“How do you memorize all those lines?”
In many plays often the first hurdle in the rehearsal process is the memorization of lines. The same is true forAges of the Moon, and while Shepard’s latest play is not quite a Hamletian undertaking in regards to learning lines, its precise text and the play’s nature as a two-hander puts considerable pressure on the actor’s ability to retain and recall their lines. For Ages of the Moon we utilized many different mnemonic techniques in order to get the actor’s “off-book”.
The first step in line memorization is to find a delineated through-line of progression through the script, so that an actor may mentally go “this then this then this then this, etc.”. Often this is first done through memorizing lines by intention, which is essentially tied to the actor’s job in playing the character. This way the lines are memorized simultaneously with the actors entering into character and their motivation for speaking these lines.
The next, more pragmatic, step of line memorization was simple vocal repetition with a prompter “on-book” (with a script). The actors typically spent up to two hours per day outside of rehearsal with a prompter running through the entire play and then focusing on the sections that gave the most trouble. Continual repetition here was the key. In order to permit the actors to work on their lines outside of rehearsal, they made recordings of the entire scripts so that they could listen to their lines on their own, while doing other tasks such as chores and even driving. This delivers the lines in such a way to encourage retention through auditory means. By reviewing the lines with intent, vocally and audibly the actors were continuing to review the lines in the exact same ways that they would be handling the lines in performance.
The third and final step was implanting the lines in the memory on a visible or spatial level. This is obviously not the way the actors would be dealing with their lines on stage, but by tying visible or spatial associations to the sequence of lines, the script was more lastingly retained by the memory. This is styled after the Method of Loci that originated with the Ancient Romans and found that spatial relationships were retained longest and most precisely. As spoken lines are essentially non-spatial, by learning the lines in a visual way, the actors were able to fully memorize the script.
This visual memorization began by encouraging the actors to handwrite their lines, ensuring detailed concentration on the sequence of lines on the page, written word after word. Finally, a large chart was made of each progression in the play, scene-to-scene, pause to pause, so that the actors could look at the play’s sequence, see the progression of the play and memorize the lines on a spatial level.
This three-prong implantation of the lines into the actor’s memory was successfully able to get the actors to memorize their lines, even on a difficult and precise script like Ages of the Moon, where ideas seem to often come out of nowhere and pauses break up the progression of the storytelling.