People always ask me how to learn lines.
This question seems almost too obvious to warrant an article: you sit down and learn your lines, right? But it is amazing the amount of times people ask me how do I learn lines? There are a few different approaches to this integral part of an actor’s life, so we thought we would take a look:
1. Learn the thoughts
The first thing to think about when learning lines is learning the thoughts associated with each line. This is particularly important with classical text. If you don’t understand what you’re saying, how can you learn it? Or more importantly how will the audience understand it? Learning the thoughts in response to questions and statements from other characters means that all your have to do to remember your lines is listen. Learn the thoughts!
2. One line at a time
The old classic. This seems shockingly obvious but just commit to learning one line at a time. Once you’ve learnt the first line, learn the second line. Then try both. If you can remember both comfortably, move onto the third line and then try all three. Continue in this way until you learn the entire scene. Sometimes the process can be overwhelming so focus on learning one step at a time.
3. Rote learning
This is learning your lines in a monotonous, almost robotic fashion, so that you don’t lock in any vocal or acting choices. It is used commonly in the Meisner technique. At it’s most extreme you learn lines without even paying attention to punctuation. You learn in the same way as point 2 but don’t try and learn the intention behind the lines, just purely the words. You are learning the lines without having to recall the lines.
4. Learn lines in multiple ways
I leant this from a great voice teacher at drama school. In the same way rote learning allows you to not get stuck in vocal and physical patterns, learning your lines by speaking them in various different ways helps keep you open. Our voice teacher went as far as getting us to learn lines with different physical actions so that your body doesn’t get locked into patterns. Sing your lines, shout your lines, whisper your lines…
5. Use a friend
I have a friend who cannot learn lines on his own. For some people this is the reality. Get a friend and work through the script. It is probably the quickest way of learning lines and stops the inevitable procrastination that occurs when learning lines on your own.
However you learn your lines, make sure that you know them backwards. Nerves will impact your memory, and that is where preparation kicks in. The more comfortable you are with your lines, the more you can focus on your acting.