Some actors get really annoyed by this question. And yes -- it is the most basic of elements in terms of what we as actors do to prepare for a role. But considering most normal folks don't even memorize phone numbers anymore -- when you think about memorizing 70+ pages of text -- it is a legit question! How do we do it? The real answer -- each of us has our own techniques. I am currently in the prep-phase for an upcoming show and I am looking down the pipeline of my 2019-2020 season and I have some biggies ahead of me this season! So this topic is on my mind...For real.
How I do it: I read the play multiple times a day when I am in memorization mode. Who has the time to do that? Well, you make the time. And yes, I read the whole play. Not just my lines. What I think maybe the average person doesn't consider is that I also have to memorize my cue (the lines my partner say before my lines begin -- so I know when to talk). We have a joke in the biz, "your line, your line, my line..." I hate this joke. And it is perhaps why some people have a hard time memorizing their lines. If you read the play many times you begin to see the underlying reasoning and logic in character's needs so the text is incredibly logical (most texts...lol). If someone asks you that particular question then of course your response would be ...your line. But that really does require active listening and getting inside the head of your character -- which gets us into whole other aspects of the craft...I digress...Simply: I read the play over and over. If I have monologues I work them over and over. Then --because very thankfully I married the perfect partner for me -- my husband holds book for me and corrects me word perfect. Put in the time...Many days/hours and cups of coffee later and viola! The words are in your head. Pro tip: I take a pencil and literally point to each word of my lines as I am reading to keep me from skimming over the text. I believe that is why some actors paraphrase. You read what your mind thinks is written on the page and then you memorize that. Once you have it - keep at it and place a clean white page over top your lines as you read to make sure you are not tempted to cheat! Read the cue and say your line. Checking to make sure you are word perfect. We try. We really try to get every syllable correct.
Sidebar: Don't learn your lines in the rhythm that you "think" you are going to say the line. It stumps you from being able to freely play with your scene partner. Just learn the text cold. This is a trap. Don't do it. And DON'T count how many lines you have. It is a waste of time -- you could be using that time to read the play. Nobody cares how may lines you have and if you do then you might not be doing this for the right reasons...just saying.
Other practices: There are loads of apps out on the market for this exact purpose. We Rehearse and Rehearsal Pro are all used pretty widely -- it is a matter of personal preference. I have heard other people who use Scene Partner but I don't even know if it is still on the market.
Old school: the philosophy sort of used to be that you would learn your text once you knew the blocking. The idea being that you could connect the text to where you are in time and space and that your muscle memory would help you cement the lines. I believe this is true. My personal practice (when all things are right with the universe) I like to hold my book so I can jot down my blocking the first day of blocking -- but I already know my text. Then by day 2 on those scenes I can be book-free and available to play with my scene partners. My style. Everyone is different. And sometimes I don't have the luxury to play this way --for whatever reasons --but it is the best way I have found to play.
I just watched this wild documentary on Netflix called Memory Games all about the US and World Championship for Memory...Very different than what we do but super interesting. They talk about memory vaults or memory castles and creating stories as a way to memorize abstract numbers or names... I can't even begin to imagine that this technique would be applicable for actors but who knows -- all of our brains operate differently.
One last note -- I personally continue to read the play even during the course of the run. I come to the theatre early and walk the stage and say the words. Most of the contracts I work are 8 show weeks. But for some theatres whose schedules are shorter work weeks they practice a brush-up rehearsal either mid-week or require you to come in early as a cast on the show night to begin the week with a speed-thru or walk thru of the lines...just so everyone's brains are clicking together.
How do you memorize your text? Would love to hear what works for you. <3
I'm a southern gal with liberal politics who has worked my ass off and sacrificed a lot in order to be a working regional theatre actor. There are lots of working actors who are out here grinding without begin famous. And we consider that we have already MADE it. I really like to tell stories and solve the puzzle of the text. I LOVE untangling scripts and unlocking characters. I really give a damn about the planet and am an avid gardener. I love to get my hands dirty. I am completely fascinated by fellow journey(man) actors and how we survive and thrive. Ballin' on a budget, Baby. http://www.rachelburttram.com/