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.

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)

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