7 Tips to Speed Up Memorization

Whether you’re in a cold read or stepping in to an unexpected role, there are times when you will need to memorize lines at lightning speed. Below are some tips to help you get in the fast lane.

  1. Read through the material. Scene or feature length script, it’s always a good idea to get a feel for the arc of the story as a whole if possible. So break out those reading comprehension skills and buckle up for the big picture. If you can, it will inform your choices later. Especially in cold reads, scan every bit of text on the page for context clues. If you have a larger project (say, a last-minute audiobook), choose wisely. Read the first 30 pages, 30 pages in the middle, and the last 30 pages, and infer from there.
  2. Get the bookends down. If you’re looking at a scene, memorize the first few lines and the last few lines. If you bookend the audition with a strong starting and ending moment, weakness in the middle is more likely to be forgiven.
  3. Highlight. Humans are visual creatures. Highlight or somehow mark your script in a way that makes sense to your brain. Favorite colors are a bonus. I try to bring highlighters and a brightly colored pen to every audition—the former to mark lines and the latter to notate stage directions.
  4. Know your strengths. It’s good to know what kind of learner you are. Do you need to spend a lot of eye-to-page time? Do you need auditory cues? Do you learn by doing? Forget what you think you’re supposed to do and cater your strategy toward your learning style.
  5. Break it into chunks. Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Build your memorization up in chunks, and systematically expand the chunks you review.
  6. Record your cues. Especially if you learn by listening, recording your cues on your phone is a great way to memorize more quickly.
  7. Track the train of thought. This is another way to say “listen.” For real, if you figure out why your character is saying what she’s saying, the lines will stick so much faster. Nine times out of ten, the “why” comes from your scene partner. Listen to what is happening in your scene and take the next logical step.
  8. BONUS: Don’t be afraid. Many talented actors get intimidated when asked to memorize on the fly, but it’s all just part of the job. Know yourself and your strategies, do what you need to do to get into a calm and focused frame of mind, and do your job. At the end of the day, this career is your choice, and you are in the driver’s seat. Take control and do what you do best.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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