Acting Tips on Memorizing Lines | Alex Swenson
Here's one acting tip - acting is not about learning lines. Yet actors often worry about memorizing lines, so below is some information on when you need to know your lines and the best way to avoid drawing a blank.
1. Do you need to know your lines for acting auditions?
It depends on whether you have to do a monologue, a prepared scene or a cold reading.
If you're presenting a monologue, you have to know your lines perfectly. Casting directors assume you've worked on your monologue for a long time and expect you to have it down. If you don't know your monologue like the back of your hand, you could easily draw a blank once you feel the added stress of auditioning. That's not a situation you want to be in, but if you do fumble a line at an audition, here's an important acting tip – don't stop acting. Say the line over if you can or just move on, but don't apologize and don't break the fourth wall. Act the way you would if this happened on stage and the casting director will know you're a professional.
If you're asked to prepare a scene from a script, you don't have to know your lines by heart, but you should be very familiar with them. If you can memorize the scene, that's better of course, but always keep a copy of it in your hand no matter what. That way, you won't have to interrupt your acting if you do forget a line, plus it reminds the casting director that your audition is a work in progress, not the polished performance you would give if you got the part. Here's an acting tip for film auditions – keep the hand you hold your script with steady to avoid annoying shuffling paper noises being picked up by the camera.
If your audition consists of a cold reading, no one will expect you to know your lines, but try to show up early at the audition so you can read the scene over several times. The more familiar you are with the lines, the more you'll be able to focus on your acting and not the words. Here's a cold reading acting tip – slide your thumb down the paper as you read your scene. This way, you'll have a mark for your next line and you'll be able to look up during your audition without breaking the flow of your scene.
Naturally, once you nail the audition and get the job, it's time to memorize your lines.
2. What's the best way to learn lines?
It depends on the type of person you are. Some actors do better if they work on the acting first because once they know what motivates their character to speak, memorization is easy. Other actors prefer to get the memorization part of the way so they can concentrate on their acting.
Try these different acting tips and methods and see what works for you.
Write your lines down
That's what Anthony Hopkins does. He writes each line three times. By the third time, he feels he's committed the line to memory. Writing your lines down will help you process and memorize them.
Reading lines out loud
It's easier to learn words when you hear them, so read your lines out loud over and over while you figure out the subtext of your script. Try to read without any specific intonation so you don't fall into a rhythm that will keep you from being spontaneous when you act. When you're ready to test yourself, record the other characters' lines, leaving enough space for your dialogue. Run lines with everyone you can (friends, roommates, family…)
If you rehearse your scenes every day, working on your objectives and connecting with your partner, most of your lines will eventually come naturally because you will have worked out the impulse that makes your character say the line. The legendary acting teacher Stella Adler called this "experiencing" the lines. Actually, if there's a few lines you just can't seem to get right, those could be clues into things you haven't figured out about your character yet.
Here's one last thing about learning lines – it gets easier the more you do it!
To find out more about learning lines and acting auditions, see these acting tips.
About the Author
Alex Swenson has worked as an actor, writer and film editor for the past 15 years in New York and Los Angeles. She has created the website Acting School Stop to help young actors start an acting career. Visitors can ask their acting questions directly on the site and view a wide range of acting resources for actors.
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