YOU SURVIVED the audition. You landed the part of your dreams. Now the real work begins: memorizing your lines. If the task has you feeling overwhelmed, below are proven techniques for getting the words — both lines and lyrics — off the script pages and into your brain.


This tip is an oldie but a goodie: Studies show that handwritten notes aid memory. Target one scene at a time. Write your lines at least three times (you can do more if you want). It helps if you memorize one or two words from your cue lines, too, so you learn when your lines begin. To be clear, typing the lines on the computer does not have the same impact as handwriting them. After writing the scene three times, you’re ready to move on to the next technique.

To see if your memory is working fast enough to speak your lines, write, as fast as you can, the first letter of each word in your line. If you were memorizing the first line of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech, then you would write t b o n t b t i t q (“To be or not to be, that is the question”). Try using this sheet for rehearsal instead of your script. Pretty soon, you won’t need either.

Studies prove that handwritten notes aid memory.
Studies prove that handwritten notes aid memory.


At the end of one line, move your mouth exaggeratedly to speak the last word. For example, in moving from the first to the second line in the “Star Spangled Banner,” you would exaggerate “Oh, say can you SEE” and then move from SEE to BY for the next line, “BY the dawn’s early light.” Go back and forth with exaggerated mouth movements (SEE BY, SEE BY, SEE BY) several times, observing and feeling the mouth, lips, and tongue. If you are working on a song, do this while speaking, not singing.

Now, speak the lines or lyrics completely, and observe how the mouth “remembers” the SEE/BY relationship. The mouth gets there first, and that movement prompts your brain. Refreshing this exercise a few times each week will establish the muscle memory pattern. Then you won’t have to think about your line transitions anymore.


If you are working on a monologue or scene, identify the beginning, middle, and end of the piece. Handwrite the piece, then highlight each section in a different color. Your brain will remember the colors, which will help you remember the words. If you like working with color, you can use different highlighters to mark the first word of your line, the important words in a line (such as the verbs), or a line you keep forgetting.

Associating different sections of your script with different colors can help you memorize the words.


Get in a comfortable position on the floor. Rest your hands gently on your stomach, keeping your script nearby. Take a breath and speak the first word of your line aloud. Then take another breath, and speak the first two words. Continue adding one word at a time. Here’s the Hamlet example again: (Inhale, speak) “To.” (Inhale, speak) “To be.” (Inhale, speak) “To be or.” (Inhale, speak) “To be or not.” (Inhale, speak) “To be or not to” and so on. This exercise takes time, but if you breathe, speak, and listen, the words will begin to connect and stick in your mind.


In long speeches, classical writing, verse, or lyrics, the text often contains lists. Here are techniques that will help you learn lists or sequential stories.

  • Draw a picture. The physical action of the hand is what helps the mind, so cutting pictures from a magazine to make a collage will not have the same effect. Draw the list, the story, or the events on a large piece of paper, using color.
  • Use your body. If your list builds (and most do), you can move or touch parts of your body to “name” each item. Use your feet, knees, hips, hands, elbows, and shoulders. The list can work its way up or down your body.
Switching parts, practicing speed-throughs, and confirming your understanding of each line aids in long-term memorization.
Switching parts, practicing speed-throughs, and confirming your understanding of each line aids in long-term memorization. Photo by Susan Doremus.


This exercise works best for two-person scenes. Hearing your lines come from someone else (and hearing yourself say the cue) will cause you to hear the words in a new way and make them memorable. It is easiest to do this exercise while sitting across from your scene partner rather than worrying about blocking.

A similar exercise works well for monologues, speeches, and song lyrics. Sit in cross-legged positions on the floor, side by side with your partner, but facing in opposite directions. One actor’s right hip should be in line with the other’s right hip so that each can comfortably whisper into the other’s ear. If the monologue or song lyric belongs to Actor A, then Actor B should whisper (really, really whisper) the words into Actor A’s ear. Do not rush, and be sure to whisper into your partner’s ear, not off to the side.


Once you feel comfortable with your lines, practice saying them as fast as you can. Eliminate all pauses, pick up the cues, and say the words as quickly as your mouth will allow.


One of the best ways to ensure memorization is to confirm you understand why you are saying what you are saying, as well as the meaning of each individual word. The answer to these questions may be “I don’t know.” It’s OK not to have all the answers. But thinking about the following questions can help you memorize.

  • Why is my character saying that?
  • Why do I repeat that word?
  • What’s happening in this moment?
  • What does my character mean by that? Am I being truthful?
  • Why am I talking at this moment? Why don’t I stop talking?
  • What am I hoping will happen now?
  • How do I feel about what I just said?
  • Has anything changed?

Although committing lines to short-term memory can be temporarily effective, true, deep memorization cannot be rushed. Last-minute memorization rarely sticks. Give yourself enough time to really learn your words if you want to succeed.

Hamlet (portrayed here by John Barrymore in 1922) has the most lines of any Shakespearean character.
Hamlet (portrayed here by John Barrymore in 1922) has the most lines of any Shakespearean character in a single play. Photo courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
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