If you’re not lucky enough to have a photographic memory, a tiny spy headset or enough arm space to write the entire script up your wrist, then you will simply have to master the art of learning lines. As an actor, comedian or performer, being able to retain and recall large chunks of text is basically your superpower. We took to Twitter to gather some tips…
Do it out loud
Being able to read silently in your head – like doing up your own shoelaces, waiting until 1pm to eat lunch and being able to pronounce “wan”– is the hallmark of maturity. But, when it comes to learning lines for a performance, it helps to say it proud and out loud.
Cathy Thomas, our marketing executive and something of a performer in her day, also stresses the importance of getting off book; “Even if you get it wrong at first, you will learn by correction. It gets rid of the panic.”
You could even take a tip from actor and IdeasTap member Hannah Armstrong and try it out in different, amusing accents. Apparently it helps.
Record the script and leave yourself gaps
Bryony Roberts, the Head of Education at Old Vic New Voices, made this suggestion: “Record the other character(s) lines with suitable gaps for your own and keep practicing until you're off book.” This makes a lot of sense as, firstly you’re reading, then you’re learning the whole script and, finally, you can practice as many times as you like without sending your housemate/friend/mum/boyfriend ear-punchingly insane.
You can also download the line learner app for your phone, allowing you to record the script and then recite it, getting prompted along the way.
Write it out
Steve Marmion, the Artistic Director of Soho Theatre, suggests writing your lines out, by hand, as a way to help you remember.
To take things one step further, take a tip from Jen B: “It can be quite time consuming, but write out all your cue lines on one side of paper and all your lines on the other.”
Unless you happen to be doing a recital or reading, you are going to need to transform these lines into a performance. So, you might as well start linking what you say to how you move, as early as possible. Not only will it help you remember your lines, it will give them a meaning and a physical reality. As the actor Jonathan Stephenson said, “Learn lines on your feet. It’s always good to move around and get them in your bones.” Or, as performer Saskia Solomons put it, “Doing the blocking at the same time helps as body tells brain what to say.”
Think about the meaning
Semantic memory is when the mind turns a piece of information into a living, feeling experience. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to just think about what you’re saying and build up an emotional, thoughtful picture of the piece. That might mean drawing a storyboard, it might mean turning the piece into a mind walk, it might mean attributing certain bits of text to certain physical actions. Whatever it is that turns that script into a living thing, in your head, then do it.
As the actor and director Alice Devlin puts it, “Try to think behind why the next line follows, deciphering the train of thought of the character.”
The secret to learning lines, like the secret to good kissing, is repetition. It may sound as boring as Hades, but in the end you’ll just have to go over it again and again and again until it’s ingrained in your mind.
So there you have it. Reading, writing, recording, listening, feeling, practising and ultimately, just not panicking. Good luck!
... Upstaged: Act your age
... Upstaged: The day job
Illustration by Narcsville.
Sign up to IdeasTap for advice, funding, opportunities and our weekly newsletter – with all the latest arts jobs.