These days, young actors are being asked more and more to come to auditions with scripts fully memorized, even if they’re provided with pages the night before. Obviously, this is a difficult and daunting task for actors of any age, but especially so for young actors.
So how can you make the task a bit easier and more manageable? Glad you asked! When it comes to memorizing lines—whether for a production or audition—the way you learn the words are just as vital to the way you perform them. As such, we have found in working with so many young actors on this exact task that learning lines by rote is the best, most effective way.
What does it mean to learn something “by rote”? In short, it means rewriting the lines completely free of stage direction and punctuation...basically a long run-on sentence. If it’s a whole scene, write your lines and the other characters’ lines without capitalization, punctuation, or stage direction.
And why do we think learning lines by rote is the best course of action?
Because it means you learn the words without meaning and without any concern for how you will deliver them. Since punctuation and stage directions are the first things that lead an actor to a predetermined and intellectual way of performing, removing them allows you to solely memorize words and then instill your own take on how to act them. For example, if you see a question mark at the end of a line, you assume you have to raise your inflection when speaking the line. But that’s just an idea—you can perform that line any way that feels right to you in the context of the scene, inflection or no.
The truth is that in real life, people rarely talk with any notion of punctuation. It happens on its own as they’re speaking and is based on what is happening at that moment between themselves and the others in the conversation. The same must be true in your acting and memorizing by rote will help you with a more natural performance down the road since you haven’t made any hard-and-fast decisions about how you plan to deliver the lines.
Ready to give it a try? When you first start rehearsing, read the scene very slowly with your acting partner. Do not try to perform yet. Really listen to the other person and simply respond to what they say and do. Allow the meaning to brew in you slowly and steadily.
Once you have the words learned as best as you can and think you really know them, move on to line rehearsal, an effective and fun way to work with your scene partner to get the words even more implanted into your veins.
Get a small ball or pillow—anything you can toss back and forth with your acting partner. Stand about five feet apart and begin to throw the object back and forth rapidly. Then, as you are tossing the object to each other, begin to say the words of the scene as fast as you can. Spit the words out of your mouth mechanically, automatically, mindlessly, without any pauses. If you pause to remember a word, you must start again at the beginning of the scene. If you get stuck and mess up a word, you must start again at the beginning of the scene. Continue to do this before every scene rehearsal until you can do the whole scene—beginning to end—without any mistakes in the words and without pauses.
In the line rehearsal, there is no acting; it’s just words shooting out of your mouth as fast as possible and a great way to get stronger and stronger in really knowing the words. This is so important because when you put the scene on its feet, if you have a beautiful and unexpected moment between you and your partner, the first thing to go out the window will be the words. When you get stuck in this way, you’ll both miss out on a wonderful and surprising moment. But if you really know the words, they will simply ride on the wave of life that is happening and this creative event will take you by storm, which is exactly what we want.