This past week, I've seen a range of interesting examples of people learning lines. I've seen someone take 6 weeks to learn two speeches. I've seen someone learn an amazing 14 pages in 2 hours. I've seen someone struggle to commit 10 words to memory. Line learning is absolutely essential to our industry on all levels. And most people suck at it.
Line Learning is actually a terrible phrase because that isn’t what we are doing. We aren’t learning anything. Line storage and recall is probably what we mean.
Because what is the goal of ‘line learning’?
That the words of the script come to our mind when we need them.
And that isn’t learning anything, it’s putting it in a place where you can retrieve it easily later.
There are only so many reasons that you aren’t already good at learning lines. These are the five reasons that I most frequently see.
You have a brain injury
You have a learning disability
You’ve psyched yourself out
Your methods don’t work effectively.
If you are 1 - You might suck because you have a brain injury and the physical structure of your brain has been affected. You need to get assistance from the medical profession. It’s not your fault, get some help.
If you are 2 - I am unable to advise on individual learning disabilities, but again, experts in that field can assist you. If you truly struggle to get those words into your brain, and the words float around on the page - you might have dyslexia. It may be worth getting a test.
Now onto the 3 that I see frequently at Acting Coach Scotland:
If you are 3 - You might expect me to scold you for being lazy. However, I don’t think you are lazy as such. You may be procrastinating. But that’s only because you aren’t motivated to learn the lines. If line learning were quick and easy, and perhaps even fun - you’d be motivated to do it. Motivation is the key and a quick, easy and fun method would help you avoid putting it off.
If you are 4 - Group 4 are suffering from a lack of confidence in their memory or their ability to remember lines. You’ve listened to other people too much. 4s are generally a bit older than the others. Started to believe some bullshit about the memory going when you get older. Your friends talk about forgetting things. You see line learning as a mountain and you’re just too old to climb it. Most of this is nonsense. Studies prove that 70-year-olds can easily beat 20-year-olds in memory tests. But 20 years old believe they have good memories and 70-year-olds believe they have bad memories. And that’s the difference.
Or maybe you’ve had some horrible past line learning experiences. Either way, you’ve turned a molehill into a mountain and you’ve psyched yourself out.
If you are 5 - you might even be pretty good at line learning but it could be faster and more fun. Plus, most people methods aren’t particularly effective. The old ‘cover it and speak check and then cover again’ method is what I used for school. It works but it’s highly inefficient. It also leads to huge amounts of paraphrasing. Writing out your lines isn’t memorising. It’s a punishment. All of these do help build memories, but they use BRUTE FORCE.
Your mind doesn’t work well under conditions of brute force. And brute force isn’t the easiest way to remember things. Brute force works though. It’s just not quick, easy or fun.
For Groups 3-4, I find that no one has taught you effective methods of memorisation and recall. To be more honest still, you need to resolve this for yourself. The reason you probably suck at line learning is that you haven’t decided to take action on this and find effective and efficient methods of line learning.
In both cases, you will need to practise these tools and techniques, don't expect instant super-powered memory, but if you work hard, your memorisation practice and line recall will greatly improve.
What's absolute is that none of my tools will work for you if you won't commit to them until they work for you. And this is why many people suck at line learning.
You have to commit first.
The results follow.
When people say certain tools don't work for them, it's because they are only willing to work with them if they prove IMMEDIATELY useful.
It's a basic flaw in logic - I will use this only if it helps me IMMEDIATELY.
You must commit to the tools in order that they help you.
I have lost track of the times I have shown actors methods of quick and easy memorisation and recall, demonstrated their effectiveness and then learned in dismay that the actors did not use them and went back to trying to brute force the words into their head - with abysmal results.
They aren't lazy. They trust their tried and tested methods (even with an appalling and painful result) - even though they aren’t quick, easy and fun.
Commit first. Results will follow.
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