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Tips: Learning Lines

Remember that there is a BIG difference between MEMORIZING your lines-- and LEARNING your lines: 

  • Memorizing your lines just means knowing what words to say. 

  • Learning your lines means you not only know what words to say, but you also know when to say them, how to say them and why you say them.  Learning your lines means you are familiar with your cue lines so that you know when to say them and the circumstances under which you are saying your lines, which gives you hints as to how you will deliver them.  Of course, during rehearsal, when you are interacting with your scene mates, you will adjust your delivery based on their line delivery.

As soon as you get your script, ask your director if you may highlight each of your lines with a colored highlighter marker so you can easily find your lines during rehearsal. This also helps them become “highlighted” in your mind.  Sometimes the scripts are rented and must be returned.  In that case, you must only mark in your script with a soft pencil that can easily be erased when you're production is over.  You may then underline your lines so you may easily find them (don't forget to completely erase all your underlinings!).

Remember that the purpose of rehearsal is not just to learn your blocking and lines (that should really be done outside of rehearsal)– it’s to become familiar with how your fellow actors deliver THEIR lines because that determines how you will deliver YOUR lines and vise versa. Think: Action and Reaction!  Give and take!

As you practice learning your lines, say them out loud– don’t just read them to yourself. You need to practice diction and inflection, too– not just the order of the words.  Oftentimes the sense-memory of feeling the words rolling off your tongue can help you remember your lines.

Outside of rehearsal, practice your scenes with the other actors in your scene. This is called “running lines” If your scene mates are not available (such as, when you’re at home), have a family member or friend run lines with you. 

If nobody can run lines with you, you can still get a lot done on your own.  Sit down in a quiet, comfortable place and close your eyes.  IMAGINE you are onstage with your fellow actors/characters.  Now, imagine all of your blocking as you say each of your lines aloud (always aloud-- but if your on a bus or other crowded place where people might think you're having a schizophrenic episode, you can do your lines in your head as well).  Imagine seeing what you would see as your character walks around the stage, saying his/her lines.  This is called "looping," and is a very helpful tool for actors.

Remember that you not only need to learn YOUR lines, but you also must become familiar with your CUE LINES (the line right before you say your line).

During the first week of rehearsal, read the entire play at LEAST twice per day to become familiar with the whole story. Remember that a play is just a story acted out, so this will make sure you become very familiar with the whole story.  During the second week of rehearsal, read just the scenes you are in at least five times per day. This will help you concentrate on not only YOUR lines– but also your scene mate’s lines (your “cues”).

Actors use many tools to help them learn their lines.  One particular one that I used when I had to learn a lot of lines in a short amount of time (ie:  Lloyd Dallas in Noises Off with only 8 days of rehearsal) was to use a tape recorder to tape all your scenes, recording your lines and your cue lines.  Don't worry about inflection, just make sure you get the lines recorded correctly and use good diction on the recording.  You can put on your headphones and be "working" on your lines anywhere, anytime.  It's most helpful if you can say the lines aloud because the sense-memory of feeling the words helps a lot with retention. 

I also used this same method to learn the part of Antonio in a grad school opera production of The Marriage of Figaro.  During the sextet (six solos going at once) some of the other performers lost their places in the song and just stood there-- but I knew right where I was and kept going!


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