THE REAL SECRET TO MEMORIZING LINES

and why your current rote memorization methods are the cause of your frustration and pain.

I am going to attempt to make this as straight forward as possible with the intention that when you're finished reading this blog post, you will have a total understanding of how an actor should be memorizing lines and how traditional rote methods are actually the cause of the memorization challenges actors face all the time. Then it's up to you to take action and work on your new memorization skills, just like every other part of your acting craft training.


There are a few foundation memorization principles that are critical to understand and they are:

  1. Our mind thinks in pictures, not in words.

  2. We do not easily remember mundane details, but when things are unusual, bizarre and emotional, we recall them quickly.

  3. We have an easier time remembering things that are of interest to us. And this is the key to putting it all together...

  4. In order to easily remember something new, that new information needs to be connected in some unique way to something you already know. I know that 4th principle is a bit challenging to understand right now, but I promise it will all become clear, so keep reading.

Let's explore these 4 foundational memorization principles:

1. Our mind thinks in pictures, not in words:

I want you to think about your childhood home. Recall as much of the physical structure as possible. Now try to recall some memories from your youth. Were there specific sounds or smells? Do you recall birthday parties or fights? OK, now let that fade from your mind for a moment and try to recall your first love or your first kiss. What did they look like? What color eyes and hair did they have? How tall or short were they? Where were you when you kissed? Were you inside or outside? Was it daytime or nighttime? What were you wearing? What smells, sounds or feelings do you recall? OK, now let that fade from your mind for a moment.


While you were allowing your memories to resurface, were you experiencing the memories sensorily (sounds, smells, sights, touch, taste) in a series of images or were you seeing words on a page describing your memories? It's a rhetorical question. Of course you didn't see words. You saw pictures, experiences. And that's because our mind thinks in pictures, not in words and this is never more true than in our memories.

I know some of you will challenge me and say, "What about when I hear a song on the radio that I haven't heard in years. I'm remembering words, not pictures, so your principle is flawed." To that, I say, "Are you sure?" When you instantly recalled the lyrics to that song you haven't heard in years, were you really seeing the lyrics as if they were words on a printed page or were the lyrics just flowing back into your mind, without you really understanding why? And while you were singing along as if you did have the lyrics in front of you, were you also experiencing some nostalgia and were memories and emotions connected to the song popping up too? Were you re-experiencing anything while you were instantly singing the words?" As you can see, memories, our senses and our emotions are all intertwined in a tangled ball and that is a beautiful thing for actors to know because we can leverage that to help us memorize our lines.

2. We do not easily remember mundane things, but when things are unusual, bizarre and emotional, we recall them quickly.

What did you do three weeks ago on Wednesday? What did you talk about with your loved ones at dinner last Thursday? What did you eat for lunch 5 days ago? When was the last time you sat in 10 minutes of traffic? What time did you wake up last Tuesday? I could go on and on asking you boring, mundane questions that you don't care to read and care even less to answer. And it's likely that you probably don't know the answers to the questions without having to really struggle to recall. That's because when things are boring, everyday, mundane, average, unmemorable, we truly struggle to remember them. However, when things are unusual, bizarre and emotional, we recall them quickly.


Can you describe the last car accident you saw? How many cars were involved? Was the ambulance there already? What were the people involved in the accident doing? What time of day was it? What was the weather like? I'm curious how many of these questions you can answer. In general, you would have recalled more information here because the stakes of the circumstances are higher. What about the last major blow-up emotional fight you had with your loved one? What was it about? Where were you? What vicious words were shouted at each other? Did it get physical or just emotionally brutal? How did you resolve the conflict? Again, I expect you'll be able to recall many details of this event. Have you ever seen someone with tattoos and body piercings all over their body? If yes, can you describe what you saw, what you felt, where you were, etc?


The point again here is that when you experience mundane, everyday things, they come in and go out of our memories quite easily, but when the event is volatile, hysterical, frightening, bizarre, emotional etc, your mind locks in on the details and you can recall the information quite quickly and easily.

3. We have an easier time remembering things that are of interest to us.

Without looking it up on the internet, I want you to name 10 plays by Arthur Miller. Now name 10 plays by David Mamet. Now name 10 plays by Anton Chekhov. Now name 10 movies directed by Martin Scorsese. Now name 10 Broadway shows that have played in the last 10 years. Now name 10 master acting craft teachers. Now name 10 players from your favorite sports team. Now name 10 players from a sports team that you consider irrelevant. Now name the ingredients and the steps to bake a cake. Now name all of the states in your country. Now name all of the members of the current governing body in your country. I could go on and on and on, but the point here is that, in general, we have a much easier time recalling information when we are interested in it. If you never studied Arthur Miller, David Mamet or Chekhov, you might have a harder time recalling the names of their plays. The same holds true with all of the other questions. The more interested and invested you are in a particular topic, the more you'll be able to easily recall data within that topic. We remember things we are interested in and care about. It's as simple as that.


So, when you're trying to memorize your lines and you are not particularly interested in the material, you have a natural, neurological block to easily memorizing the lines. When you love the script and the scene is juicy and you're really interested in the characters, relationships, circumstances and the entire production, the words stick in your mind quite quickly. Interest in the material has a direct relationship to your ability to recall it.

And this is the key to putting it all together...

4. In order to easily remember something new, that new information needs to be connected to something you already know.

This is the HOW. This is the principle that is the glue that binds the other three principles with the text you're trying to memorize. Think about the questions in the 3 principles above. Once you grabbed hold of the first memory, it was like links on a chain and 1 memory triggered the next memory and because you recalled that next part of the memory, the next piece of the story flowed into your brain. Our memories are not simply floating in a raft by themselves in the vastness of our brains. Our memories are linked to other memories and flow through synapses in our brain in a connected sequence.


Every actor has experienced this moment: You're on stage at rehearsals and it's your first "Off-Book" run through. You are doing well. You're saying most of your lines correctly (as best you can). You are paraphrasing where needed, but you're on track and then all of a sudden...

YOU GO BLANK

You have no idea what comes next. You have a mental block, so you call to the Stage Manager, "LINE?" (which is exactly why I chose this for the name of my book. Check it out on our Store). And the Stage Manager says the first few words of your next line and all of a sudden, you instantly remember the forgotten line, as if the flood gates opened. You say to the Stage Manager, "Right. Thank you. I got it. I remember now." And you continue on expertly saying your lines. You just needed that hook, that 1 key word or phrase and once you grabbed hold of it, the words were there. The dialogue is connected to the previous image, the previous experience.

Now what? What do you do with all of this information? How are actors supposed to memorize their lines?


Well, let me ask you this - How do you memorize your lines today? What is your process? And do you employ any of the principles above in your process? Typically, actors memorize lines in a few traditional rote memorization ways.


BORING AND PAINFUL ROTE MEMORIZATION PROCESS THAT MOST ACTORS USE


1. Actors highlight their lines on the page, cover the page with their hand or another piece of paper and then slide down the page. And if they mess up, they start back over at the top of the page. And over time, due to sheer repetition and pounding of the words into their head, the words somehow seem to stick.


2. Actors audio record their lines or the other person's lines and leave black space in between their lines. And then the play the recording over and over while they drive, while they work , while they work out, while they try to fall asleep. And do you know what happens? The actor unconsciously programs themselves into an emotional response to the cue line because that cue line (the line before your line) is being delivered exactly the same way every time (because it's a recording). And then the actor stumbles on their lines in rehearsal when the other actor delivers the lines differently from how they've been conditioned in the audio recording. But again, this rote method of pounding the lines into your head eventually works.


3. Actors sometimes write cue lines on one side of a note card and then write their lines on the other side. They treat it like some elementary school vocabulary or mathematics study session. How much farther away from creativity and imagination can an actor get if they use this process? UGH!!!


No one can deny that the grueling and academic rote memorization process eventually pounds the lines into the actor's brain, but here's the issue:


THE ROTE MEMORIZATION PROCESSES ABOVE ARE NOT A CRAFT TOOL FOR LINE MEMORIZATION.


THEY CAN NOT HELP YOU IF YOU FORGET YOUR LINES DURING A PERFORMANCE.


IF YOU USE ONE OF THESE ROTE METHODS,

AND YOU FORGET YOUR LINES WHILE PERFORMING, YOU ARE ALONE IN A DESERT SEARCHING FOR ANYTHING TO SAVE YOU.


THESE ROTE MEMORIZATION PROCESSES DO NOT TAP INTO THE FOUNDATION MEMORIZATION PRINCIPLES AND THEY DO NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AN ACTOR'S GIFT...THEIR IMAGINATION.

Why do actors look at line memorization as something separate from the craft process? Why do actors abandon their creativity and rely solely on academic rote memorization processes?

The answer is simple, most actors have just not been taught the proper way to memorize and that's why I wrote my book "LINE?" and why I am writing this blog.

Since I mentioned my book, here's a bit about it, followed by an endorsement from Master Acting Craft Teacher, Eric Morris (which I am so humbled and grateful for and extremely proud of). And by the way, if you JOIN THE TOOLBOX, you get a Free PDF copy of the book!!! (and another free gift that I will write about in another blog: REACT - Rapid Emotion Activation Craft Training)

"​LINE? - The Creative Way For Actors to Quickly Memorize Monologues & Dialogues"

ATTENTION ACTORS!!!!! If you've ever struggled to remember your lines, the creative memorization techniques taught in LINE? will help you break through your mental blocks and accelerate the line memorization process. Author Jared Kelner has applied his experience as an actor and acting teacher and combined that with his expertise as a memory improvement trainer and created an imagination and sensory based process for actors to use when memorizing lines. It’s an innovative approach to line memorization that taps into the actor’s imagination and acting training rather than relying on monotonous rote memorization methods like highlighting, recording and repeating lines over and over. By applying the creative memorization methods presented in LINE? you will instantly recall your lines. ------ INDUSTRY ENDORSEMENT "I have been teaching acting for over 50 years and I rarely come across innovations to the craft process that I believe in and support. Without hesitation, I fully endorse and recommend Jared Kelner's book LINE? The Creative Way for Actors to Quickly Memorize Monologues and Dialogues. Every actor must memorize lines and most actors look at the line memorization process as something outside of the craft of acting, but in fact, it is very much an integral part of the craft process and as such, actors need a craft technique to help them. In his book LINE?, Jared Kelner brings something inventive, innovate and important to the craft of acting. The technique of imaging that Jared teaches for line memorization mirrors imaging concepts I share in my book Acting, Imaging and the Unconscious. I am pleased to endorse Jared Kelner and his contribution to our craft. LINE? is a must read for every actor." Eric Morris: Actor, Acting Teacher and Author of “No Acting Please”, “Being and Doing”, “Irreverent Acting”, “Acting From the Ultimate Consciousness”, “Acting, Imaging and the Unconscious”, “The Diary of a Professional Experiencer”, “Freeing the Actor” and "A Second Chance At Life"

Now that you have a complete understanding of how your brain works, let's now explore how an actor should memorize their lines.

MEMORIZATION PRINCIPLE #1:

Our mind thinks in pictures, not in words.

We must turn the words into pictures. Once we have an image of the words, or images that represent the words, we can use those images creatively. For example, if the line is:

"I stood alone on the beach watching the waves crash in the distance and I thought I could see my father looking down at me from heaven."

instead of trying to pound the lines into our head over and over, let's start to leverage the way our brain naturally works. There's vivid imagery in this line, so let's break it down:


I stood alone on the beach: Picture yourself standing on a beach with no one in sight. Where is everyone? What time of day/night is it? Feel the sand in your toes. Hear the sounds of the ocean. Feel the wind on your body. Smell the salt in the air. What are you wearing? What is the temperature in the air? What are you feeling emotionally?

watching the waves crash in the distance: Describe the waves. How high do they rise? What sounds do you hear as they crash? Where in the distance are they crashing? How far from you are the waves? What do you see? Can you feel the ocean spray after the crash? How many waves do you see? At what speed are they coming?

and I thought I could see my father looking down at me from heaven.: Where in the sky are you looking? Far in the distance or straight above you? What does the sky look like? Is it blue? Are there clouds? What does your father look like? Is he one of the clouds or do you see an image of his face between the clouds? What is the expression on his face? What do his eyes look like? What's beyond your father's image that makes you connect it to heaven? What do you hear? What are you feeling?

I could write a thousand more questions that would trigger images to help you truly experience the lines. Why don't you do that on your own. Ask yourself at least 10 more questions for the 3 parts of this short line. And if you think that it's too much, don't. Give yourself permission to fully explore every image that surfaces from the line. Think about it from this perspective. If this was truly a line in your script and you put in this level of imagination and sensory work, just how much you'd experience when you said the line. It would be filled with SO much more than if you just pounded the line into your head using a rote memorization method.

MEMORIZATION PRINCIPLE #2:

We do not easily remember mundane details, but when things are unusual, bizarre and emotional, we recall them quickly.

Building on the questions above in #1, go back and ask yourself all the questions again, but this time, make sure that all the imagery in your answers are filled with elements that are unusual, bizarre and emotional. Do not answer with mundane responses that are boring and standard. Perhaps as you look around and see no one because you are alone, you realize that there are no buildings, no people, nothing, just sand, water and sky for as far as you can see. It's almost like you're in another world. Perhaps the wind is so strong that you dig your feet deep into the sand and lean into the wind with all your might just to keep yourself from falling - it's as if you're in a wind tunnel. Perhaps the sand between your toes feels like shards of broken glass slicing into your skin, cutting you deeply and you can feel your warm blood run down your feet and stain the sand red. You can see quickly how an image like that can trigger a powerful response. And perhaps that pain you physically feel aligns with the pain in your heart and in your gut over the loss of your father. The imagery and stories you create when you turn the words into pictures and actions should mirror or align with the overall emotion you intend to experience when you are performing. This way, any images you create support you in fulfilling the emotional obligations of the scene.

MEMORIZATION PRINCIPLE #3:

We have an easier time remembering things that are of interest to us.

Think about the questions above and the answers I wrote. Did they appeal to you at all? Did they effect you? Could you sensorily experience the images? Or were they boring and uninteresting to you? If they appealed to you, then you likely were able to get closer to memorizing the line, however, if you found my questions and answers to be dull, uninteresting, and mundane, then what I wrote would not help you memorize the lines. And this proves the point of Principle #3. If we don't care about the material, we struggle to recall it, but if the material intrigues us in some way, we find it easier to call that information back quickly. So your task now is to ask and answer the questions related to the images of the line so that you create pictures, stories, events that interest you.


For example, if you don't know your father or don't have a relationship with your father, then perhaps trying to create an image of your actual father would not effect you because perhaps you have no interest in him. In that case, you'd simply find a substitution for the "father" in the line. Perhaps it's a Priest. Perhaps it's a Grandfather. Perhaps it's a man you look up to and consider him to be fatherly. The point here is that the images you use to represent or remind you of the words you're trying to memorize must interest you. If you use dull imagery, you can expect dull results.

THIS IS JUST TOO MUCH WORK

AND I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS.


I will pause for just a moment and address a question I am often asked at this point and that question is this, "Why are we trying to create pictures and stories to memorize the lines? Isn't that going to create more work and take longer than my normal rote memorization process?" And the answer is simple. We are creating these pictures and stories to develop a new acting craft skill just like any other acting craft skill. Do you instantly have the ability to create objects that are not there through Sense Memory or is Sense Memory a skill you need to develop over time and gain mastery over in order to rely on it? Do you instantly sing like a Broadway star or do you take vocal lessons and work on your vocal craft in order to develop your skills. So, just like those other craft skills, learning a new approach to line memorization will take time. And yes, at the beginning, it may create additional work for you, but once you've mastered this imagination based approach to line memorization, you will save yourself a lot of time going forward...AND, you will have a reliable craft tool to use in case you actually forget your lines while performing.


I cannot stress this enough. Rote memorization process are not a craft tool and will not help you on stage. So by putting the effort in up front to master a new skill, you will have a powerful tool for the rest of your career. OK, back to the final step.

MEMORIZATION PRINCIPLE #4:

In order to easily remember something new, that new information needs to be connected in some unique way to something you already know.

As I mentioned above, once we hook onto one memory, the next memory is connected in a linked chain. In this case, I am talking about a chained series of images that flow back into your mind one after the other. This linking or chaining is just 1 of the tools to tie it all together. If you JOIN THE TOOLBOX, you will get a free gift - a copy of the book "​LINE? - The Creative Way For Actors to Quickly Memorize Monologues & Dialogues" and in the book, you will learn many more linking tools called Peg Lists. You will explore:

  • The Room Peg List

  • The Number-Rhyme Peg List

  • The Number-Shape Peg List

  • The Number-Association Peg List

  • The Body Peg List

  • and much more

If you're not ready to join the Toolbox yet, you can always purchase the book through the STORE. But for our purposes here with this simple line, let's start with exploring a simple linked chain.


So the line again is "I stood alone on the beach watching the waves crash in the distance and I thought I could see my father looking down at me from heaven."


Here is what you pragmatically do.

Step 1. Find all the image/picture words in the line. In this case it would make sense to me that the picture words are are:

  • "stood alone"

  • "beach"

  • "waves crash in the distance"

  • "see my father looking down"

  • "heaven"

Step 2. Turn those words into vivid, active, emotional, interesting pictures, full of elements that appeal to your sense.


Step 3. Link them in a series of images like a movie, like a story, so 1 image pulls the next image.


I will type here in detail what would be going on in my imagination so it all becomes clear.


I see the beach and ocean before me and as I look around there is no one and nothing in sight. I am in complete solitude. There is an ominous hum coming from the ocean and the wind is pushing hard against my body making it hard to stand and walk forward. I take my shoes off and walk onto the sand, feeling the sand, like shards of glass, cut into the soles of my feet and I feel my warm blood drip onto the sand and I see the sand change color to a deep red. I make my way to the ocean and look all around me, but see nothing. I am completely alone. I look out into the distance and see the waves begin to rise and get more violent with each passing second. I hear the crashing of the waters and see the white foam of the spray shooting towards the sky and I feel the tapping of the spray on my face and taste the salt water in my mouth and I feel the moisture on my face. And even though the massive waves are far off in the distance, I can hear and feel them as if I was miles out from the shoreline, right in the middle of the waves. My eye is pulled upward as I watch the water crash and then shoot straight up toward the sky. My head is tiled back so far that I can feel the back of my head on the top of my back. My next aches, but I cannot stop looking up at the sky. The clouds are white and puffy, like massive cotton balls and I begin to feel a sense of warmth on my face as a sunbeam pierces through the clouds. As the clouds begin to separate, I see what looks like a face begin to form. It's hard to discern because of the strong light coming from behind the face, which I have always associated to Heaven, but there's a silence and a warmth in the air that was not present moments before. The sunlight begins to lessen and the face becomes clear. It is my father. I see the kindness and love in his eyes. I see that gentle smile he used to have when he was about to tell me he loved me. As I take a deep breathe in through my nose, there is a faint smell of his sweet cologne in the air. He smiles and nods his head as if to say, "I love you" The clouds begin to reappear. The light begins to soften. My father's face begins to dissolve into the clouds. Silence. The waves stop. The wind is gone. I am alone.

OK - my sincere hope is that while you read that imaginative journey, you saw, felt, smelled, heard and tasted everything along with me. Now, can you imagine that when you actually say the line "I stood alone on the beach watching the waves crash in the distance and I thought I could see my father looking down at me from heaven." just how many images are supporting it. Can you imagine just how full of emotions you will be? Can you understand just how much more you will experience every word that you say, when each word is fully developed and nurtured with your imagination? So when it's time to say the line, you simply allow yourself to fully experience the images and because our mind thinks in pictures, not in words, and because we remember things that are full of emotionality, and because we recall things that interest us, and because the images that represent the words are all linked together, the line from the script flows back into our mind with ease.

Stop for just a moment and say this line out loud now, allowing each of the images created above to effect your sense as you say the words.


"I stood alone on the beach watching the waves crash in the distance and I thought I could see my father looking down at me from heaven."


Be honest with yourself now. Did you experience something different than you would have if you simply pounded the words into your head by saying them over and over and over until you memorized them through sheer rote brute force? If yes, then you understand the beauty and power of this image-based line memorization approach. It is a Craft Technique for memorization and just like any other acting craft technique, once mastered, it becomes a reliable, dependable, available tool to help you do your job.

Well, I have just scratched the surface of what is explored in the book "LINE?" and if you found this blog useful and helpful, please consider JOINING THE TOOLBOX so you can get a free copy of the book.

I hope this post has inspired you in some small way. I look forward to reading your comments.

Bye for now,

See you inside the Toolbox.

Email: actorsapproachtoolbox@gmail.com

Website: http://www.actorsapproach.com

Linktree: https://linktr.ee/actorsapproachcrafttoolbox

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