The Burning Question

The default question people ask actors, the greatest mystery to people outside of the profession, is of course, “how do you memorize all those lines?” And generally speaking, we don’t ever answer this question. We hem, and haw, and mouth some vague gibberish to our interlocutors, then roll our eyes the instant they turn their backs. We tell ourselves we do this because the question is so basic, so annoying, as to not merit discussion.

Which is a lie.

The truth is that we have no idea whatsoever.

I think I know how I do it. I learn by hearing, and have a good memory for sound, so as long as I keep hearing the text, speaking it aloud, I’ll memorize it. Imagine hearing a favorite song often enough that you can sing along with certain lines. Eventually you’ll sing along with the chorus. Then, the entire song. Keep listening long enough and you can sing along with the entire album. (For my younger readers, an album is a collection of songs sold together, which was the dominant medium for selling music for many decades.) Although there are a variety of other tricks and techniques involved – including, for me, a Bob Dylan impersonation – the act of learning a part is essentially learning to sing along with that album.

I just need to play that CD enough to learn the music. And as you may have noticed, CDs are a lot harder to find these days.

Or, to put it more plainly, I’ve started rehearsals for a new show that’s going up at Hudson Guild’s Winterfest at the end of the month, leaving me with a few scant weeks to learn the part. (Which is actually five separate parts in this case.) And when I deduct the time I spend working, sleeping, and commuting – to say nothing of procrastinating by writing these blog posts – those scant few weeks turn into oh my god I have no time at all what the hell am I going to do?

I think the lines are sinking in? They usually do, after all? And rehearsals are going well. I’ll be posting details later in the month, but the show should be a lot of fun. If I can remember it, that is.

I’m just glad that, ultimately, I don’t really know how I memorize lines. Because it keeps me from asking just how the hell I’m supposed to do it this time.

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