Memorization for the Performing Artist
By: Amelia Morse Kolkmeyer, MFA - Founder & Lead Instructor/Coach
Disclosure - These are my own ideas and things I have learned and taught others. These are tips and not a guarantee that they’ll work for everyone.
When I teach people how to memorize, it’s so they can retain and understand what they are memorizing. I don’t teach people how to file information in their brain just to spit it back out.
Memorizing isn’t easy. It’s not something that many of us like to do. It can feel like a lot of time and work just to do it in less time then it took to memorize it. However, it’s a skill that has lasting effects and can really sharpen you as a person and as a performer.
Here are a few tips I use when teaching others to memorize.
Read the script more than once. There is no magic number as to how many times. I say a minimum of two times. Even if you’ve read or seen the play/musical before, it’s good to look at it from a different mindset. That mindset being that of that character you’re going to be playing.
Monologue Memorization -
Break the monologue down into beats. I always recommend writing the monologue down or typing it out. Have a hard copy you can write on with plenty of space to make lines to mark out your beats.
If you don’t understand beats - it’s when there’s a change in the monologue or scene. This could be a different idea, someone walks in/out, there’s some sort of interruption to the thought/what's being said and it shifts.
Verb each beat! This is super helpful because it’s like choreographing a dance. You have an actionable verb to relate to the text. Just like a dancer has music to relate to each of their movements.
Memorize a section/beat at a time. As the saying goes - “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Same goes with memorizing. Take it one section/beat at a time and add on as you go.
Read your script when you wake up and before you go to bed. This may or may not work for you, it’s worth trying. An alternative is to do your piece first thing when you wake up, and right before you go to bed/sleep.
Journal/do a character analysis. Get to know your character. Write down who they are, what they do, what’s happening in these moments of your piece. When we get to know people, we are able to know how they think and what they may say next.
Understand who they’re talking to. This goes back to getting to know the character. When you know who they’re talking to, what they’re relationship is with that person, then you have a way of remembering what they’re saying and why it’s so important.
Say the words out loud while memorizing! This is a very important step that many people skip. When you say the words out loud, you can “feel” them in your mouth. There’s a difference from memorizing and hearing them in your head vs. actually saying them out loud, multiple times. Don’t skip this step!
Take your monologue with you EVERYWHERE! Any chance you get a quick moment to look at it, do it. Those little moments not only add up, but help you learn how to memorize and work with distraction(s).
Work at a time and place that’s best for you. Some of us need a quiet spot for a chunk of time, some of us work great memorizing while there’s a tv or music in the background. Some do great at night, and others in the morning. You find the time, space, and whatever you need that works best for YOU!
Script Memorizing -
All of these can be applied to memorizing a full production. The one thing you can skip is the beats and the verbs. I would suggest using those for area that are more difficult to memorize and/or you have a lot of dialogue (Ex: Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”)
I hope you find these tips helpful. Be sure to comment below and let us know.