jump to navigation

Theater of My Mind January 27, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Education, Learning, Memory, Theater.

Today, I saw an article from the Association of Psychological Science about memorizing lines for theatrical performances. Since this is an ability that many of my friends have commented on, I think I have a relevant opinion on the matter.

I think they’re out to lunch. Educators tell us that all people, not just actors, learn in one of three ways. My experience is that successful actors use all three (some more than others perhaps, but all three).

When an actor is memorizing lines, it’s not unusual for them to read them aloud, and have the corresponding cue lines read aloud back to them. If you know an actor, you’ve probably been asked at some point to “read lines” with them. Hearing the lines of your fellow actors, and hearing your own voice speaking lines, are both powerful memory triggers. The sound of your own voice successfully saying what you’re supposed to say… it makes the right lines familiar.

The second aspect of memorizing lines is reading them, and reading them over and over. I typically highlight the lines as I’m memorizing, and will sometimes re-type at a computer them if it’s an awkward sentence. Either way, my mind becomes familiar with the appearance of the words, and with the position of the words upon the page.

This runs counter to what the article says, and makes me wonder about the research. Virtually every actor that I know who is able to memorize lines easily can typically tell you where (approximately) a given line appears on the page. They can visualize where the lines are as they memorize them.

The last memorization technique, and for me most powerful, is the relative position of my body to the stage, the actors, and props. On countless occasions I can recall myself or another actor stumbling over a line, only to reposition themselves on stage and blammo… the line comes to them almost immediately.

This is the only place where the article made any sense for me. The article’s thesis is that actors actually feel the emotions and thoughts of the character, and this clues them about the next thing to say. This aligns well with Stanislavski-style method actors. Fortunately for those of us who attend plays, actors don’t really feel all the emotions of a moment similar to their character’s, or they might truly strangle the fellow actor.

For me, the positional, or kinesthetic memory really comes into play further along in rehersal or even performances. When I’m actually doing things that coincide with what I’m talking about, then the lines seem to just… flow. The hardest lines to memorize are nonsensical or gibberish lines. Those almost demand rote memorization.

Three’s Company
While each of the three memorization techniques is important by themselves, collectively, they are a powerful force in remembering lines for theater productions. To make the most of them, learn your blocking early, and then rehearse as often as possible with someone else taking the actual position(s) of the other actors, and reading all the lines aloud as you move to the various places. Do this, and you’ll find yourself calling “line?”, much less often.


1. John - February 18, 2007

Yea….I’m learning lines for a production of “Don’t Hug Me” that opens in 2 weeks. I’m having a tough time because all the characters are from Minnisota, and the dialog is so…..”Fargo” I keep going around all three techniques trying to get them down. I’m on break right now, but gotta get back at it.

2. Tim - February 18, 2007

John, that’s very cool. I’d love to hear how it goes as you get closer to production, and naturally, how the production itself goes. – Tim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: