How do you memorize all those lines??

I asked the cast of “Spinning Into Butter” to respond to a question that is asked frequently in many post-show discussions:  “How do you memorize all those lines????”  I think you’ll find lots of similar themes here – we hope you find it illuminating!

LARRY BALDACCI (Dean Burton Strauss)
Ah, yes…lines.  I’m not really sure what my “method” is.  I find I need to spend a lot of time alone with the script, just taking the lines one at a time.  Breaking larger speeches in parts and trying to string those parts together.  Once I’ve spent time alone with the script and think I have the lines down for a scene or two, I usually ask my partner Ray to read scenes with me…and then I realize just how much I DON’T know my lines!  Back to time alone with the script…then back to Ray.  Repeat as needed!!  I take it one scene at a time…not moving on to the next scene until I feel secure in the one before.  As I have gotten older, it does seem to take a bit longer to memorize, at least compared to the time I spent memorizing when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.  And I constantly carry my script with me everywhere I go, just in case I find some free time. In fact, I still have my script in the bag I take to the theatre each night of performance, just in case my mind starts playing tricks on me and I need to “double check” something!  Once the lines seem to be “in there”, I still go over every scene, every day…even days before going to the theatre.  It just gives me a sense of security.  Wish I had some “special super secret” way of getting the memorization done.  It’s just a lot of hard work for me.  But the sooner I can get off book, the better it is for me as an actor to really start exploring and having fun.

CHERI CHENOWETH (Dean Catherine Kenney)
I have to learn mine by going through the scene (with blocking, etc.) so it’s kind of in muscle memory…I drill by rote memory, but really only feel solid with the lines once I know where I’m standing, moving and/or what I’m doing when I’m talking and how I’m influenced by what others in the scene are doing and how they’re delivering their lines.  I don’t like to learn lines ahead of time, because I’m afraid I’ll get a pattern or idea of what the scene is before getting with the other actor(s) and then may miss that weird alchemy that can happen when someone gives you something that really changes/opens up your whole idea of the scene/relationship…

ROBERT MCLEAN (Ross Collins)
Sigh…  I never have an answer for this other than “You just do it because you have to.”  But let me try:  If I memorize during the rehearsal process, I really don’t put much effort into it. It becomes a matter of muscle memory, and just by nature of running and working scenes, it eventually just sticks. And that way I’m learning blocking and intentions as well, and the lines become associated with being at a certain place on the stage, or a certain piece of action.  If I’m trying to memorize something by rote before rehearsals begin, it’s a little more difficult, but is still just a matter of repetition repetition repetition. If it’s a big monologue or speech, I break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks, and gradually add in more and more until I’ve got the whole thing.  Memorizing scenes where I just throw in a line here or there is much more difficult for me than large speeches, as I have a really hard time memorizing cues in a vacuum. And even if I learn a scene by rote off the page, the first few times I’m on my feet with it, it all goes away anyway when I try to move or actually talk to another person.

KERRY RICHLAN (Sarah Daniels)
I prefer learning lines after scenes have been “blocked” (staged with movement) for the first time.  It makes the process faster/easier because I feel like there are more active “clues” as to what happens next in the scene.  At home, I usually start with my head in the script and learning by repetition, but then use a handheld recorder and record the lines of my scene partners to “quiz” myself and learn my cues.  I get a live, willing participant to quiz me, if possible and correct my errors, but that’s not always easy to do!  I enjoy performing the most when I know my lines thoroughly and can relax and try to be open and respond honestly, so that motivates me to keep working – sometimes I even go over them in my head when I’m commuting, running outside or whatever.  I feel like if I can do the lines when there are visual and audible distractions around me, then I will be in good shape when you add lights, sounds, live audiences (and loud music from the bar next door…!)
FOR SPINNING:  I rarely learn lines before rehearsals begin, but I did with THIS show because of the sheer volume of lines and the limited time available to get comfortable with them once we started meeting nightly.  The first scene I worked on was Act II sc. 3 (the “big monologue”) because I did not want to feel that I was dreading the scene.  I wanted to know the lines and story well enough to relax and play and respond to Rob and not be “in my head” the whole time.  I was also able to make some progress on some of the 2 person scenes prior to rehearsal as well – I did not attempt anything with more than two people because it’s just a LOT easier to manage that memorization after blocking.  To me, line memorization is really just a lot of repetitive, hard (and often boring) work!


One Response

  1. […] (I’ll be honest– it’s asked so often that it’s a bit of an in-joke in the theatre community.  Articles have been written about it, as have other blogs.) […]

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