When I first started out in show business, I was terrible at memorizing lines. (No, I didn’t study my script by candlelight, we had electricity back then.) In the 1970’s I was in a band in in NYC that played club gigs and we even got signed to a label. But since there was no internet, I couldn’t google the lyrics of the cover songs we played. So, being blessed with a very musical ear, I would sing the lyrics exactly as I heard them on the records. (Even if I didn’t even know what some of the lyrics were.)
When I segued to theater, my memorization skills were so poor I had to keep a script backstage, so I could glance at it whenever I was off the stage for a moment. Then I was cast in “Talley’s Folly”, and I had an 8-minute monologue that open the play. So, I had to get this memorizing thing down. Luckily, my wonderful wife and performing partner, Gretchen, who had great skill at memorizing lines, passed on to me the single most important tool for remembering lines. And here it is - “Read the lines out loud, and slowly work your way through the page; memorizing one line, then adding another, etc.” This “reading-out-loud thing is amazing, because when you speak the words you are not only thinking them, you are also hearing them. And you are also forming the words with your vocalization muscles, and this repetition of the lines is retained through muscle memory as well.
This tool served me well when I performed a 12-minute monologue as Paul in “A Chorus Line”. and I most definitely could not have made it in the Trade Show world without it. For years I was hired to perform magic at Trade Shows, while simultaneously spewing off a litany of product facts and details that would make your head spin.
This is the hardest kind of material to memorize, because there is no emotional context to hang the lines on. Also. you are not in a conversation with another actor, so you can’t be “cued”. Of course, the next step in speaking lines is making them sound like they are your own thoughts, and that you just that moment thought of them. This serves us well when we “Variety Performers”, (magicians, comedians, jugglers, and even musicians) speak lines that we have spoken 3000 times before. We can’t just rattle the lines off. We have to remember that this audience is hearing them for the first time, so we need to find some fresh, engaging way to do our “patter”.
I am now discovering that memorizing is a “use-it-or-lose-it” kinda thing. So, my advice to all you performers out there is to continue learning new lines and lyrics, and performing them in front of an audience. At the very least it might stave off Alzheimer’s!