Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my Blog!
I created it so that I could share acting tips with you; things I've learned over the years, working on set, teaching classes, coaching actors, auditioning actors, etc.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Memorizing Monologues - FAST & Easy

As I mentioned in my last post, "Memorizing Dialogue for Work On-Camera",  I have very different way of memorizing long speeches or monologues and it's faster and easier than you probably thought possible.  You can do it in just 3 steps (although you have to repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times).

I'm going to share this technique with you completely for free (as always), so, IF you like it, please consider sharing this blog with others and following me on Twitter so you get notified when I post future tips-for-actors.  

When you are ready to begin memorizing a monologue, the first time you read it is of paramount importance.  It is the last time you will ever read it as ‘the audience".  After this first read you will always read your script as an actor. 

Step 1
So this first time, read it for ‘story’.  Don't read it out loud and don't read it out loud in your head...
That means, don't try to "act it" in your head while you read it.  Understand?  Just pay attention to what it's about.  Pay special attention to how it begins and endsnot the words, just what happens. After you’ve read it once – AND ONLY ONCE – immediately turn the script over and put it down.  Try to understand what the character is feeling. What's the primary emotion?  What does your character want?  What’s getting in their way?

Step 2
Now, without looking at the text, act the monologue out in your own words – FULL OUT.  It can last for 20 seconds or 5 minutes.  It doesn't matter.  You remember how the story began and ended so just get from point A to point B. The only goal in this step is to feel a little of what the character feels.  Everyone tends to forget this.  If I asked you to grade yourself on how you did for Step 2 you would probably give yourself a "C" or a "D" even if you felt the emotion.  You'd forget that felling the emotion is the ONLY GOAL IN STEP 2!!  So the bad grade would be based on how you did on getting the words right.  After reading it only once!  If you didn't feel any of the emotion then, without looking at the text, repeat step 2 otherwise, go on to Step 3.  (Hint: you can always repeat the even-numbered steps but never the odd-numbered ones!)

Step 3
Next, pick up the script and begin to read out loud. Start speaking as soon as your eyes hit the page.  Try to bring in some of the emotion that you just discovered in step 2.  Look only at the page – No eye contact! When you finish reading turn the script over right away – Don’t look back at the top of the page!

Then, you simply alternate, four or five times, between saying it in your own words and reading the lines out loud, letter perfect, with emotion.  So Step 4 is to repeat Step 2.  Step 5 is to repeat Step 3, etc.  Each time you say it in your own words, more of the emotion will work it’s way in, and each time you read it out loud, you'll learn more of the scripted words. Alternate it four or five times and you can learn even a very long monologue - letter perfect - in just a few minutes.

One trap I want to make you aware of, is called "Second-Time-Syndrome".  I must credit longtime SRS actor Allen Gumapac for naming this.  "Second-Time-Syndrome" refers to what would be Step 4 - the second time you do the monologue without looking at the script.  The interesting thing is that, for most people, the second time you do it in your own words is the hardest. Not the first time. Now think about that for a minute. Shouldn’t the first time be the hardest? After all, you’ve only read it once.  By the second time you've read it two times.  But I find that actors have much more trouble getting through it the second time – after reading it again - rather than the first.  Why do you suppose that is? 
The reason is that you tend to focus more on the lines the second time. The first time you know you’ve only read it once and there is no way you could hope to get the words right. So you let go of the words and just tell (and feel) the story. But for some reason after you’ve read it a second time (and noticed which words you got right and wrong) you think you should be able to get the words more accurately and that’s exactly what throws you.  Now you're thinking about "getting the words right".

When I do this exercise in class, I tell my students not to stop no matter what. Just keep going and if you can’t remember any more, just get to the end. Usually actors are able to do it the first time but often they find that they have to stop when they try for the second time!  How weird is that?!

The only cure for "Second-Time-Syndrome" is to start again without looking at the script.  If you find yourself stuck (especially the second time you try it) DON'T LOOK AT THE TEXT!!  Not even one word "just to see".  Simply start at the beginning of the monologue and try again.  This time, you'll get through it and you will have conquered the now infamous "Second-Time-Syndrome".

This technique, like my Dialogue Learning Technique, works especially well for acting-on-camera.  As you learn the monologue you can't help but say it many different ways, which prevents you from learning "line-readings" and makes it much easier to take a director's on-set adjustments.
I learned the basics of this technique from my beautiful and talented daughter Kanani Rose, when she was about 6-years-old. She came home from school one day and said her teacher told her a great story. I asked what it was about and she spent the next 30 minutes or so telling me the story.

She told it in her own words – but many of the words were her teachers’. She used descriptive terms that she had never used before ("an old man with a rickety cane took a walk down a country lane..."etc.) and she told me the entire story. If she had to memorize a 30-minute monologue, she obviously wouldn’t have been able to do it. Yet, that’s exactly what she did! And you can too. Focus on the story, not the words.
It’s funny, because I have the worst memory known to man. My students tease me often because sometimes I don’t even remember what scene a student performed for me, an hour after they performed it! – and yet, I can read a long monologue ONCE and turn around and act it, full out, and get most of the words and all of the storyline, right. And so can my students. Thank you, Kanani Rose.

As always, if you want private coaching for an audition or to prepare a monologue, I can coach you via Skype, very inexpensively.  Just send me an email...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Memorizing Dialogue for Working On-Camera: Part 2

I know this post is a little long, but it purports to teach you an entire technique for Memorizing Dialogue for Working On-Camera.  Before I go over this technique, I encourage you to click on this link and read my two previous posts, if you haven't yet done so.  You should never begin to memorize dialogue until you have properly Broken Down the Script!  Once you have done this, you are ready to learn your dialogue quickly and easily.  And, with this technique, faster and easier than you're most likely used to.

There are probably as many techniques for learning dialogue, as there are unemployed actors in L.A...

Everyone seems to have their own formula. First of all, I’d like to discuss the drawbacks to some of the more popular ones I’ve heard.


By Rote. I mentioned, in my last post, the example of the actress learning her lines by rote, in a hurry. When you memorize lines by repeating them over and over again, you learn the line readings along with them. This method also makes it difficult to play off the other actor. You tend to say the lines the same way no matter how the other actor speaks to you. Your performance will be somewhat mechanical. The exception to this is the Meisner trained actor.  The Mesiner technique uses rote learning in a very different and specific way - and it only works when you have been completely trained in the technique.

Using a tape recorder – Version A.   Many actors like to say their own lines into a tape recorder and then listen to them while they drive or exercise or whatever. Once again, this leads to a rather mechanical performance and doesn’t allow for variations in the line readings. You will have a hard time adapting to changes such as the other actors’ choices or your increased understanding of your characters’ motivation. 

Using a tape recorder – Version B.   The other way you can use a tape recorder is to record the other character's lines (your “cue lines”) and leave space for you to say your lines. While this method allows you to vary the way you say your lines, to some extent, it still demands that you say them at a forced tempo (before the recorded lines play back). You also get accustomed to hearing your cues spoken a certain way and will be easily thrown when the other actor says them differently than you recorded them.

Saying your lines into a mirror.  Don’t laugh. People are actually still teaching actors to do this(!!!)  I have worked with several actors (one was a series regular!) that use this method to learn their lines. They believe they can critique their performance while they learn their lines. While this does allow for spontaneity, it inhibits character growth. When you look at yourself and say your lines you don't see the character you are portraying or the character you are talking to - you see yourself.  Instead of reacting as the character, you are “outside your head”, watching and critiquing your performance. This makes you more self-conscious and makes it much harder to react as a character when the camera is rolling.

All three of these methods also discourage one of the most important and overlooked principles of acting... LISTENING. 


So, how do I recommend you learn your lines? You're probably familiar with the concept of "cue lines".  The last words the other character says before you say your lines.  

Well, I don't use them.

In acting schools and college drama departments across the country, future actors are still being taught to "learn their cues" (the last few words of the other person's lines, before it's your turn to speak) by well-meaning but incompetent acting teachers (who probably learned it from their well-meaning but incompetent acting teachers).  Sorry, but not only does this mean you have to learn almost twice as much dialogue, but it also creates an actor that "turns off" while the other actor is speaking and waits until it's their turn to speak.  Instead, try this:

Highlight the triggers.  When most actors begin to learn their lines, they begin by highlighting their lines.  I suggest that you use one color on your lines, say yellow and then use another color, say blue, to highlight the emotional triggers in the other persons’ lines. (Or you can simply underline the triggers with a pen or pencil). Now, I’m not talking about the “cue” lines, I’m talking about the one to three words that are actually eliciting a response from you.  Causing you to say your lines.  For instance, take a look at the following dialogue:

Brian:  I’m on my way to an important meeting downtown, with Frankie. He has an idea he thinks I’ll like.

Liz:  Haven’t you heard? Frankie was in a car accident and broke his leg. He isn’t going to be meeting with anyone for a while.

Brian:  Frankie broke his leg?!

Let’s say you are Liz and you need to learn her dialogue. As I said, actors are often taught to learn the cue line; in this case, her cue is Brian's line, “He has an idea he thinks I'll like.” so they'll know when to say their line. The problem is that this is not the line that triggers Liz’s dialogue. Nothing about that line elicits this response.  But, by highlighting “meeting…with Frankie” you’ll know what to say.  Now, Brian’s next line “Frankie broke his leg?!” is triggered by what words in Liz’s line? Obviously it’s, “broke his leg”.  Liz's ‘cue’ words “…meeting with anyone for a while”, don’t have anything to do with Brian’s next line “Frankie broke his leg?!” You getting the hang of it?

Now I know this sounds "too easy" and, well... it is.  You must get the triggers right, but I promise you, if you go through and highlight the triggers like I've explained and then run through the dialogue two or three times, you'll have it down.  Really.  Although you won't think you do because you won't be able to recite all your lines from memory.  BUT when you hear your trigger, you'll immediately know your line!

When I teach this method in class I give a couple of actors 10 minutes to memorize a three-page scene.  When I tell them time's up and take their scripts, they always complain that they don't know their lines and need more time.  But when I say "action" and they start talking, you see them listening intently to the other actor and their eyes light up whenever they hear the triggers from the other actor - just like your eyes light up when you want-to-respond to something you hear in real life!  And they always get most of their lines letter perfect.

I find this method also helps prevent actors from “turning off” until it is their turn to speak. It helps you to be what I call an "Active-Listener" and this is very important. You are responding to the appropriate stimulus. This will create, in you, a desire to respond as soon as you hear the trigger, which is a real reaction. Don’t worry about cutting off the other actor – you won’t. He'll keep saying his line.  But you'll want to interrupt when you hear your trigger and that looks great on camera! We’ll know that when you heard the trigger you wanted to respond. You're an Active-Listener.

AND you're helping to tell the story. Let's say that Brian doesn't like Frankie.  When he hears that Frankie broke his leg, the slightest smile peeks out from behind Brian's eyes.  This communicates information that isn't in the dialogue.  In TV and film this reaction will get you what we crassly call “face time” – more time on camera – not because you’re pretty or you’re stealing focus – but for the only reason that a person actually gets face time -- because your reaction helps to tell the story.

Older actors seem to benefit enormously from this method.  Obviously, as we get older, memorizing tends to get more difficult. Often times, actors that have a difficult time remembering lines are, ironically, trying to think of their upcoming lines in advance. This is more difficult and less realistic. We don’t think of what we are going to say in advance when we talk in real life. We simply respond to what the other person says. The “trigger” method of learning lines fosters this naturalness. It also makes learning dialogue faster than you ever thought possible.  After all, you're being reminded of your line right before you say it.

Big caveat:  This technique doesn't apply to monologues.  I have a different technique for learning monologues and it's even faster than this technique for dialogue!  But that's gonna have to be the subject of another post.  OR you can spend a whopping $9.99 and get my book where I clearly explain how to make money as an actor, no matter where you live...

If you got something good from this blog, please share it.  And as always, I'm available for private coaching via Skype...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Memorizing Dialogue

So, how should you go about memorizing your dialogue? Before you begin to memorize, you should break down your script, as I described in my last post: Breaking Down a Script.

Also, for those of you that have been waiting for this post (and, judging from the comments and emails I've been receiving, I know some of you have been!), I know you're hoping to find a fast, easy way to learn lines, but please be patient. It WILL happen, but not until the next Blog PostSo if you want to make sure you don't miss it, follow me on Twitter: @SRSactors

But this post will deal with why the way you learn lines is so important.  My next post will lay out the specific steps you need to take to memorize dialogue in a scene - as well as how NOT to memorize.  It's fast and easy and will make line-learning faster than you thought possible.  I promise! 
The questions that I am asked most often, as an acting coach, frequently relate to the learning of lines. Beginning actors especially, are intimidated by the task of “memorizing” dialogue. Older actors worry that memorizing lines gets harder as you get older.  The good news is, it doesn't have to!  In fact, I had a client who had a great deal of experience but was older and she told me she was so depressed that she had to give up acting because she couldn't learn lines anymore.  I taught her a new way to do it and she's continued acting for the last 10 years!  It's all about how you learn the lines.
James Dean during "Rebel without a Cause"
First off, you should never begin to memorize your lines until you have broken down the script (so please read my last post) and are at least familiar with the emotions of your character.
Unfortunately, for many actors, learning their lines is the first thing they do when they “work on their script”. This is a common mistake. The problem is that when you learn lines you also tend to learn line-readings (how you say the lines). It is incredibly hard to unlearn line readings.  So if you learn your lines (and line-readings) before you choose your objective and break down your text – you are acting from a place of ignorance - and you will find it very difficult to change the way you say your lines.  This frequently troubles television actors. The rigorous schedules in television production often allow actors precious little time to break down a script and last minute revisions require super-fast memorization skills.

I recall working all season long on one television series where the lead actress was having trouble taking direction.  She would understand intellectually what the director wanted but she had trouble actually going after it in the scene. I tried everything I could think of and it was very frustrating because she wasn't stupid, she UNDERSTOOD what the director wanted and she agreed - but she didn’t act it!
I’d approach her as we shot the Master Shot and give her a note like “you need more urgency”. She would agree and try to have more urgency for take 2… And take 3… And take 4. And she would look at me between takes with an expression on her face that said, “did I do it?”
Fortunately, your acting doesn't usually have to be great in the Master shot. Unfortunately, nothing changed when we shot the Coverage. We'd shoot the Overs and Close-ups – several takes of each – and in between each take, she would look at me and ask, “was that any better?”  The answer was “No”.  

 This went on through several more episodes. Sometimes she would get the adjustment at the beginning of her lines but it quickly faded as the scene progressed, and she would always revert back to the way she had said the lines before.  She really wasn't a bad actress but she had a very difficult time taking direction and making adjustments. This is a real problem when you work in television production.  The executive producer had even told me, in confidence, that if she didn't improve by the end of the season they were going to replace her.
No, this is not the actress ;-)
It took until the second-to-last episode of the season before I (finally!) figured it out. We had just gone over a scene that she was going to shoot in fifteen minutes.  She was getting touched up in the make-up trailer when a P.A. walked in with revised pages—he had forgotten to give them to her the day before. Well, it was more than revised pages; it was a completely re-written scene. All the dialogue was different, some of the characters were different and in fact, much more than that was different, her character had taken on the objective (and partial story line) of another character. 
She was understandably very upset at the P.A. for not giving her the revisions the day before - or at least first thing that morning!  I suggested (in the interest of avoiding unnecessary bloodshed) that we vent later and work on the script now. 

We went to her trailer and she asked if I would give her "a minute to memorize" her lines. She proceeded to say each of her lines over and over again (by rote) until she had memorized them all.  She was very quick – she’s a pro. She learned the entire three-page scene, letter perfect, in less than 5 minutes.  But no matter what we discussed after that, about her characters’ needs and her choices, no matter how well she understood things intellectually, – SHE SAID HER LINES (almost) EXACTLY THE WAY SHE HAD REPEATED THEM WHEN SHE WAS LEARNING THEM! I never would have realized her problem if I hadn’t been there when she had to learn a scene at the last minute. I proceeded to teach her my method for learning lines. 

The improvement in her acting after this minor revelation was actually noticed and commented on, by the executive producer, an editor, and two of her co-stars. It really was very noticeable.  And because this method of line-learning makes you a more active listener, the editor remarked that he was able to use twice as many shots of her now, because she was helping to tell the story with her eyes!
The lesson is clear: Never attempt to memorize your lines until you know why you are saying them! What are you fighting for? What’s getting in the way?  What’s at stake? What can you DO in the scene to try to get your objective? Do some research first. Learning your lines should NEVER be the first thing you do (although for many actors it will continue to be!). 

As always, please feel free to comment and SHARE this blog.  Thank you.

Next Blog Post:  How NOT to learn lines and...
How TO learn them! (I promise)