Are you one of those actors that are great at remembering lines when it comes to scenes but the moment you have to do monologues you don’t know how to memorize a monologue?
Don’t worry you are not the only one I had the same issue. I am so comfortable when doing scenes where there are other characters. Hell, I am a rockstar when doing scenes! Even I do a lot of improvisation but a few years ago I was horrible at monologue. And this weakness had cost me a lot of roles because most of the auditions involved performing monologues.
But then I dug into my problem with help of my acting coach and learned few techniques to memorize monologue like visual thoughts, mind palace, breaking up, improvisation, writing it, etc.
I am going to give you the four best techniques in this post with proper steps to perform monologues so read till the end and practice it regularly to get better at it.
How To Memorize A Monologue In A Way That Looks Natural When You Perform?
These techniques are based on my experience and the steps are my version of doing it. You might have heard about them but it may differ. And I advise you to change things around as per your convenience.
Let’s look at each method in detail and see how they work.
1. Visual Thoughts
This is my personally my favorite method. I developed with help of my acting coach. Actually, it was his process to break down a monologue that gave me the idea to create this method.
I don’t know it is related to any acting technique but I know it works like charm.
In this method, you have to decipher the train of thoughts that leads you “the character” to say your lines. But it is easier said than done. The main reason being you have to be familiar with the character and in acting terms, you have to be the character to actually say this line.
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Let me assume you know the character inside out and have gone through the character description and also read the monologue once or twice.
Once you have done all that the real work starts now.
Follow these steps to decipher the visual train of thoughts for this monologue:
- Even before you begin the first line, you should know where your character is coming from or where he was just before the monologue begins. Please be in the state of where you’re coming from. Are you upset or happy or at peace? Be in that state. Look at my exercise “where you are coming” for more details to understand this.
- Once you are in that state, some visuals might come to your mind as a character that would compel you to say the first few lines of the monologue. For instance, you had a fight with your girlfriend moments ago and now you are at home discussing it with your roommate. You must have thoughts likr why did you fight? or why she was upset with you etc.
- Make sure the thoughts are visual in your mind not verbal. You should be able to see the angry face of your girlfriend. You should also be able to see some instances that she might have described.
Note: when you are seeing this visual in your mind, this instantly creates a physical change in your body. If you are well connected with your character, it might generate the necessary emotions. This what you want when you visualize your thoughts.
- When the emotions hit you after you see the visuals, that’s the queue to start the monologue. My coach used to say, unless and until the emotions hit you don’t speak your lines. The reason is lines are the reaction of the emotion we experience.
- Once, you get the queue to begin the monologue. Now read and divide the monologues into beats. You will notice that 2-3 lines come from a single thought. That is what a beat is. So mark them as the one unit. In the same manner, divides the whole monologue into beats.
- Now you have to connect each thought. You have already found the first thought at the begin weave it to the next thought and then to another. And also attach the visual to these thoughts.
- Now perform the whole monologue in this order visualize the thoughts, experience emotions and speak. Do this for all beats that you have marked.
- Practice again and again, if you feel the visual thoughts are not right change them as per requirement.
So when you see the monologue as a whole there will only 3-4 thoughts that you will have to remember and since all the thoughts are in the form of visual you will be able to recall your lines in an instance.
This exercise takes time and also if you are not well trained, you might end up being caught in your head ruining your performance.
If you are very new to acting and just learning the craft, you might need something a little less complicated. The mind palace is a very effective memorization technique used in various fields. If you do a little search about Alex Mullen, a memory champion. you will see that he uses this technique in all of his competitions.
Using this technique you can remember almost anything.
The way mind palace works is you create an imaginative place in your mind where you can store any information. Usually, this place is something you are familiar with. It can be the route you talk to your local grocery store or it can be different rooms in your house.
Some memory champion creates their own fictional places which they might not have seen before in real life. They get really creative with it.
But I advise you to stick to what you have seen in your real life. Because our purpose here is to learn lines only.
Before you begin learning the monologue choose a familiar place like a path or room.
I usually use paths because we travel in particular directions only. This makes it easy to learn the right sequence of lines. You can also use the room, but in reality you use a room in so many ways, there is no particular order. However, it is your choice. Use what you are more familiar with.
Now follow the following steps to remember the lines:
For this purpose, I am going to use an example of a small monologue of Heath Ledger from The Dark knight.
Wanna know how I got these scars???……..My father was a drinker….and a fiend….. So one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself….He doesn’t like that. Not….one….bit…..So,… me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He looks at me…. and he says “Why so serious?!”….He comes at me with the knife……”Why so serious?!!”…”Let’s put a smile on that face!!”……And……(looks at other gangster) Why so serious?
Now just let me break down this monologue and how you can use a memory palace to learn these lines.
- Let’s assume you have chosen a path from your home to a grocery store. You don’t have to actually physically walk the route but just imagine yourself walking and seeing the exact same things that you regularly see.
- The first line is “ wanna know how I got these scars?”. For this line find something that relates to the scars. Maybe the door of your house has some scratches that look like scare. That’s your first queue “scars on the door”. Remember that.
- Now you walk further. “My father was a drinker and a fiend”, that’s the next line. You can imagine your father with a bottle of wine in his hand on the floor. Don’t get offended if you love your father, it’s just for the shake of remembering the line. This is another visual to remember the line.
- The next bit of line is “So one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself….He doesn’t like that. Not….one….bit…..”. For these you can imagine a scene that your drunk father (sorry again) breaks the bottle and starts shouting as hell and your mother with a knife in her hand barges out and “ and yells at your father to not shout” while pointing the knife towards him. While imagining it doesn’t have too much dialogue just go with visuals in your mind. That’s the visual for the above lines.
- For next line, “So,… me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He looks at me…. and he says “Why so serious?!” You can imagine running from the last scary scene that you saw. And suddenly on the road crossing that your path is blocked by your father laughing, looking at you and asking “why so serious?
- For last bit, “He comes at me with the knife……”Why so serious?!!”…”Let’s put a smile on that face!!”……And……(looks at other gangster) Why so serious?. You may run away from there as you father barges at you with knife, and get inside the grocery store that you visit daily. There you see everyone smiling at you and asking why so serious. And suddenly your father enters and asks the same. And then he says let’s put a smile on that face…! And bam! You got your monologues memorized.
You can see what we have done here is that we have used places that you are very well familiar with and using things we stored the lines using visuals, family members and landmarks.
All you have to do is recreate these visuals in your mind to remember the lines. The more you practice these it would be easy to memorize the lines.
Yes, you can remember anything with this method but performing might be a little difficult because in your mind you are playing entirely different visuals than what you need to be connected with the scene.
3. Writing it up
If your sole purpose is to first memorize the line plainlyy and then dissect it for the performance then I would suggest you try this method. With this method, you are using the old-school technique of memorizing any written information. You are not visualizing or trying to breaking it.
I have seen many actors memorize their stuff plainly. They don’t think how they are going to say it or perform but make sure they remember the monologue in such a way that they can recite it in a single breath. Once you do that, you can move on to the emotional part of the monologue and then combine together to get the performance out of it.
Studies show that writing things with hand helps retain more information than you do by just reading it. When writing it’s like you are making a muscle memory for that information.
If this is how you like to do it, lets how to properly use this technique to memorize a monologue:
- Take a pen and notebook or anything that you like. I advise you to keep a separate journal or notebook where you can collect the break up of your monologues. This could be a great resource to have with you whenever you go out for auditions.
- The first thing I want you to do is to divide the monologue into beats. Beats is nothing but it is the place in the lines where the thought or emotions change. Just mark that up.
- Once you do that begin writing each beat one after the other. Always use the new paragraph for the new beat. This way you will remember the individual beats more effectively.
- Once you finish writing. Try to write out the lines without looking at the script.
- After writing once, you will be able to retrieve very little. But don’t worry that’s what the process is.
- Write it again maybe a couple of times looking at the script and again try to write it without looking at it.
- Keep repeating this process until you can write the whole monologue correctly without looking at the script.
This is time-consuming but a great method to remember the lines plainly. After that, you can go with whatever acting technique you use to perform these lines.
4. Breaking it up
This is the most traditional method actors use to remember their lines. This uses the traditional reading and remembering lines but also has the element of emotions in it. So you are not only learning the lines but you are actually learning the performance.
This method involves breaking up the whole monologue into beats. In the last method, we have already talked about what the beats are. Beats are the lines that have a common thought process behind them. You will see whenever there is a change of thought in the line it is where the beat begins. You have to mark all the beats in the script for reference.
As we have already mentioned each beat as a separate thought, there is always some or other objective behind that beat.
So in this method, you will have to break the whole script into beats and what is the objective behind these beats.
This is the step-by-step process to break up your script.
- For this method take a printout of the monologue and use a pencil to mark the beats.
- Now begin reading the script and mark each beat in the script. There is no right or wrong way to mark the beats. Just mark wherever you think the thought has been changed.
- Now write each beat separately so that you can see visually what are the different thoughts in the monologue.
- In front of each thought, you have to write the objective behind it. You don’t have to write details but write it in few words only.
- One trick you can use that I have learned from Ivana Chubbuck’s acting technique is that you should write an objective in terms of what you want from another character.
- You can write, to get you to love me or to get to you hate me or to get you to ask me out anything that relates to the monologue.
- You can always try different objects for different beats and see what works best while performing the scene.
- When you are done writing objects, speak each line with that objective in mind. Practice it several times you will be able to speak the lines correctly.
This technique is more of how to memorize a monologue with the right emotions. But still, you might have to remember lines with the traditional method of reading or writing.
There are many other methods but I think these four methods are the best possible method that any actor can use to memorize a monologue and perform it naturally.
If you know of any other unique method do let me know. I’ll add it here.
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