How do you remember all those words?

Adventures in theatre are often a source of amazement, albeit of a limited kind which tends to run out as soon as people realise that the Singing Librarian isn’t, in fact, card-carrying Equity member.  In fact, has never been paid to perform and is therefore not very impressive after all.  For those people who are still slightly star-struck or intrigued, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘how do you remember…?’ either words, notes, moves or dance steps.  Or perhaps all of the above.  Sadly, there’s no particular secret to be revealed in the answer, as different methods work for different people.

Some people record their lines to tape and listen to this endlessly in the car as they drive to and from work.  Some people create mnemonics for their more complicated speeches.  Some people associate words with particular props or gestures – in the case of songs, this can be particularly helpful as the lyrics and choreography start to reinforce each other.  But essentially, the secret comes down to one simple thing – repetition.  The more often you hear, read or say the words, the more you’ll remember them.  The more frequently you dance a dance, the easier it is to remember, and the less conscious you become of each step, turn, spin or hop.  I don’t have any particular method; I simply read the lines through over and over, then speak them over and over, muttering scenes to myself as I trot along to work, or shelve books, or try to get to sleep.  Dances tend to be reserved for the kitchen and rehearsed while the kettle boils, the oven heats up or the sink fills with water.  This can be achieved with or without the music on in the background, and no doubt looks particularly odd when done in silent concentration.

I make sure that I practice something every day while in the midst of rehearsals.  Whether muttering on my way to work, singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen, each repetition makes the words and movements more natural and more secure, ensuring that formal rehearsals are spent learning new things rather than trying to remember what we’ve done before.  By the time that everything has been set, I will perform my own potted version of the show in the lounge or the kitchen several times a week, comprising just those scenes and songs which I happen to be involved with.  Again, probably a very bizarre sight, as I rush around like a mad thing, trying to remember which entrance I use, which props I have in my hand, and how I react to everyone else’s lines and actions.

So you see, no secret.  Just the discipline of setting aside a few minutes every day and thus rehearsing outside of the rehearsals as it were.  For some people, the lines come more quickly or more slowly but it’s much the same for everyone – practice really does make perfect, and there’s no substitute for actually doing it.  And doing it again.  And again.  Ideally, you should be able to sing, speak or dance your pieces in your sleep by the time the show arrives.  I’m sure some people do.

  1. The fact that you have the self discipline to learn all the stuff is impressive enough for me.

  2. I’ve found that working backstage leads to the absorption of many, many lines. I’ve learned almost entire plays that way.

  3. The sound guys for ‘Me and My Girl’ certainly knew the show backwards and forwards, possibly better than some of us did. Granted, they had worked on it several times before, but it was still mightily impressive! I think it really is the repetition thing – you hear it so many times, so it goes in somehow.

    • Titania
    • January 16th, 2007

    When it comes to Flamenco dance, I find that the sooner I can rehearse the steps after a class, the easier it’ll stick in my mind.

    Many is the time that I’ve been ‘humming’ a new sequence of steps quietly to myself on my home onboard the commuter train – I’m not bold enough to actually dance in front of all the other passengers.

    Hum? Yes, Flamenco dance is, I imagine, a lot like tap dance, where the sound of the stomps and taps create interesting rhythm patterns.

    So I’ll sit there, muttering:

    Once I was engulfed by a new sequence that I missed getting off the train and wondered why I didn’t recognize the surroundings when looking out the train window [silly]

    • Titania
    • January 16th, 2007

    *sneaks in a ‘way’ and a ‘so’*

  1. August 25th, 2011

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