Updated: May 3, 2022
It was the day before the start of rehearsals for Feathers, a new play with the theatre company Gutter Street. I was super excited to get back into a rehearsal space, explore the world and have fun with some fellow creatives again. But. After two years of lockdowns and letting my brain pancake from hours of Animal Crossing and day dreaming, I was incredibly worried about picking up a script and retaining more than three words. Tell any non theatre person that you are an actor and probably the first words from their lips will be “I just don’t know how you learn all those lines!”
Well, now I was wondering this too.
The first few days I sat and just read the lines over and over again. Sinking slowly into the chair, feeling very overwhelmed. Then as the rehearsals started going and the remembrance that I had a body and not just a brain that could help me retain lines made me feel like a weight had been lifted. I started to remember my line learning methods and began to wonder if any others out there might be going over this little bump after those few years away.
So, for anyone wanting to recharge their brain and remember, or for anyone just starting out, here is a selection of line learning exercises that me and my fellow cast members do to retain. Now, we all know there isn’t a short cut for line learning, but I hope at least, you find some of them fun!
My method - Walking the text (I mention this in another blog charlotte's shakespeare tips: part one). This line learning technique focuses on the punctuation and therefore, the thoughts. It also helps you get out of your head and into your body. Something extra helpful if you are a fellow dyslexic. So, what do you do? Walk in a straight line saying the text until you hit that full stop, exclamation, question mark etc. Then quickly change direction and say the next line going a different way, in another straight line. For any commas, do a little skip or click with your hand, but make sure you still plow through to the end of the sentence walking in a straight line once that comma has gone. You can add your own little wiggles and jumps on parts of punctuation that you find most helpful. I find this method helps me quickly understand thought patterns.
Nathan Chatalier’s method - Writing out the text. When Nathan first told me of this, my mind was blown at the effort of it, but it really worked for him. He had double the lines of everyone else and yet became the first to put the script down. His magic method involves rewriting the whole script, but only writing down the first letter of every word of his lines. It acts as a cue for your brain without feeding you the whole word, so you are more likely to remember for next time. The cat sat on the mat would become… T c s o t m
Matt Howdon - Reading… simple! He reads the text over and over, but each time with a different intention. The first time he will read for the sense, the second to focus on what others say to him, the third what he says to others. He will go on and on like this asking different questions, reading different chunks, and it gradually seeps in. By the time he is up in rehearsals, he has read the script 50 times or more and is close to off book! See, simple.
Recording. Once I have walked the text, I always record the other person saying their lines (or me saying their lines) and leaving enough blank space in the recording for me to reply. It takes a bit of time, but is so worth it, as you can run lines whilst getting the washing up done or on your commute. I know some people who record their own lines (or the whole script) as well, listening to them before they go to sleep and when they wake in the morning.
Another thing I will do when I kind of know the text, is giving a movement to every word. I say the text, but on every word, no matter how small, I give it an over the top movement. Something that means something to that word. This helps me create memories with the text and get out of my head. Whenever I mention a person, or a specific object in the scene, I point to them and take the time to imagine them. This also helps me build up a map of what happens in my head.
Coloured paper. This is similar to the walking line exercises, but it adds a few other elements. In your room put up 4 different bits of coloured paper on each of your walls. Say a line going towards that paper, and think of how the colour of the paper affects you saying that line. Sometimes I give each bit of paper an emotion, other times an accent, others a movement. This all helps you embody the text whilst keeping it fresh.
As you can see, there is a whole plethora of ways to engrain the text… far more than I have time to write. There is no right or wrong. Just have fun!
A big thank you to Matt and Nathan for their input x