Memorize, Memorize, Memorize!

Leeann Dearing

Unless you are fully memorized (in actor speak: off book) you cannot be fully in character. If you are not fully in character, you are doing yourself, your audience, the writers and the directors, and your fellow actors a disservice. Harsh, but true.

Now, some are blessed with photographic memories or information retention that makes the rest of us want to box their ears—or trip them as they walk on stage. But this message is for those golden children, too—because they tend to get lazy.

First, you must be so well memorized that you know your script as well as you know the ABCs. Why? If you, the actor, needs to stop—even for a second—and think about the next line, you have stepped out of character. And audiences are far more perceptive—and sometimes far less forgiving—than you might think. There is also the writer to consider. The character and the script are most important. Every word has been written—and analyzed, criticized and rewritten—for a reason. Each and every word is important. Your talent, no matter how impressive, cannot compensate for paraphrasing. And then there is the director. He or she can only direct you so much and so far with a lapsing memory. Finally, consider your scene partner. Don’t throw them off kilter. Don’t force them to play the improvisation game with you.

Some memorization tips:

1)      Speedy Gonzalez

–          Read through your dialogue as fast as possible several times. Time yourself (or have someone else do it for you). Then try to match that time without the script. Have a friend stop you each time you flub a word. Recite in a monotone; no inflections! Forget punctuation for the time being; the goal is to memorize the dialogue word for word, and do to so without adopting bad habits or particular inflections that are difficult to break.

2)      Slow-Mo

–          Read through your script painfully slowly a few times, concentrating on elongating vowel sounds and hitting each consonant. Again, be monotone!

3)      Relaxed Mode

–          Speed through your monologue—in monotone again—while relaxing every muscle, making zero facial expressions, and without voice inflections. It’s a little more difficult than you might think. No raising an eyebrow, twitching a finger, swaying side to side, bouncing your knees, or bobbing your head. Really, this memorization technique is actually a nice exercise to reveal nervous habits that an objective and unforgiving camera will always pick up.

4)      Distractions

–          Toss a ball, a wad of paper, or something similar up in the air or against the wall; or pass one back and forth with a friend; while repeating your monologue (again, without inflection), starting over every time you make a mistake or pause to think.