Would I sound crazy if I suggested that we stop memorizing our lines?
Not stop knowing our lines, of course. I mean stop the sitting down and saying and repeating and writing and re-writing and reciting. This is just rote memorization, and it starts the discovery of our character on the wrong foot.
It’s not uncommon to see an actor with a stack of index cards, each with a cue line (or phrase) followed by the actor’s line. Though the process of writing out the lines is probably helpful in memorization, this cue-to-cue strategy ultimately solidifies two bad habits: one in preparation, and one on stage.
First, in preparation, as you memorize cue-to-cue or line-by-line, you are making decisions as to how “best” to say the line, whether you are aware of it or not! Those very important acting decisions are not meant to be made in a vacuum, at home by yourself. How to speak your lines ought to be discovered live in rehearsal as you listen to your fellow actor.
This leads us to our second bad habit, not actually listening. If you are listening for your cue phrase, you are not listening to your scene partner. When your cue phrase comes, you respond with your pre-determined, pre-packaged delivery of your line. Instead, the goal is to be listening and thinking in-character so that the impulse to respond appropriately with the line is already there when it needs to be.
What is the alternative?
Instead of spending, say, an hour, memorizing, spend thirty to forty-five minutes working your script:
- Identify your character’s overall objective, each scene objective, and each line objective.
- List all the mental and physical obstacles that you need to overcome to attain those goals.
- Substitute foreign concepts in your lines with concepts that mean something to you personally.
- Discover your character’s thoughts that link one line to the next.
Slowly but surely, you’ll find that the words are within grasp during rehearsals. Not only are they “memorized,” but they are supported and driven by all the work you did previously. All without having to sit and “memorize.” Memorizing is lame. Let’s be awesome instead.