How to Learn Your Lines

A few weeks ago, someone asked me the question, “What will make it easier for me to memorize lines?” Stella Adler’s words came to mind. Here’s what she had to say about learning lines…

“The words come only after seeing. That’s why it never helps to study the words or to memorize. You risk killing the ideas and the objects you’re dealing with.”

This renowned actress and teacher believed that you had to experience the lines first. Once you really understand why your character is speaking, the words will come naturally. Below is a creative way to use Adler’s ideas to memorize a monologue:

1) First, paraphrase each line. Write down in your own words what each line means. Write down not just what you think it means, but what it means specifically to you.

2) Now that you understand the text perfectly, go back to the beginning of the monologue and ask yourself why you’re saying each line. Find a good reason to speak each line the way it was written. This is what Stella Adler calls the actor’s inner justification. You use your imagination to justify the lines and the inner monologue that results from doing this exercise will help you remember the lines written by the author.

Of course, this approach assumes that you have a lot of preparation time ahead of you. But what if you have just a few weeks to learn the 10,000 plus words for Hamlet? Concentrating on acting before memorization is not always practical. Moreover, some actors actually find that they can only truly explore their character once they have their lines down.

If you’re from that school of thought, try these different methods that help with memorization:

  • 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.

  • Read your lines out loud

    It’s easier to learn words when you hear them, so read your lines out loud over and over. 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, run lines with everyone you can (friends, roommates, family…). If you don’t have anyone to run lines with, just record the other characters’ lines, leaving enough space for your dialogue.

  • Record your lines

    Record your lines and listen to them over and over. If you’re an LA actor, you’ll have plenty of time to listen to your recordings as you drive from audition to audition. You can also listen to the recording when you go to sleep. Some people find that their memory works better at night.

Hope you find these tips on how to learn lines helpful. If you’re still struggling, check out this article about using your acting skills and imagination to memorize Acting is not about memorizing lines, but if you can get that out of the way, you’ll be able to concentrate on the more fun aspects of being an actor!