Learning lines is the bane of every performer’s life. Though we may love being given principal roles with long speeches and copious amount of lines to impress audience’s with, the process of learning them can leave us a bit stuck.
So, here are a selection of tips I’ve found to be helpful when learning lines.
It sounds like a really simple piece of advice, but start as early as you can, even as soon as you get the script. This way, you’ve given yourself the longest amount of time to get the lines in your head. You don’t necessarily have to sit for two hours each day learning lines, but even reading a scene a few times each day can help you absorb some of the lines before you actively start learning them.
I know some people are very visual learners, as it were, so highlighting lines is a very good idea – just so you can see exactly how many lines you have and where they come a lot easier. I’m currently in a play where I am playing three significant roles (you can read more about this experience here when I write that post), so I’ve highlighted each role in a different colour. This not only helps me distinguish which lines correspond to what character, but remember which costume I need to be in! I also normally highlight my entrances, exits, and stage directions in a different colour, too, so I know all of the non-speaking things I am doing, too.
Something which many of my friends do is record their lines- with their cues – and listen to it on repeat. This can be done so easily as you can listen to your lines whilst commuting, instead of music, or even as you’re falling asleep (especially if your rhymes are in verse). If you read and listen to your lines at the same time, this allows multiple pathways in your brain to be made connecting your memory to the lines, which means you have more avenues to remember your lines by – both visual and physical.
I personally find this odd, but it has worked for some of my cast mates throughout the years. They learn their lines, and when they think they have learnt them, they write them in order. If it takes them too long to think what the line is, or they mess up the exact words/punctuation of the line, then they don’t know it well enough and have to keep going until they get each scene perfect. This is a particularly good method to use if you need to have your words exact, like for classic plays or a drama exam.
My tried-and-tested method is to get someone else to test me by reading in all of my cue lines (the other characters), and I say my lines. This not only stops me from cheating, as someone else has the script in front of them, but enables me to learn my cues, too. It’s all very well knowing your lines, but you also need to know who says what before you do – you don’t want to end up cutting them off, or worse, not speaking as you didn’t realise it was your turn. This method is also really useful in just learning to speak your lines, and have a private rehearsal in trying out different ways to say your lines, and what feels best.
TRY WITHOUT YOUR SCRIPT
Whenever I feel like I’ve learnt a scene chunk of lines, I go into my next rehearsal and do that part without my script. Even if I’m not word perfect and a little bit shaky, I find this helps me a lot. It doesn’t matter about getting things wrong – that’s what the rehearsal period is for, after all! The sooner you start to rehearse without a script, the better you can get a feel of what the real performance will be like, especially if the performance is question is pretty physical. It’s not the nicest feeling to get to the tech/dress and feel completely naked without your script in your hands!