In our search for the best ways to memorize lines, there are certain principles that are well proven, and others that are unreliable. Today, we look at two memorization ideas that have been shown to work for everybody… so much that it’s almost common sense.
Memory research has long known about two major effects from standard tests. One way psychologists study retention is to have the subject memorize a long list. Sometimes these are numbers, other times they use random words. Either way, the accuracy of the participant’s recall always follow a predictable pattern: forgetting is highest for the middle of the list.
The Recency Effect refers to the fact that you’ll remember the last few items really well because you heard or read them most recently. As an actor, you probably already read over a scene right before a rehearsal to refresh your memory.
The Primacy Effect shows us that no matter how long a list is, the first few items are remembered especially well. So, you probably know Scene 1 really well.
How An Actor Can Use This Memory Pattern
So how do you increase your memory of the middle of the play?
It’s no mystery: rehearse those scenes more.
As an actor, you don’t have control over the rehearsal schedule, but you do have control over the time you use for memorizing your lines. Whenever you start a memorization session, always start one scene later than the last time.
Example From Romeo & Juliet
Let’s say you’re playing the Prince in Romeo and Juliet. You’d have dialogue in I.1, III.1, and V.3. So, your first memorization session, start with I.1 and go through all your lines. The next day, start with III.1, go to the end of the play, then do I.1 last. On day 3, begin your study session with III.1. That way, the “middle of the list” is always a different scene each study session, and each scene you’re in gets a chance to profit from the Primacy Effect and the Recency Effect.
In long scenes, you probably know your first line best, and your last line really well too. If you make any mistakes in rehearsal, I bet it’s closer to the middle of the scene. If you memorize from the script, it’s tough to get around this problem except by drilling the problem lines more and more. On the other hand, if you use ScenePartner, all your lines are on separate tracks and they’re all numbered. So you can use the same method we already talked about: the first study session, start with line 1 and go through the whole play in order. The next day, go through all your lines again, but start with line 2, then line 3… then finish with line 1 at the end.
Once you’ve got your lines down, get the cues album, and say your line after you hear the cue line, and use the same pattern: one line later each day. More Info…
Then, put your Memorize Shakespeare playlist on random!