How to Memorize Scripts or Lines

Hi, my name is Aaron Marcus. I’m a full-time Actor and Commercial Model. I’ve been making my living in this business since 1986. Founder of How To Model, as well as the author of How To Become A Successful Commercial Model, I also give workshops throughout the world – from Mexico to Australia and all throughout the US and Canada.

This is a lesson I want to share with people about how I go about memorizing a script. I guess the very first thing I wanted to say is that there is no one right way of doing this. Everybody has their own method and what you really need to do is figure out what works best for you. There are some people who like to write the script out in long-hand. Some people like to record it and just listen to it over and over again. Some people listen to it when they go to sleep, as they find that it is very helpful to them. Some people just pound away, just trying to do the lines over and over again, whereas other people really don’t like doing that as they feel it gets stale for them. There are many, many different ways of doing it. So what I want to do is just share a way that I find very helpful to me, but it’s a little bit unusual!

I just got cast in an independent feature and got the script, about a hundred pages. The first thing I want to do is print it out. I don’t want to have it printed with my printer as it is too much ink, so I took it to a local printer. I then got it whole punched so that I could put it into a binder.

Then what I am going to do is read it. There are some actors that will just specifically read their lines and not care about the other lines. To me that is a bad way of doing things. Quite often I will learn so much more about my character by reading the other person’s lines and also you need to know who you are talking to in the script. So you want to read the entire script through. Don’t even think about memorization at this point, you are just reading it. You may even read it through a couple of times.

Then what I will do is start highlighting my lines just so I have a very clear idea of where I come up on the page. Then there’s something that I do that I know other people do as well and I find it helpful to me.

I don’t memorize quickly. I know people who have a photographic memory and they just look at things very quickly and instantly they have it memorized. So what I need to do is to plan things out. For instance, if I know I’ve got two weeks to memorize a lot of lines for a project, what I will do is actually count out the lines that I have. And I don’t mean full sentences. Wherever a line ends, even if it’s half way across the page I consider that one line and I count off all the lines that I have in the project. Then I figure out, well I want to have everything memorized at least three days prior to the shoot. So what I will do is simply do a little math and figure out how many lines a day do I have to memorize prior to the three days before the shoot? And if it’s ten lines a day, twenty lines a day, if it’s five lines a day, that’s how I work it out. And I write out a little chart for myself: I need to get through pages 1-5 on Monday and I need to get through pages six through ten on Tuesday.

That’s how I work it out. Then every day I sit down before I get started with any other work, so long as I don’t have an audition, or job, that day and I start going through the amount of lines that I need to that day. Once that’s done I then set it aside and the next day start over from the beginning. And I will start from the very beginning, do those five lines (if I did five lines the previous day) and if I struggle with it go back a few times till I get it. Then I do my next five. Third day – start from the very beginning. Then I do the second five and if I’ve got it really smooth then go onto the next one. Then basically by the end (it may be a couple of days before the project is about to shoot) I might spend an hour, I might spend an hour and a half, maybe two hours just going through all of my lines because there is a tremendous amount of them by that point.

So anyhow, that’s the way that I do it. I just break it down so I know I’m doing a certain amount of lines per day. That relaxes me, I know I’m gonna get this done and that’s what I find to be very, very helpful. Sometimes what I will also do, especially if there is a lot of dialogue going on with a lot of different people, just to help me with cues I will record everything minus my lines. And so I will record everybody else’s line and that way I can play it back, listen to the other lines, say my lines and then listen to the other lines and keep going that way.

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    • Aaron Marcus

      Dear Samantha:

      Thanks for the kind note about enjoying the article
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      Aaron Marcus

  • alaina

    hi my name is alaina and im an actress at mcalester high school in Oklahoma and im in the go ask alice play. i play the mother role and im just wondering how do i memorize. so many lines in just two days when we just got are parts. i need major help. i have read them and read them and im not ready. well i have to be off book. and then are play is in may. i just need some advice