These are my tricks for memorising and really knowing your script. Obviously there are going to be your rehearsals with the cast and director but there is a lot of work for you to do too in your own time. Getting around a script can be tricky – especially if you have a large amount of lines. This is a summary of my method for some of the lead roles I have played but I think it can be applied to most scripted characters. Give it a try and find what works for you!
PHASE 1 – RETENTION – This is mainly for getting the words somewhere in your head. Don’t get too stuck here. This is your ground work.
- Read it. – It goes without saying, that before anything else you need to read your script. Read the whole thing including the scenes you aren’t in. Knowing the story and how you affect the other characters will help you remember how you fit in later. Right now its more about knowing the order everything happens and what that is.
- Record it! – This is my absolute favourite for memorising. Even if you haven’t got your voice or character yet (the earlier the better even if you develop from there), read out the entire play (yes all the parts) scene by scene and put it on your iPod, phone or on a CD. Play it in your car or on the bus when you go about your normal life. You will be surprised how many times you have it running as background noise filtering into your head.
- Write it out! – Write out all your lines in the show. Have your script in front of you so you make no mistakes. Use a bar or symbol to show when someone else speaks after each of your lines and label new scenes. Go once through from beginning to end of your show. Highlight the big lines of monologue and write them out on their own.
- Rote read the tough stuff – Take your list of big monologuey (is that a word?) lines and speak them out loud 5 times a day.
PHASE 2 – THE UNLEARN – I really recommend this for keeping things fresh and really knowing what you are saying. It seems strange but if you do it right this will actually help you retain whats happening. And similarly for someone like me who can hold information you have to find a way to move past the words and keep it fresh and relevant.
- Break it down – Take your script and write under every one of your lines the general idea of what it means. Think about why your character is saying what they are saying and what they are really trying to convey. By this time you should have done some actual scene work and have been given some direction to know how you fit into the show. Even if you haven’t done every scene you should have a pretty good idea from your character work and research.
- Get the gist – If you can get someone to be a speaking partner run through with them each scene responding with whatever comes to your head. Don’t get stuck in the words or the fact that you don’t know your lines yet. Most of the time it will be some sort of paraphrase of what the line actually is but the important thing is that you keep going. Move around the space if you can. This is more about getting the flow and letting your character in. If you already know a line try to say what you mean to say rather than what it is. For instance if the line is “I’m going to the kitchen” perhaps you would choose to say “I feel like a sandwich” if that is your character’s motivation.
- Weird read- Read out your lines one by one and word perfect 5 different ways. Try to look up when you read. Change the pace or the emphasis or the mood. Make choices that you haven’t thought of yet even if its because they are ridiculous.
PHASE 3 – THE RE-RETAIN (This is where you get serious about getting stuff down)
- Read your lines with a partner alongside. Don’t have your script in front of you. If you don’t know your line have them read you your entire line and repeat it back to them. Wherever possible give back entire sentences or preferably your entire line. Don’t move on until you can repeat back the entire line. If you know a line thats great but don’t get stuck on having to know full scenes straight away. Get through the whole script this way first just being able to repeat back a line.
- Re-record. Record your lines only (not everybody!). Put this on your playing device for taking with you. Hopefully this version will be a lot more specific to your character in terms of choices and voice etc but you can always repeat this step a couple of times to keep things fresh or update whats coming back at you.
- Read and drop – Read a line then turn over the page and say it out loud three times. Do this for every line in a scene. Then see if you can do a few lines at a time. Work up to all your lines in a scene.
- Machine run – Read with a partner having them correct every tiny mistake as you go. Keep restarting until you get it right. Don’t try to be in character – this is just about lines.
- Character Run – Same as above but in character. This is the closest thing to what you do in the rehearsal space. Remember that you still have room to experiment so try reading your lines a few different ways. This will also help them be more flexible in your mind. In this run don’t have them correct little discrepancies during the run but have them tell you after. Be mindful that the writer chose those words and its your job to make them make sense as written.
PHASE 4 – BOOKS DOWN – Quite literally
- Step away – If you know your stuff then your book is now holding you back. Maybe do a read refresher on occasion but you’ve got this. If you don’t take the safety net away (albeit when you are ready to) you will never bridge that last part of feeling ready.
- Stay away – Personally in the lead up to a show I stop looking at my book entirely. And I certainly don’t read my script the day of a performance. Somehow I think the character can surface more once you get past those pages and the last thing I want to do is push them back under. Stop worrying about whether you get it right. You will. If you know what you are saying and why you are saying it then it should come almost naturally to your character – trust them to tell their story.
Scripts seem really scary but at the same time they are so amazing. Let it be your friend. Enjoy what has been written and know that you have the privilege of sharing the story that has been entrusted to you. At the end of the day if you have done your homework you will be just fine even if you make a little mistake. Everyone on that stage is in the same boat and you are all there to help each other. So the better you know your script the better your character can emerge from the ashes if something goes sideways. You’ve got this.