How Do Actors Remember Their Lines?

by on May 14, 2015
Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton

Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton

   Some of us have a fear of public speaking. It’s hard to fathom when your job consists of speaking many memorized lines to a crowd of people there to judge your performance, cadence, diction, and ability to convey emotion.

   Richard Dreyfuss, well-seasoned in acting and performance, says there are a few different ways to try and put lines away in memory.”To an actor, dialogue is like food. You hold it in your mouth, you taste it. If it’s good dialogue the taste will be distinctive.” For some, it’s as easy as looking and memorizing right off the bat: “Like a photocopier,” says Dreyfuss. “But they’re more like aliens. The most reliable option is long hours spent with your hand over the lines murmuring under your breath for hours on end.”

   And what happens when you can’t remember your lines? That moment is referred to as “drying,” the horrible sensation of an absolutely blank mind. All those lines that an actor has spent days and months practicing vanish, nowhere to be found. This is something, quips Dreyfuss, that every actor— no matter how prepared and well rehearse— has experienced at some point.

   But when it comes down to every performance, what does an actor fall back upon for memorization? A little bit of luck, and a lot of faith. “We have to take it on trust that on any given night, the lines we’ve so carefully learned during rehearsals will tumble out of our mouths in the right order and in the right place.”