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The Best Methods for Memorizing Lines

What is the best method for memorizing lines for an acting audition or performance?

Don’t memorize the lines, memorize the scenes.

Yes, you will also end up memorizing the lines, but if you don’t start by memorizing the scene, you’re in for an uphill battle. And you won’t likely get to where you want to go in your performance.

If you don’t know:

  1. Who your character is
  2. Who’s in the scene with you
  3. What’s happening in the scene
  4. What each character wants
  5. Why they want it
  6. How they try to get it

Then no amount of memorizing the lines is going to help you deliver a performance that serves the story.  And if your performance is a professional film or tv audition, then you likely won’t be sending a self tape that offers a castable option to production.

The fact is, humans almost never say what they mean. So as an actor, if you focus on the words your character says, you’re missing a big part of the full picture of the scene.

People use words as a way to try to get what they want from the people in their lives. In order to easily and effectively memorize lines, you have to learn why your character is lying and how.


Take this simple example of co-workers running into each other in the elevator up to the office on Monday morning. They say:


Good morning, how was your weekend?


My weekend was great, thanks! How was yours?


Mine was good, too!

Now, let’s say that the truth is that Co-worker 1 found out on Friday night that their partner has been cheating on them with the town Pharmacist. And Co-worker 2 was finally going to get to the gym on Saturday, but felt too tired so bailed and then the date they had lined up fell through, so they ended up spending the entire weekend watching movies and eating their feelings.

And let’s also say that Co-workers 1 and Co-worker 2 work in different departments and they only have as much as an acquaintance level relationship. Co-worker 2, in fact, isn’t entirely sure of _Co-worker 1_’s name. Is it Alex…. Alec?.... Ali?

When these two characters encounter each other in the elevator, they both naturally and easily hide their truths because their only goal is to ride the elevator to their offices. They don’t want anything from the other co-worker other than a peaceful ride! So they easily lie;


Good morning, how was your weekend?


My weekend was great, thanks! How was yours?


Mine was good, too!

Do either of these people feel like they just lied to their co-worker acquaintance?

Of course not. And no one would accuse them of it, because it's only natural to limit what you share about your life with acquaintances in elevators.


Let’s alter the relationship and see what happens to our scenario:

Let’s say that the date who bailed on Co-worker 2 was the town Pharmacist! They’d been dating for 6 months, and Co-worker 1 and everyone else in town, has been very well aware of their budding relationship, because the Pharmacist is way out of _Co-worker 2_’s league. When Co-worker 1 discovered their partner with the Pharmacist, the Pharmacist begged Co-worker 1 not to tell Co-worker 2! The Pharmacist promised they would tell Co-worker 2 themselves! But Co-worker 2 hasn’t heard from the Pharmacist since they didn’t show up for their Saturday night dinner reservation.

What happens when these two people encounter each other now?

_Co-worker 1_’s goal? Suss out whether or not the Pharmacist told Co-worker 2 that they’ve been cheating on them.

_Co-worker 2_’s goal? Cover up the fact that the Pharmacist hasn’t been returning their texts.


Good morning, how was your weekend?


My weekend was great, thanks! How was yours?


Mine was good, too!

Again, the co-workers are lying to each other and again neither of them consider what they’re doing is lying. Co-worker 1 is trying to suss out the situation, Co-worker 2 is trying to hide their fear and stress.

Everybody lies; Actors reveal the truth.

While it may appear from the outside that the actor’s job is to lie for a living, the reality is that the opposite is true. In order to be a compelling, unique, dynamic working actor, you have to be more honest than anyone ever is in real life. You have to understand the truth of why your character is lying and reveal how they lie to get what they want.


If you want to memorize your acting scenes perfectly - start by learning and memorizing the subtext.

Let’s go back to our scenario, but this time; It’s a scene in an indie film and you have an audition for Co-worker 1.

If you start your scene work by trying to memorize the lines, it’s easy to assume that Co-worker 1 and Co-worker 2 are simply exchanging pleasantries. That first assumption primes your brain to develop a performance of the lines that accomplishes that goal - exchange pleasantries.

Once you decide on a line delivery, it takes twice as much work to unlearn and try something else. So when you read the project breakdown after you’ve already started memorizing your lines one way, and you discover everything about the Pharmacist, when you go back to your audition sides to rethink the scene;  you’ll often find that your brain tries to stick with as much of your original view as possible.

If you start your scene work by learning the subtext through reading the project breakdown; learning all about _Co-worker 1_’s failing marriage and _Co-worker 2’_s heart on their sleeve optimism for life, about the _Pharmacist_’s star-crossed lovers romance with _Co-worker 1_’s partner, you set yourself up to easily understand what’s happening in the scene and prime yourself to see all the different ways you might say your lines to cover up _Co-worker 1_’s emotional truth and get what they want out of their scene in the elevator - find out if the Pharmacist told Co-worker 2 about the affair.

Once you’re primed with a strong understanding of the scene; the words of the script fall easily and naturally into your memory.


The trickiest part of learning acting scenes is that you have to go through the text to get to the subtext. So how do you make sure you don’t prime yourself with the wrong view of the scene? It’s all about how you read and process the information for the first time.


To set yourself up for the best possible chance of identifying the subtext underneath the words of your script, follow these steps when approaching any new scene:

Find a friend to read with you - This exercise requires the help of an acting teammate, friend or family member. If you don’t have anyone to work with, find an acting coach online who can help you.

Read all the material - Starting with the breakdown, then the sides, read every word on the pages from top to bottom, twice. Then put the material down.

Visualize the scene - Spend 5-10 minutes thinking about what you just read. Imagine the characters and play out the scene in your head.

Listen to the scene - Sit or stand comfortably across from your reader and have them read the scene to you following the format below:


  1. Listen to all the other characters’ lines - Have your reader read all the other characters' lines from the end of your line to the beginning of your next line (A) twice; before moving on to the next section of lines (B)

Using the example above, they would read “Responds with a whole speech… ” all the way through to “... important remark” then go back and read that section again before moving on to “Reveals more information…” all the way through to “...your character needs” and then repeating that section.

The goal is for you to simply listen to and absorb what is being said to your character while highlighting where your character responds

  1. Listen to all your character’s lines - Now have your reader read all your characters' lines the same way; C twice, D twice then E twice.

Don’t worry about the words your character says, your goal is to listen and focus on what impact your character is trying to make on the other characters.

Identify your character’s goal in the scene - Decide what your character wants and how they try to achieve it

Run the scene - Now it’s time to run the scene with your friend. Without looking at the material or even trying to think about the words, improvise your way through the scene with the sole intention of accomplishing that goal.

Focus all your attention on your scene partner's face. Don’t try to perform, just connect with them and actively try to get what your character wants.

This exercise ensures that the first thing the actor learns about their scene work is the journey of the scene. Prime your memory this way and the work of memorizing your lines becomes faster, easier and infinitely more effective.


Once you’ve got the base of your scene work well established, it’s time to practice as much as you need to, in order to be ready to perform your scene.

There are many different ways to practice and learn your scenes. The method that will work best for you is rooted in what kind of learner you are.

There are 3 different paths for memory to be formed in your brain:

  • Seeing something - Visual Learning
  • Hearing something - Auditory Learning
  • Experiencing something  - Kinesthetic Learning

When learning your acting scenes, try utilizing all 3 and discover which works best for you.



Image your acting scenes as images in your head. Use what you know about the tone, genre and characters to imagine what is happening from moment to moment in your scene. Picture what characters look like, what actions they take, what your surroundings look like, what you're wearing; Any detail and every detail.

When you get to a part of the scene you don’t know, reference your script and work towards building a complete picture of the scene from opening moment to end beat.


Record your lines 

Use a line learner app to record your scenes and listen to them back. These apps have tons of great functionality that allow you to record and listen back to your scene as a whole, or to just the other characters’ lines, with a space for you to say your line.

When a space comes up and you don’t know what you’re supposed to say next, reference the script and work towards playing the whole scene through.


Block your scene 

Figure out your characters physical position, body movements and body language and rehearse moving through the scene physically. If preparing for a self tape audition, keep your taping space in mind while preparing. If you have a self tape set up at home, do this exercise in your space.

When you find a moment where you’re not sure where to move next, reference your script until you have choreographed your movements from start to finish.


Take your scene for a walk 

Kinesthetic and Auditory learning - Go for a walk around your neighborhood or a nearby park or a mall, and run your lines quietly to yourself. But wait, won’t the people you encounter notice you talking to yourself? Yes. So pop some headphones in and pretend you’re talking to someone on the phone.

Grab a pen and paper 

Visual and Kinesthetic learning -  Write out all the lines of the scene on paper. Not just your lines, but the other characters' lines too. This will help make sure you don’t just memorize your lines, but memorize the scene.

Read with an acting teammate 

Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic learning - Of all the memorization and learning exercises, reading with an acting teammate is the most effective. Practice your performance in real time with another actor to help you identify the holes in your work and fill them in before your audition or performance.

If you don’t have an acting teammate, connect with a great acting coach online who can practice with you.

Take a break 

No matter what kind of learner you are, it’s imperative that you spend time fully away from your scene.

When you give your brain its much-needed breaks, you improve your ability to retain information. Work on your scenes 1 hour at a time, and when you’re not working on your scene, try not to think about it. Let your brain relax and refuel.

Learning acting scenes is a massive cerebral effort, taking time away is what gives your brain the capacity to move all your scene work from your short term memory to your long term memory.

Exercise, read a book, cook, nap, craft, play music, go for a walk, play a game, whatever you enjoy that doesn’t require a lot of problem solving. Rest and fun will set your brain up to learn and absorb more information in your next hour of scene work.

If you force your mind to work overtime, it’s easy for anxiety and panic mode to slip in. And once that happens, your brain won’t cooperate at all and you’ll feel discouraged about what you’re capable of doing with your acting scenes.

Take your time, especially if the idea of learning a scene and “memorizing” the lines scares you, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal. Learning scenes is a muscle and the more you practice, the stronger your muscle becomes and the faster you’ll operate.

Find a method that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment with other techniques.