Ask any actor for tips on nailing an audition, and you’ll get a wide range of answers. But one bit of advice you’ll get every time is this: You need to know how to memorize lines. You should have them memorized as well as the lyrics to your favorite song so when you’re on stage in front of a casting director you can focus on the myriad other things you need to worry about: blocking, projecting, facial expressions, body language–all the things that make acting acting rather than just reciting some lines.
And it’s not enough to know your lines well enough to recite them in the comfort of your living room or to be able to blurt them out to a friend.
NAILING AN AUDITION
When the pressure of an audition is on you when you start to realize that all eyes are on you, and they don’t look particularly impressed yet when your palms start sweating and your mouth goes dry, it’s easy to forget those things you thought you remembered. Your lines need to be second nature.
But just how do you commit your lines to memory? What if you’re short on time? Whether you have weeks to prepare for an audition or you’ve been handed your lines just minutes before an audition, there are several industry tips and tricks to teach you how to memorize lines. We’ll go over some of the best ones here.
ACTING AND AUDITIONS
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying out for your very first role or you’re a veteran of the stage. The pressure of an audition can be daunting, and knowing how to memorize lines is one of the best ways to stave off that pressure when it’s time to perform.
Whether you’re trying out for a local play, a TV commercial, or a starring role in a feature film, being prepared is essential, and your preparation will show during your audition, making you stand out as someone a casting director can be confident in.
HOW TO PREPARE
Obviously, the more time you have to prepare, the better off you’ll be–provided you actually use that time to get your lines down.
The first thing you need to do is read and understand all the material you will be working with. Make sure to read all the material you’re given, whether it be a full script or a single scene.
Know your character and the others you’ll be interacting with. Understand who you’ll be representing so you can more easily put yourself in their shoes. If you know your character, their lines will feel more natural.
Once you’ve read the material, spend some time not reading. Think about what your character is saying and why. Rather than simply repeating the lines as written, imagine that your dialogue is a message that you want to convey. This will have the added benefit of improving your performance. If you can get yourself to “feel” what your character is feeling, your intonation and body language will be more genuine and believable.
WRITE OUT YOUR LINES
Much like when you’re studying for an exam, writing down the material can help you remember it later. You can try copying from the script to a notebook or even writing down bits of dialogue from memory. Make sure to do this while you’re free from distraction. Watching TV or even listening to music while you’re writing your lines probably isn’t the best idea. You want to focus on what you’ll be saying to your audience.
HOW TO MEMORIZE LINES
Knowing how to memorize lines is a crucial part of any kind of acting, so let’s get into it. Once you’ve done some initial preparation, and after you’ve gained an understanding of the material and your character, it’s time to start committing the lines to memory.
After your initial reading, go through your lines and read them out loud. Make gestures, practice your intonation, get a feel for how the lines will be delivered. This isn’t just good practice for your ultimate performance. It will help you internalize the meaning of your script and help the words flow more naturally.
Use any space available to you to move around as you would onstage. You don’t have to block out your entire performance, but moving around the room as your character would help you internalize the words on the page, o you don’t feel like you’re just reciting the material.
LISTEN TO THE OTHER ACTORS
If you’re rehearsing with other actors, be sure to actually listen to what they’re saying; don’t just wait for your cue. If your character is having a conversation, jump into that conversation yourself. If you’re rehearsing at home, you can get a friend to read the other parts while you rehearse.
Again, actually listen to what they’re saying. The line of dialogue that leads into yours can be a great launching pad into your next line, and it can help you remember that next line if you feel like you’re actually responding to what is being said.
BREAK IT INTO PIECES
You don’t have to memorize everything at once, and if you have a significant number of lines, it may benefit you to break them down into manageable chunks. You can even mark your script to mark off separate sections to memorize. Spend some time on one section, then take a break from it and work on another. Come back and revisit each section and note which sections are giving you trouble.
This method can come with one common pitfall to avoid, however. When breaking your lines into manageable chunks, it can be tempting to work more on those sections that come naturally to you.
WORK ON SECTIONS
It’s rewarding to be able to recite a section of dialogue nearly flawlessly, but if you focus on one section to the detriment of others, you may find you’ve polished up a section that didn’t need so much work, only to be lost when it comes to another.
Likewise, if you have a section you feel confident in, it can be a good idea to move on to another one, but don’t neglect the lines you’ve already nailed. This can be especially perilous if you’ve had one or two successful rehearsals with a specific section of dialogue and mark it as memorized.
Once you’ve moved on to another section, you may find that coming back to the one you thought you had in the bag is more difficult than you expected.
In short, once you’ve broken your lines into sections, make sure not to neglect any one section.
REPETITION IS ESSENTIAL
This may sound like a no-brainer, but make sure to repeat your lines as often as possible. And make sure to repeat all of your lines, not just those you feel you still need to work on.
Remember that pitfall we mentioned above? In order to avoid forgetting lines, you’ve already memorized, make sure you are repeating all of your dialogue whenever you can.
It can be extremely helpful to vary your location while rehearsing your lines. Speak your lines when you wake up or before you go to bed. Rehearse your lines in the car or on your lunch break at work.
A key tool when figuring out how to memorize lines to is varying your environment. If you practice your lines in your living room every day with the lights turned low and classical music playing in the background, you may be surprised at how jarring it is to try to remember them when you’re outside in the sunlight with cars whizzing by on the road.
BE PREPARED TO IMPROVISE
No matter how much preparation you’ve put into your performance, sometimes the words can simply escape you. That is one of the reasons it is so important to understand the meaning and motivations behind what you’re saying, not just the words themselves.
In a pinch, it is much better to ad-lib something close to your lines rather than stand on stage dumbfounded and searching for the right words. Your audience may not even realize you’ve gone off script, and your casting director will appreciate your flexibility.
Sure, it’s easier said than done, but don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Now that you’ve developed all the good habits and hard work ethic it takes to memorize your lines, don’t forget to step away from them for a while. Even if it’s only a few minutes a day, take some time away from your responsibilities and do something you enjoy. Taking your mind away from your lines will help you go back to it later feeling refreshed rather than overwhelmed.
Hopefully, these tips on how to memorize lines will help you land that next audition or nail your next performance. As with any endeavor, focus, patience, and determination are the key factors for success in delivering a competent performance.
Don’t let yourself get discouraged–delivering lines doesn’t come naturally to most people, and forgetting is a natural part of the process. But with the right preparation and a positive attitude, you can deliver a flawless performance.