Open Forum

Line memorization accountability

  • 1.  Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-16-2018 13:50
    I would be grateful to hear any and all suggestions/strategies you have to hold students accountable for line memorization - or, more to the point, to ensure that lines are memorized in a timely fashion to do any real performance work. And I refer to class and outside productions - this most basic, and most vital, step is just not taken seriously as the work to be done for theatre, either for a class scene or extracurricular production. I give my students many different ways to memorize lines, but the lengthy (and tedious, for many of them) process of memorizing just isn't done.

    How do you get them to memorize sooner, more efficiently?

    Nathan Emmons
    Theatre Director
    La Jolla CA

  • 2.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 08:08
    I teach middle school. For outside of class productions, I set an Off Book date, and a last day to call for line on the rehearsal calendar that they have on day one. I rarely feed a line after the deadline has passed, and encourage students to figure it out in character. That scares most of my students enough that they hit their scripts pretty hard.  I also recognize and praise the students who are obviously working on lines and not tied to scripts as we go through the process.

    For In-Class productions, it's pretty much the same thing. They have a deadline, and at some point I make them muddle through without a script in their hand, no matter how slow and tedious it is.

    Dianne Rowe
    Theatre Arts Teacher
    Junior Thespian Troupe 88177
    Berry Middle School
    Birmingham, AL

  • 3.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 08:40
    I give them a detailed rehearsal schedule.  I set a "lines due"  day - no script on stage but, they may call for lines and an "off book".  For off book, I make them pile their scripts on the Stage Managers table and we all suffer through.  Used to be..this worked.  They could see what they didn't know and in general owned it and fixed it by the next rehearsal.

    Unfortunately, this strategy is no longer working for me.  For my last production, in a one hour period during Wet Tech there were 40, FORTY blown lines.  Did I mention it was Wet Tech?  Sooooooo frustrating!  They had all kinds of excuses, but bottom line is exactly as you say - they just aren't willing to do the work.  Memorization is not sexy.

    Amy Learn
    Ballwin MO

  • 4.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 08:54
    The offbook dates and no excuses dates obviously that we probably all use in practice.  However, I've found for myself that recording it on a phone or device then hearing it and going over and over it audibly has helped me as an actor and has helped a lot of my kids.  Hearing not just the words but the person who actually says them saying it begins to plant that seed.  Also, muscle memory - they need to run it run it run it and it will come second nature.

    Kimberly Wibbenmeyer
    Sullivan MO

  • 5.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 10:16
    In class, I actually give line tests. I will chunk the show into small portions, typically 5-8 pages, and they literally go through their lines for a test grade. After the test is over, I go over what was missed. I email all guardians the line test schedule as well as tips on how to memorize. I let students know that this is one of the only tests they will ever take that the teacher gives them all the questions and answers in advance. You cannot call for "line" in the test, and I will sit in silence until the scene moves forward (record is a full four minutes!). Those silences and gaps scare students, and they will work hard to make sure it never happens again.

    After school, they have very concrete off book dates. I also email guardians of these dates to get their support (and this way if there is a consequence because I student did not memorize their lines, the parents are aware). If they cannot memorize their lines, I will recast the role.

    Jessica Harms
    Theatre Director
    Acton MA

  • 6.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 10:33
    Students (and parents) in the theatre program sign a contract that covers behavior and other requirements to participate in the extra curricular theatre program. One of the specifications is that if they do not memorize lines by the deadline, they may be removed from the role. Students are encouraged to get off book before the deadline, so we usually have students not looking at their scripts as they progress to learn their lines. When I see a student stuck with their nose in the book, I start talking about the various techniques for learning lines. If the deadline comes and they have not learned them, then they are on probation, and are reminded of the contract. I usually only give them a few days to show improvement. Sometimes they are removed from the stage that night, and the assistant director does their role, while they work on their lines. It is usually pretty clear they will lose their part if they don't improve.  Over the years, I have removed students who did not learn their lines, more than once, so everyone knows this is a serious deadline. The deadline is usually weeks before opening night, so another student could step in if necessary.  It is important to follow through on the consequences of not meeting deadlines, so all the students (those yet to join) know how serious the deadlines are.

    In the classroom setting, the day lines are due, the students' grade for the day reflects how many times they had to call for line. It is not hard to come up with a rubric. You should give this rubric out before the day, so they can see how many points they will lose (which ultimately affects their grade). Obviously, you have wiggle room here, as you also don't want to discourage students, so it was usually a scale (and depended on the length of the piece) ​like Calling for lines 1-3 times = -1point, Calling 4 - 6 times = -2points, etc. It is so unfair to their scene partner if you have an actor that does not care, and does not bother to learn their lines. I have replaced actors out of scenes for the sake of the other actor. The replacement uses a script, since they are not graded for the scene they have just stepped in. The actor removed gets a grade of either F or 0 (zero) for their scene work (or lack of work).

    Students will take learning lines, this crucial part of theatre, seriously if it is treated seriously. We also have in the contract that not writing a character sketch by the deadline could cause you to lose your role.  I recently did The Diary of Anne Frank and my Otto (the male lead) learned his lines, however, he did not hand in a character sketch on time, and kept saying he was not finished with it (and cited all sorts of reasons, health issues, etc). My only mistake was making the deadline only a week and 1/2 from opening night, in future I will make the deadline much sooner in the process. (side note: Half the cast handed their sketches in a week early.)  For each day a sketch is turned in late, actors lose some of their Thespian points for the show. The actor playing Otto didn't seem to care about losing points, and knew I had cast ever male that auditioned, so maybe felt he was safe. However, he was wrong. On the day of wet tech when he still had nothing to hand in, I went to the sound booth and asked one of the sound crew, a boy who usually acts, if he would step into the role. Since it was only five days to opening night, I told him he was allowed to use the script on stage, as Otto was usually reading a book, and the actor could carry the script. He agreed. Then I told the original actor to get off the stage, and told him he was out of the show if he did not get the sketch written within the next 2 hours. I informed him that I had someone lined up to play Otto, so he knew it was not an idle threat, but a fact. The assistant director went on stage so the kid taking over the role could watch the blocking.  The actor got his sketch written before the time deadline, and was then allowed to return to the stage. He apologized later, in tears, and said he learned a valuable lesson. More importantly, everyone in the production was well aware he almost lost the part because, even though he had his lines, he did not have the character sketch done by the deadline.

    It is important to follow through on consequences, therefore, the word spreads that you mean what you say. That is more powerful than anything else.
    Hope you get some other responses. Good Luck!

    Valerie Farschman, Drama Director
    MLS Theatre Company, Troupe 1422
    Marion L Steele High School
    Amherst, Ohio

  • 7.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 10:58
    Valerie, I'm going to respectfully disagree.  I do take it seriously and have consequences and they are still not living up to the expectations.  It's more difficult when it bleeds into the group at large and in a smaller program where the replacement options are limited.  When you only have 2 swings/understudies and 4 people show up to rehearsal not prepared who do you replace?

    We also have contracts, parent contracts, deadlines, etc... I teach multiple memorization techniques.  In 30 years, there have always been one or two, but not like this.  The one consequence that may work is cancelling the show, but I don't think that's an option.

    As I said above, this is something new we are struggling with and it seems like I'm not the only one.

    Amy Learn
    Ballwin MO

  • 8.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 11:27
    For class scenes, I have a graded memorization check - usually a week or more before they will perform for a grade (depending on how long the scene is). This seems to have taken care of most of the problems in class.

    Would it help to have extra rehearsals specifically based on memorization? Actors could work together or with their understudies going over lines.

    I tell my actors that their lines aren't memorized until they can speed through them, or say them while doing something physical and distracting, like doing jumping jacks. Just to confuse things, some of my actors say they learn their lines better when they know what the blocking in the scene is. I guess there's no one way to approach this.

    Ken Buswell
    Drama Teacher
    Peachtree City, GA

    Theater kills ignorance

  • 9.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-17-2018 13:35
    Hey Nathan!

    We all seems to be doing similar things. This year I'm trying something new. My beginning students are getting their scene work scripts today and tomorrow right before break. They need to be off book when they return and only have 4 classes before they perform these scenes for their midterm. I did have them work on open scenes first that way I would be able to give each group feedback during the class as a whole class and we worked on the concept of script analysis prior to even getting their scenes. My hope is that they will be memorized before returning so that we can effectively use class time for notes and actual acting. I'll let you know how it goes.


    Bernadette MacLeod
    Charlotte NC

  • 10.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-18-2018 16:04
    What has changed is that students are now addicted to their phones.  That addiction is interrupting any line study they do and fragmenting their thinking.  I am trying to deal with this in several ways.

    1.  I set a good example.  I don't look at my phone at all for the duration of a rehearsal.  Most of the time, I don't even have it in the rehearsal space with me.  I wear a watch.

    2.  I bought a couple of clear shoe storage hanging units and numbered the pockets.  Students in classes put their phones into the pockets corresponding to their roll numbers.  I tell the cast of shows that rehearse after school to put phones in either their book bags or the storage unit.  If I see phones out, they go into the storage unit.

    3.  Because they don't have their phones out, actors can't be listening to music (with lyrics!) when offstage during rehearsal.

    4.  I send duos or small groups who are having line issues out of the rehearsal space to run the scene repeatedly.  If I have another actor who is not needed at the time, I'll send him or her to hold book and feed them the lines one by one.  This sort of independent rehearsal is simply impossible if the students have their phones.  Addiction is powerful.

    5.  Last, I engage in frequent discussions with my students about what being in the moment means, how essential concentration is for the actor, and how devastating this phone addiction is to their ability to analyze a script, memorize a script, build a character, and interact with fellow actors onstage and off.

    C. J. Breland
    Asheville High School
    Asheville NC

  • 11.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 12-18-2018 19:23
    I've spent the last 17 years touring (what is now) 8 one-man shows which average about 10,000 words each. A few years back, I put out an acting text ("Acting at the Speed of Life") which features three chapters about line memorization, and I've got a handful of extra copies that I'd be happy to share with those who are interested.

    I'm gradually working to expand those three chapters into another book, titled "How do you remember all those lines?"

    Tim Mooney

    Tim Mooney

  • 12.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 01-04-2019 16:21
    We still have a set "off book" date; however, we started having actors preparing one scene at a time.  For example, we post that we will be working on scene 3 Tuesday and they are responsible for be familiar with that scene for Tuesday (doesn't have to be memorized but know it pretty well).  We block the scene and actors can hold just that scene in their hand and reference it/take notes on their page as needed.  They are then required to have both the lines and blocking memorized for the next time we are running the scene.  This has really helped because actors are putting their acting and blocking together so it's easier for them to associate their words with actions and they are not memorizing an entire play in one night (as we know most of them do when they are approaching the "off book" date).  Hope this helps!

    Rikki Spelman
    West Warwick RI

  • 13.  RE: Line memorization accountability

    Posted 01-04-2019 22:19

    I used to use a rather bizarre bit of positive reinforcement. I am a pretty solid cook, and was in the habit of occasionally bringing in food. 

    I make a mean rack of ribs, and I would occasionally say "First rehearsal that no one calls for line, I will bring in ribs next rehearsal."

    Cast members quickly self-policed! 

    I also used to let parents know, in no uncertain terms, that lines were homework. I likened it to free throws in basketball. That is a skill to be practiced on one's own, not one that consumes team time. 

    Scott Piehler