Actors Blog – learning lines

Thinking about by far the most tedious, heartbreaking and utterly necessary skill that an actor has to acquire; Line learning.

Not much of a skill you say? Is it even a skill? I never used to see it that way either. You’d learn your 50 lines of Shakespeare or the songs and libretto for a musical, perform it, finish the run – and then that’s it! You can safely expunge those scripts from your memory, leaving only the good bits for quotability!

Then I was caught by the curveball working for Spotlites that is: repping.

For the uninitiated, “repping” is where you have a multitude of shows in your head that you may be asked to perform at any time. These shows can also be totally diverse – two Shakespeare, three musicals, four contemporary plays, etcetera, etcetera.

When I was much younger in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, my mind crumbled at around Iago’s six-hundredth line. I had reached “saturation point” – it didn’t matter how much time I put in, how many nights I stayed up trying to force the lines into my skull; nothing would happen.

Of course, after a while, my brain – essentially just a very complex muscle – grew to accommodate the whole script. The sense of accomplishment I had at around 1100 lines of Shakespeare was immense. I still remember a lot of it to this day (the quotable bits anyway).

But that was just one play. Nowadays, there are about 9 swimming around up there; all different genres and styles. Other’s have many more, and I can only hope to accumulate more as time goes on. But it most definitely IS a skill. Each script was learned in a variety of ways, and each time I’ve had to push the wall in my memory out a little further to make space.

So, if you’ve run into a line-learning wall that you don’t feel you can cross… don’t panic. Give it time and patience and it’ll be a skill that you can master too.

“Screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail” (Lady MacB)


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