The one question I get asked A LOT as an actor is ‘How do you learn all those lines?!’
It baffles me as much as the next person how my mind can retain such information and then forget what I was going up stairs for 5 minutes later. I have found what works for me and I know there will plenty of other actors or public speakers that will use different methods that may not work for me. It’s all about how your brain picks up information the easiest. It may be through seeing it and reading them over and over again, or it may help by walking around the room and saying your lines over and over again or it it may help by recording them and listening to them over and over again. You may have noticed a pattern here which is crucial to any way you find easier to learning your lines…REPETITION! It doesn’t matter your method just as long as you keep going over it. Unless your magic and you can just intake information by reading them once or speaking them once..
So my method. When I get the script I take some time to highlight all my lines just to make sure I don’t miss anything out but also to see how many I have. I need to know what I’m up against and figure how long they are going to take me to learn.
I recently got The Fool and Cordelia in King Lear and I highlighted each character in 2 different colours to make it easier for me to differentiate between the two. I had two different voices for each part so it helped visually to have the lines coloured differently. I then knew that I had 3 short scenes as Cordelia and then the main chunk of my learning would be the Fool. Therefore I learnt the Fool first and Cordelia came after.
I have somewhat changed my method of learning as I’m getting older..maybe my brain isn’t as good as it used to be!
Once I’ve highlighted them I then start on the first page and work my way through the script. I read the first page through out loud and then I start on line one and go over it out loud and then add a line on each time until the first page is learnt. I make sure that I keep going back to line one and I look away from the page as much as I can until I’m reciting my lines in order without looking at the script.
Once I have learnt the 1st page or 2 I then write them down from memory. I find writing them down helps cement what I have just learnt. I have now added an extra method of learning on top and that is recording the scene on my phone and listening to my lines when I’m doing menial tasks like putting on my make up, making the bed, brushing my teeth. I have found that this really helps me feel extra confident with them.
I do find though that if anything changes to my lines during rehearsals, I find it hard to add or take away anything as I’ve learnt my lines so rigidly that there isn’t any room for change. I had many a note in King Lear to remember certain lines that had been added or taken away. Something as an actor I should learn to remember and/or remember to write them down!!
Below I have examples of my script pages from King Lear. As you can see its green and purple. Green for the Fool (male) and purple for Cordelia (female). I have made lots of annotations around my lines; how to say certain sections, but also especially in Shakespeare I have written what the lines mean and what I’m saying. I cannot learn Shakespeare if I don’t know what I’m saying..just impossible.
Many people have many different methods for how they learn their lines. Personally I have never been able to learn them not hearing them out loud and I haven’t found any help in walking around the house whilst doing them either, unless I’m further in the learning process and I don’t need the script.
You will find your ways of learning them and really it doesn’t matter how you learn them just as long as you do before opening night! If I have one tip it would be to just keep going over them. If your struggling then take a deep breath and start at the top and take it slowly. The more you stress or if you’re tired then you’re brain isn’t going to be able to retain the information as easily and you’re likely not to get anywhere fast!
I personally love learning new scripts and getting around the words. It’s all part of the hard work that goes into the performance and makes you more worthy of that applause at the end of the night.
If you need any extra help with lines I know there are some great apps out there to help so remember to check them out!
Happy Learning Everyone!