How to Learn Lines for a Play
It can often seem difficult or intimidating to be handed a script and told to learn your lines. Whether you’re learning lines for a school play, an Amateur Dramatic Production, or for a professional stage job, you can make sure you memorize your lines quickly and effectively by understanding what you’re saying first. Then, memorize one line at a time and recite them daily until you get “Off-Book.” Use movement and emotional cues if you need help remembering difficult lines.
Understanding Your Lines
Read the play and understand it.Before you can understand why your character is saying what they’re saying, you need to know what’s happening in the play. Focus on your character’s motivation and their relationship to other characters. It might help for you to write this information down so you can reference it later.
- One of the best questions to ask yourself is: “Why is my character saying this?”
- Keep a notebook dedicated to your character notes, so you can reference the information easily.
- Make sure you have your character workbook with you whenever you’re working on your lines.
Go through the play again and highlight your lines.By highlighting your lines, you’re making sure your eye is drawn to the most important information on the page. Highlight the lines directly before your lines in a different color. These lines are your “cue” lines that let you know that it’s your turn to speak, so you should memorize those along with your own lines.
- Make sure you can write on your script before highlighting anything! If you can’t highlight your version, try scanning it or copy your lines down by hand onto another sheet of paper.
Read the play over again in your head, and then read it out loud.Reading the play helps you develop familiarity with your lines. Read it again and again, first in your head and then out loud, before you move on to reciting your lines without a script.
Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of lines you need to learn.The excitement of getting a big part can sometimes turn to dread when you realize how much having a big part equals having a lot of lines to learn. But instead of being disheartened, think of it as an opportunity! These lines give you more information about your character and a larger opportunity to craft a deep, thought-out character.
- Try to learn one line, one scene at a time.
- As you get more practice in memorization, the better you will get at it.
- Remember that you will have to put in more effort and time the more lines you have. Plan accordingly.
- Accordingly, others around you should understand you will have more lines as a principal part than say, a member with five lines in the play.
Memorizing One Line at a Time
Write your lines.Write each sentence on a separate line of lined paper, and focus on one section at a time. Make sure you write your cue lines as well, but consider highlighting them or writing them with a different color pen, so you don’t confuse them for your own lines.
- Make sure you write freehand, since typing is not as effective for triggering memory.
- By writing your lines out, you’re also using a different part of your brain than the part that gets used when you hear things aloud, so it can be a great addition to your memorization process.
Fold your sheet of paper so you can only see one line at a time.By focusing on one line at a time, you’re creating a manageable goal for your brain to memorize. If you have a really short sentence, try memorizing two sentences at once.
Repeat the line out loud until you’ve memorized it.This might take anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, so be patient! Remember that everyone’s brain works differently.
Shift the paper down and memorize the next line.Some people like to cover the previous line once they shift the paper down, while others like being able to see previous lines. Find a method that works for you.
Repeat the process.Doing this just once won’t help you memorize all of your lines. You’ll find that, after a few hours or days, you won’t remember the exact phrasing or details. The only way to make sure you get all of your lines right is to repeat this process over the course of several days.
Take a nap after learning a chunk of lines.When you memorize lines quickly, your brain is using short-term memory to remember them. After you step away or stop reading lines, your brain things you no longer need that information and “throws out” the short-term memory, undoing all of your hard memorizing work. However, if you take a nap, your brain shifts that information to your long-term memory, which helps you remember your lines!
- Alternately, you can go for a walk outside after memorizing a chunk of lines. Actors believe walking engages muscles that help with memorization.
- Practice your lines before going to bed. Your mind will actually still work on your memorization while your sleep!
Getting “Off Book”
Highlight important or difficult words.There might be a word or two that you struggle to remember or can’t quite say correctly. If that’s the case, make sure you note it on your paper so that your brain spends that extra split-second focusing on the word. This can often help you tackle a particularly challenging word or phrase.
Set reasonable goals.You won’t be able to get Off-Book in an hour or a day. The best thing you can do is give yourself tasks that you can accomplish. This also has the benefit of giving you a boost of confidence, and making line memorization enjoyable.
- For example, you could say “Today, I’m going to learn two pages of lines and then tomorrow I’m going to run through those lines again and do another two pages.”
Match your lines to your blocking.Your movement on stage, or “blocking,” determines where your character stands, when they sit, and how they physically interact with other characters. If a line or set of lines is really frustrating you, try acting out what your character is supposed to be doing during those lines as you say them.
Make emotional associations while acting.You might be tempted to recite your lines quickly and without inflection, saving the emotion for practice or real performances. However, saying your lines with emotion and inflection can actually help you memorize them in the first place, since this gives you deeper meaning behind the text.
Record your lines and play the recording during daily tasks.Listen to the recording while doing everyday activities like driving or taking a shower. If possible, speak along to the recording to help facilitate the memorization process.
- You can choose to record the whole play, or just your lines. If you record just your lines, make sure you also record the cue line!
- Apps like Line Learner and Lines2Memory can make the recording and playback process easier.
- Another strategy is to include a pause after each line so that you can say the lines back to your recording. For a more advanced version, put the pause before the line, and then listen to see if you got it right.
- Make sure you make your pause long enough for you to say the line!
Ask a friend for help.Friends can read along while you recite your lines and tell you if you got any wrong. If you forget a line, ask for a prompt by saying “line.” Your friend should also correct you if you say a line wrong. This can be as drastic as skipping a line or sentence, or as minor as using “and” instead of “but.”
- Make sure you don’t get too dependent on your friends, or you might never memorize your lines!
Maintaining Your Memorization
Keep rehearsing your lines.Once you’re off-book, you might feel a temptation to stop practicing your lines outside of rehearsal. But the only way to make sure you’re consistently getting your lines right is to keep practicing. Maintain your habit of listening to your script recording or saying your lines out loud during daily tasks in order to keep your lines fresh in your mind.
- How many times you rehearse per day depends on how many lines you have and how comfortable you are with them. If you’ve had those moments of panic on-stage, rehearse your lines several times each day. If not, rehearsing just once is fine.
Reference your script if you’re not sure about a sentence or phrase.In some plays, it’s important to get every word right. This can be as small as making sure to include a “the” or saying “like” instead of “as.”
- While you are aiming for accuracy, remember some productions will not care if you are not entirely perfect.
- Example: a professional troupe performing Hamlet will require a precision higher than a production of "Grease" at a high school musical.
Ask your cast members for help.If you’re not sure if you’re getting a word wrong, ask your cast members for help. They should have memorized all of your “cue” lines, and they can provide a sense of whether or not you’re saying your cue lines perfectly.
Perform your lines in front of family and friends.One way to maintain your lines is to ask different family members or friends if you say say your lines to them once a day. This can also be fun for your family members and friends because it gives them a chance to see what you’re working on and follow your progress!
QuestionI find it hard to practice it when the other people in my play aren't there so I know when to say my lines. Any tips?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA good idea is to remember their lines that lead into yours, as well as yours, or the first and last words of their sentence. This will be sufficient to give you the lead-ins you need to be aware of to trigger your lines.Thanks!
QuestionI'm doing Shakespeare and the words just spill out of my mind. They won't stick and I don't know what to do. Any advice?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRehearse the lines in your head over and over and over again until you're sure that you have the line(s) down. Practice either in a quiet place where you can concentrate, or work with other people you are doing the play with.Thanks!
QuestionWhat's the best thing to do if I literally have a day to learn a page of lines?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you study them then sleep, you will remember the lines better. This works because while you sleep, your memories will be moved into long-term storage.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I forget my lines in the real thing?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThen you would just have to improv and make up a line that would make sense in the situation, not making your mistake obvious for the audience.Thanks!
QuestionWill writing down my lines help?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes! It will be even better if you write your lines out by hand rather than typing them up on the computer.Thanks!
QuestionI'm in a show that's a mystery and I can't let anybody know what happens. I can't run lines with my family and the friends I'm doing it with are often busy. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPractice lines in front of a mirror, or find some other cast members who also want someone to practice with.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I talk louder? No matter how much I try, people keep saying my voice is too soft.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBefore you start speaking, imagine you are trying to say your lines to people who are a mile away.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should I do if the other people in the play forget their lines?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt might be a good idea to memorize the entire script if you can so that you won't need to rely on other people for your cues. Or you could just improvise your way through the scene - it's not all about the lines.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I am playing a traditional local character?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLearn as much about the culture your character is from. Write a personal biography about the character. If you need an accent, look for resources online.Thanks!
QuestionI find it easier to learn my lines when actually rehearsing them, are there any tips you have for overcoming that?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHere are a couple of suggestions. 1. Get a friend or family member to stand in for other actors and "rehearse" while learning your lines. 2. Read them repeatedly and do whatever blocking you already have as you do. 3. Read your lines before you go to bed. 4. Write your lines on flash cards having the cue line on one side and your line on the other. Try to say your line just by reading the cue line. 5. Figure out your learning style. If you don't learn just by reading, look for another way (5 learning styles: Reading, Writing, Hearing, Seeing, and Hands-on).Thanks!
- Make sure you have fun!
- If you are stuck on a certain part, keep going over that part until you get it right, even if it feels frustrating.
- If there are other actors in the scene, practice with them. Have an actor or friend that’s not in the scene hold a script and help you if you get stuck.
- Don’t worry if you accidentally forget a line during a practice or even a performance. This even happens to professional writers! If it happens to you, just make sure you go back to the script after the practice or performance and run that part over again.
- A friend could read lines out loud and you listen carefully. We better memorize what we hear than what we read.
- If you say something wrong in a practise or the performance, don't say 'sorry' or correct yourself. This will put you out if character.
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