Ah, the Theater! Actors’ Tips to Memorizing Lines Include Mnemonic Devices, Quizzes, Naps, Walking
“To be or not to be, that is the question.” Another question to ponder is how actors memorize long lines of dialogue — from Shakespeare or any other playwright.
One might conclude that actors have the best memories of any professionals going. What’s their secret? In fact, having an extraordinary memory is not a prerequisite for a life on the stage or screen, according to theater professionals.
Most actors memorize their lines by following some time-tested techniques. A few of these tips might come in handy if one of your customers comes in worried about giving an upcoming speech at a daughter’s wedding or a colleague’s retirement party. The tips also can help with memorization in general, from recalling dates and events to taking medications.
Memorization advice that pharmacists might share from theater pros includes:
Repetition, repetition, repetition: There’s nothing like repeating something over and over to make it stick in your brain. Some famous actors reportedly read their scripts 1,000 times before stepping on stage or before a camera. But even repletion in the 10s or 100s is useful, if not essential, to memorizing lines, most actors say.
Get physical: Some actors swear by the practice of combining memorization with physical actions, such as walking. Attaching words to actions can help make the lines more memorable.
Sleep on it: Another common technique is to practice lines right before going to bed. Falling asleep after reading something can help cement it in your brain, research has found. Falling into a REM sleep allows your brain time to move information from short-term memory to long-term recall.
Mnemonic device: Many actors have long-used mnemonic devices to speed up their memory retention. The most common device is to write out the first letter of each word in a line. For example, “To be or not to be, that is the question” would appear as T.B.O.N.T.B.T.I.T.Q. This visual trick helps embed memories.
Singing Lines: Song lyrics are often the last thing to fade from a person’s memory, as the brain connects words to music. Some actors take this phenomenon to heart and sing their lines as a method to memorization. Memorizing music activates a different brain pathway, which can help in memorizing lines.
Rehearse with others: After reading lines on your own, it’s time to share them with others. Practicing aloud in context with fellow characters allows you to better absorb the script and memorize specific lines. Professionals advise actors to practice lines with other actors, who can offer suggestions and coaching.
Write out lines: The hand-brain connection is strong. Many actors swear by writing out their lines as a way to speed memorization.