Memorization - an inevitable reality
Learning your lines is probably the second most important tool to your success after showing up on-time to the audition (meaning 20 minutes early). It is one of the lower rungs on the ladder. And learning lines is probably the number one cause of anxiety for many actors, beginning or experienced professional.
There are techniques including writing the script out long hand, repetition, mnemonics, and the Roman Room method, that work really well for some learners. For most it’s about finding what works for your learning style.
In his article on memorization Ryan Howe describes the process this way:
“Memory is the brains way of integrating sensory-motor information into a symbolic representation that allows prediction of future occurrences. This is the evolutionary basis for memory. When trying to commit information to memory, it is important to engage with the material in a fashion that complements how your brain naturally performs this task. The world is not a two dimensional plane. The brain evolved to remember material that is living, active, colourful, vivid, and engaging.”
In the article found here Howe outlines several techniques for people who are learning strings of numbers, words or historical moments. He advocates putting them into a story. So how does this help actors? That’s already what we do, so some of the tried and true methods may help us, and they may cause more confusion.
I have had trouble with learning lines in the past and am happy to say that now at my advancing age, it’s easier than ever, which is not something I would have expected. I frequently forget why I went into the kitchen, but that is another story.
Here is a simple approach to help actors of any level.
The most important step requires learning the character’s needs, wants, desires, and what physical, emotional and psychological actions they will use to overcome any obstacle to their objective. This is about discovering and integrating WHY the character chooses the words they use. It is about digging into the script to feel the impact of the words and actions that your scene partner is using to effect you, which in turn leads you to the only possible response.
If you view your script like a treasure map that contains all the clues and information you need to do your job and discover your path to the forgone conclusion, memorization will no longer be a word in your vocabulary, much less a concern in your process.
So what about the times we are handed a final script seconds before we shoot a scene? At this point, we rely on our highly tuned muscle memory and ability to absorb material quickly, by making choices based on what we are RECEIVING from the other character. Every action (words we choose) is tied to a reaction (what we are receiving).
So hit the Memory Gym. Make this a daily practice and start working out on scripts for class or with friends. Time spent on the treadmill with a script instead of that cooking show or the Kardashians will be time well invested! See you at the Studio!