How to not forget your lines is the most popular questions I get asked about by actors. Whether they’re people who are applying to drama school, students or pros. Veterans and newbies alike all want to know how to not forget lines.
There is a great quote from a director I worked with who had very little sympathy for actors who forgot their lines in auditions. It is a good anecdote that I mention to people who ask how to not forget lines. It’s tough-love advice but is applicable to all actors:
If you are concentrating on remembering your lines on the audition day then you haven’t done enough preparation.
It’s absolutely fine to visualize your speech and to go through it in your head prior to the audition but if you have a hint of worry in your head about lines then you are in trouble. You should not be worrying about lines because by that point you should have done enough preparation and it’s too late anyway.
Many professional athletes and boxers live by the motto:
“the fight is already decided before you step into the ring”
What that means is that you do not win or lose under pressure because of what you do in the room, you win or lose depending on how well you have prepared.For students applying to drama school whether that be in the UK or US check out our dedicated book: Drama School. It is the only book dedicated to students who are applying to higher education in acting.#
When you forget your lines
There was one instance where I forgot my lines in a Shakespeare audition. The reason I forgot them was that I had picked up the speech two weeks before. I hadn’t done any work on it I had just learned the lines and thought I could just pull it out of the bag. I cringe at the thought of that moment every time I think back to it. Unsurprisingly they didn’t call me back.
My advice would be it is better to over-prepare than to underprepared.
There is an argument that you can rehearse a speech to death and lose all the life in your performance. Acting is an art unlike music or painting, you cannot replicate it using an inanimate object. You have to summon your own emotions. You have to trick your brain into thinking that it’s real – at some point, your brain is going to catch up.
However, if you follow the advice I give for preparing a speech then it’s unlikely that you’ve mechanically done the speech 400 times in your bedroom which means that you’ve kept it alive.
Many people will try to avoid that by thinking they will be able to “wing it” and trusting their natural talent. Or some people will over-rehearse and create a piece that is as wooden as the boards they stand on. These tactics may have been able to work in the past but the competition is much fiercer today.
You need to be better educated and you need to perform better. Don’t learn your lines to death- learn them to life!
- Have your speech typed up or written on a piece of paper
- Have two stations where you can sit: for example set up a chair and your bed (this will make sense in a moment)
- Say the first sentence of the speech whilst sitting down in the first chair.
- Then before you say the next sentence switch to the other chair and speak the second sentence.
- Carry on switching for every sentence until you get to the end of the speech.
This will help you identify the moments that the characters change their thoughts and will help you plot the tempo of the speech.
The problem with a lot of people who audition is that they start the speech and then just rush straight through it without any breath. Those moments when there is a full stop what are those characters thinking? Whatever they would be thinking is exactly what you should think before you open your mouth to say the next sentence.
Enjoy those moments between thoughts because those are the moments that the magic happens!
You can do this in a park or a spare room because you’ll need a little space.
- Start walking in a straight line as you speak your first sentence.
- When you reach a full stop then stop completely turn in a different direction and speak the second sentence.
- Carry on until the speech is finished.
This is a better speech for involving your whole body because you are standing up.
When you are speaking those lines I don’t want you to act it I want you to really think about the meaning of what you are saying. Don’t worry about looking good or being persuasive worry about whether you understand what you’re saying.
If you are saying a speech and thinking about how persuasive you sound or what actions to do then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Try and think about the words you’re speaking and work on getting clarity and understanding of your speech.
A great way that I learn my lines is to record myself whilst I’m doing these exercises.
I then listen back to the audio recording.
Just listening to the different way you do the lines is a great way of knowing what you’re getting right and wrong. There will be moments that you can hear that you are understanding what you’re saying and you know exactly why you’re saying it and other moments that you will have no idea what is going on.
Listen to those tracks multiple times and listen to those moments
Alternatively, you can film yourself whilst you do these exercises but I think that I can always tell by the sound of it whether I’m connecting well with it.
The idea with these exercises is that you can understand how to break your own rhythm and the initial reading of the text. A lot of people simply rehearse lines in their bedroom and wonder why they can’t remember the lines. My motto is always that the more you invest in the learning process with lines then the more your imagination will work.
For those people who are applying to drama school, I implore you to read my specialist book: Drama School
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