trouble sleeping, silently review your lines until you drift off into dreamtime.
  6. Handwrite all of your lines and cues. Some castmates did this on index cards. I do it in a legal notebook. You can type them, too, but handwriting sends a “pay attention” signal to your brain, enabling you to focus and retain the information even better.
  7. Record your lines with a partner or partners and listen to the recording in your home, in a car, on a treadmill or on walks or runs. Lots of voice memo and recording options these days. Years ago, I used to do it on a tape recorder with a cassette!
  8. As soon as blocking (where you are supposed to move on stage in a scene) is determined, start reviewing all lines while moving to solidify into muscle memory.
  9. Link words/lines to concepts. For example, here’s a set of lines: “I got flustered, it was the first thing that came to my mind. Now, listen, we’ve got to press those grapes or it will be too late.”

    mwah

    A beloved cast of “characters”

I linked the word “mind” to the common phrase, “something pressing on my mind.” When I say the word mind in the line above, I automatically think of the word pressing. This cues me to the next sentence where I say “we’ve got to press the grapes.” Linking has been a longtime, successful technique for me.

  1. If you are someone who likes to absorb information with pictures, pick some mental images (or draw some in the margins of your script) to represent different parts of the script or even particular lines.
  2. Give your brain a break. I run lines in the morning and at night, but I refrain from doing so during the day. It allows me some much needed mental space AND it allows creative ideas for character development, mannerisms, expressions, etc, to randomly download.
  3. LISTEN to your castmates. Don’t just wait for your cue to say your line. Be familiar enough with their lines to help them out of a jam, if need be. You would certainly want them to do the same for you. It reads better to the audience, too.
  4. Have a preshow ritual. Maybe that’s being alone for a little while and then reconnecting with the cast before “places” is called. Maybe you share a particular greeting, message or handshake with each cast member. Maybe you all touch a token item in the green room. I wear the same button-down shirt to the theater and follow the same ritual of getting ready. I eat the same meal prior to every performance (chicken noodle soup with oyster crackers), because I know it won’t give me digestive problems. I always look at my script one last time before we begin and I spend at least a few minutes in pre-show solitude somewhere behind the scenes.

    Steel_Magnolias_008

    As Truvy in Steel Magnolias. Boy, I had to have those lines down – AND style hair and give manicures!

  5. Superstitions. If you’re an actor, you likely have them. If you’re an aspiring actor, please respect your castmates’ superstitions. Many have been around for centuries: Saying the “Scottish play” inside the theater, using “Break a leg” versus “good luck.” Don’t know what I’m referring to? Go to Google.
  6. What about nerves? I actually like to be a little nervous. Others try and call it excited, but I know it’s feeling nervous for me and that’s okay. If I don’t feel nervous, I seem to always screw something up!
  7. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced is blanking on stage. If you ever blank, try to relax into it. It’s hard, but you truly know the lines if you did the proper preparation. They are baked into your brain and your body. Freaking out and holding your breath will keep them just out of reach. TRUST that they are there, slowly EXHALE and relax into retrieving them. It may be momentarily terrifying, but, remember… you got this!
  8. Lastly, consider calling upon something greater than yourself. For some, it’s God or Spirit or your Higher Self, the mysterious awesomeness of what makes you “you,” or even members from your ancestral line. I always call upon both sets of my grandparents for support. Each one of them was an entertaining character in their own unique way. I invite aspects of their inherited DNA to move through me and deliver a joyful escape to members of my community for a couple of hours.

    dhbp

    On the right – my recent show’s green room token!

Comedy is my favorite genre. I always feel I am playing a positive role in population health.* After two hours of laughter, the audience members’ cortisol levels have been effectively reduced. It is always an honor to bring art to life. I understand how fortunate I am to have the freedom to express myself in this creative manner.

Theatre friends, what are some of your favorite tips and tricks?

* We are living in a new world right now. Thankfully, it looks as though streaming services will help deliver the important and beloved arts to the many. Hang in there. Sharing art, humor, beauty and thought provoking drama will elevate healing during this temporary period of difficulty.

Next Up: Gratitude

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is an actor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach, breast cancer survivor and Marketing & Communications professional.

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