Memorization for an actor is like a ruler for an architect. The words must be available to you at all times but the actor’s creativity is what brings life to a writer’s imagination. Actors are artists who train to be physically and emotionally free while reacting moment to moment to fictional scenarios as if what they were experiencing was real life. The craft of acting is hard, it takes incredible discipline and technique. As I have unwrapped the craft and continue studying the vast amount of knowledge and difficulty becomes more clear. But this article is not designed to “talk you” out of acting… in fact my whole professional life has been dedicated to the opposite. Every person has a performer inside them and if you are being called to the art… there is a reason. So going back to where we started: Memorization. The words you use are the foundation upon which your performance lives. No matter where you are in your journey there is a very specific right way to memorize.
No matter how you get there and who is teaching you understand that the the goal of acting is to believe what you are doing to be real or to bring TRUTH to your performance. There are many ways to get there but none of them will work if you are thinking about your lines. Any thought life wasted on your lines will only bring out self awareness followed by the actor trying to cover up the fact that they don’t know their lines. Therefore you need to memorize in such a way that makes the lines a part of you but is completely separate from how you say the lines. The words must just be available.
The following are the steps I take students through when memorizing.
- Re-write the piece removing all punctuation. This is a trick I learned Christopher Walkin is famous for using and it seems to work really well in helping actors avoid laying down bad habits in regard to voice inflections being added while memorizing.
- Chunk-Memorization. Take little chunks at a time working all the way to the end. Each time you start over from the top be sure end at different points.
- Memorize by Rote and not by Heart. This means you will be able to say the lines really fast or really slow with absolutely no voice inflection.
- Time your memorization giving yourself goals to beat with speed. Your intention is to be able to rattle off your lines effortlessly as you would be able to while counting or saying the alphabet.
- Slow down. Slow way down. Take the time to agonizingly hit every consonant. This exercise will work the brain from another angle and also give your diction a workout.
- Finally do things that require you to move in different ways while saying your lines by rote simultaneously. Examples of good activities are… Eating, throwing a ball, doing laundry etc.
Once you’ve memorized the correct way you are ready to begin crafting as an actor. Take the time to lay a solid foundation first and the rest of your work will be easier.