6 tips for learning lines

Ralph Fiennes - Photographed backstage in his dressing room at The Almeida Theatre

Learning lines is the bread and butter of any actor, and the question ‘how do you learn them?’ is among the most commonly asked. So here are a few insights…

Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of acting opportunities out there at the moment.  But that doesn’t mean that actors don’t need to keep their skills and their minds sharp. 

With lockdown keeping a lot of actors not only just out of theatres and off of sets, it’s keeping most of them inside.  We’ve got a list of top tips for making the most of your time off…

1. Repeat, repeat, repeat 

It sounds obvious, but the act of repeating your lines aloud is one of the most fundamental learning techniques. It’s as simple a memory  exercise  as you will find, but one of the most important to utilise. And for extra effectiveness, try over-emphasising the emotion – even if it means shouting at the cat.

2. Record and listen

Many actors swear by recording lines on a dictaphone and playing them back, even when asleep. And in the age of the iPhone this has never been simpler; there are even apps that will help you, such as Rehearsal Pro (£19.99 at time of writing).

3. Phone a friend

This technique relies less on technology and more on having patient friends with lots of free time. Remember the scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant feeds Julia Roberts her prompt lines while they drink tea? Imagine that, only much, much longer and without the romantic element.

4. Read on the move

We’ve all seen people scanning sheafs of paper and mouthing words to themselves like weird zombies on the tube. Well most of them are actors, probably en route to rehearsal, and the act of learning whilst in motion is actually very effective. Some will even sit on the circle line doing laps until the words are drilled in.

5. Comprehension is the key to memory

If you understand what you’re saying you’re far more likely to remember it. So rather than just hammering the lines like rusty nails until they stick, take time to study them in depth; if you’re still struggling, speak to the director or other company members who should be able to help.

6. Relax

Easier said than done, but if you put too much pressure on yourself to learn lines you will make the task much more difficult. Remember, everyone forgets them sometimes, and such moments only serve to celebrate the liveness of theatre. Work hard but don’t be too hard on yourself. 

What are your  favourite line-learning techniques? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

Ralph Fiennes - Photographed backstage in his dressing room at The Almeida Theatre
Ralph Fiennes, photographed backstage at The Almeida Theatre, in ‘Richard III’ 2016.