Have you ever said, “I’m scared I won’t remember my lines, so I memorize them right away.” And then later said, “I feel like I’m stuck in my head during a scene.” Well one of those things can certainly cause the other.
This may seem counterintuitive to some, but take care not to memorize your lines before developing your character.
You will find teachers who would advise you otherwise, but I feel strongly about this. When you memorize lines in a rote fashion, without emotional fuel behind them, prior to character exploration, you are forcing your brain to store those lines in the rote memory section of the brain. This is a different section of the brain than the section that stores images, concepts, and memories to which you are emotionally connected.
Rote memory is perfectly designed to store information such as dates, multiplication tables, symbols and such. These are usually stored with repetition with no thought or value placed upon them. We store this information in the rote and repetitive section of the brain so that we can quickly retrieve the necessary facts.
But if you store your lines in the rote memory section – how do you think they will sound? A parrot comes to mind. Ask anyone – I don’t care where they were raised – to say the A,B,C’s out loud. I guarantee you they will say them in the same singsongy “A, B, CEEE, DEE, E, F, G….” So if you memorize your lines through repetition without building the character first, you have stored those lines in the rote memory section of your brain. They have no meaning. When you need to retrieve those lines, they will come spewing out of you easily. But now you are trying to attach meaning to them at the same time. That’s a lot of work and can be confusing. Maybe impossible. It makes it twice as hard and completely frustrating when a director tries to get a slightly different and subtle emotion out of you. Your brain is too busy trying to remember and feel at the same time. Human beings aren’t wired like that.
Build the character first; do your full-circle homework. After you have built the life of the character (if you use our technique, it would be through Emotion with Detail work), go back and look at the lines. They will hold a very different meaning for you than they did upon first look. Now that they have emotional significance, and resonance, they should be much easier to memorize. Your character will want to say the words – will need to say the words. You’ll allow yourself to walk as the character walks. You’ll think, breathe, speak, and react as the character does. You will free yourself from the page, get out of your head, and get inside the world of the character.
Excerpt from The Warner Loughlin Technique: An Acting Revolution.