Many actors have said that learning the lines or memorizing them is one of the hardest things for them to do. It’s a muscle and gets consistently better the more you use it. I learned this from coaching. I can usually be off-book after reading with a client once or twice. So work it hard and often, actors!
1. Move. When Kenny Wormald and I were training for his “Footloose” auditions, we weren’t given much time to prepare. As we worked one scene in particular it just wasn’t connecting for him, so we jumped in the car and headed to my favorite place to run lines: Fryman Canyon Park, which is a nice 45-minute hike near my house. As soon as we were moving with the lines he started to feel the connection to them in his body, therefore the words came easier as well as the intention behind them. I’m pretty sure we ended up doing every scene of his in the movie on that mountain. Another client of mine is a former NFL player who is making the jump into acting. When working on a scene in my office he kept searching for the words, so I suggested we walk around the block. As soon as we got moving his body started connecting and the scene really took off. It’s now what we do first.
2. Use a hat. Take a hat or bowl and write 10 different emotions down as well as 10 different situations, professions, or environments on separate pieces of paper. In a sandstorm, walking on a tightrope, as a teacher, or as a 4-year-old child. Throw each one into a bowl or hat and each time you do the scene pick a different piece of paper. This is a great way to not only learn the scene, but also to discover something you may not have thought of. It also helps get the scene flexible. So once you have your choices and are in the room and are redirected to do the exact opposite of what you brought in, then it’s no problem to make that adjustment.
3. Do an activity. One of my clients had a huge audition for a series lead in a pilot. The entire scene took place in a kitchen and her character was supposed to be cooking the entire time. After coaching and trying it a few different ways, it was just falling flat. So into my kitchen we went and rehearsed the scene while she made us a salad. In the audition she was able to use sense memory to feel what we had found in my kitchen. When she got the callback, we did the same thing and worked in the kitchen. She ended up booking the job. Another activity that I recently tried with an actor was to play cards while doing the scene. At the beginning, he wanted to bash his head into a wall (or mine), but as we continued to play it got easier and effortless. Several weeks later I pulled out the scene that we had done and asked him to do it. He glanced at the sides put them down and was able to remember the entire scene.
So, as with everything I write, these are just suggestions. It should always come down to what works for you. I would never use the exact same approach on all my actors, as we all work in different ways and have different triggers. So, give these a shot, see what they do for you, and then see if there is a variation that works even better for you.