The Best Way to Remember your Lines

Have you ever gotten so nervous on stage that you forgot your lines? I have. Today, I’ll give you a rehearsal method  that can help you beat the problem for good. 

 

Hollywood sign

Hollywood Hike: In the mornings, I like to hike up the hill by my apartment to see our little sign (pictured above). Sound like a great way to learn a trick? Read on.

 

Get Physical

Every day, magicians and actors struggle to learn their lines. They sit on the couch, or stand by the mirror or pace a few feet in front of the television. I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got to get these lines crammed into my head.”

But the performance of magic isn’t intellectual in nature; it’s a physical act. As much as it may seem otherwise, magic isn’t accomplished with the mind. It’s performed with the body. Your lines must come automatically – as reflex. Don’t think about it. Just do it. 

 

othello

Credit for my favorite memorization method goes to Lawrence Olivier (You didn’t know he was a card man?). He often performed Shakespeare – memorizing those plays  can be a beast. They have many many very precise words. And every single syllable matters.

When Olivier was preparing a role with a great deal of language, like Richard III (for my favorite film version click here ), he would go to a chalet in the mountains (technically alps). He would rehearse the lines every day as he hiked up the mountain.  Thanks to the hardcore hiking, every single line accompanied real physical movement.

This differs greatly from learning your lines as you pace in the kitchen. Olivier’s physical activity anchored every word to his body. In the same way a card master owns the classic pass, Olivier owned the play. The words lived in his muscle memory. They were a part of him. 

Your Turn

Next time you want to learn a presentation, try this. Go outside and perform the lines as you walk, preferably uphill. Make sure not to go so fast that you can’t breathe or speak. That would make rehearsal difficult. Feel free to experiment with gesture, variety and articulation as you go through the lines.  Play with different readings and see which one you like the best.

As you work, you’ll also make discoveries about the trick, and you may consider  redrafting your presentation. That’s part of the fun.  In the process, you’ll learn your material more effectively and with better retention. Your magic will improve.

And to hell with magic anyway. You’re outside!

Let me know

After you try this, let me know what you think in a comment. Or if you have any sneaky methods you use to learn YOUR material, share it with me!

 

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9 Responses to “The Best Way to Remember your Lines”


  1. 1 Tony Noice March 20, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Ah, Aaron. Now you are really in my ballpark — I got my PhD on the cognitive processes of professional actors. Yes, the movement helps to learn lines, no question. But moving in character helps even more. That is, if the magician will move about as if he were doing the routine, the mental representation of the movement and the accompanying lines become attached so that one aids retrieval of the other. My wife (and research partner) and I have written lots of articles and books on this subject in the professional literature. You can find many of them by googling my name. But they are addressed to fellow cognitive researchers and filled with charts, graphs, and statistics — so not necessarily fascinating to card men.

  2. 2 Tony Noice March 20, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Ah, Aaron, you’re really in my ballpark now. I got my PhD on the cognitive processes of professional actors. Yes, movement helps to learn lines, no question. But movement in character helps even more. If the magician will move as if he were performing the effect while repeating the accompanying lines, the mental representations become attached, and each aids retrieval of the other. I, along with my wife and research-partner, Helga, have written lots of books and articles on this subject in the professional literature. You can find much of it by googling my name, but the stuff is addressed to fellow cognitive researchers and filled with graphs, charts, and statistics – so it’s not necessarily fascinating to card men.
    Best,
    Tony

  3. 3 aaronfishermagic March 20, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Be sure to read Tony’s comments below – I think he’s dead on here:

    Ah, Aaron, you’re really in my ballpark now. I got my PhD on the cognitive processes of professional actors. Yes, movement helps to learn lines, no question. But movement in character helps even more. If the magician will move as if he were performing the effect while repeating the accompanying lines, the mental representations become attached and each aids retrieval of the other. The walking can be uphill as you suggest but the performer should be moving as the character in the situation, wanting what that character wants. This of course varies from role to role or, in a magician’ case, from presentation to presentation.

    I, along with my wife and research-partner, Helga, have written lots of books and articles on this subject in the professional literature. You can find much of it by googling my name, but the stuff is written for fellow cognitive researchers and filled with graphs, charts, and statistics – so it’s not necessarily going to be fascinating to card men.

    Best,

    Tony

  4. 4 Rikko March 20, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Haha, this is true. I once before practice my lines or think of it when people are walking by me when i walk home. I didnt even think it was effective i just wanted to say the lines.

  5. 5 aaronfishermagic March 20, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Right – but now that you consider it, it does work, doesn’t it?

    A

  6. 6 Jordan Forrester March 20, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Hey Aaron!

    As a young, aspiring magician, I can honestly say that reading your blogs and such have given me a whole new perspective on my magic. I really appreciate what you’re doing and hope you don’t stop anytime soon. This really helped me, I had trouble memorizing my performances, and every single word of this blog rang true! I’m also an actor, so I may begin using your advice when I begin acting again as well.

    Thanks again,

    Jordan.

  7. 7 aaronfishermagic March 20, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Right on Bro – Thanks for the kind words. Send an email to let us know what you discover from this approach!

  8. 8 Rosemary Eve March 20, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    I definitely agree with this idea, espcially with Tony’s ‘movement in character helps more’.
    Once I have the basic sleights of a routine down, I start practicing the trick itself – presentation (and any actions that go with it) and all, until I have it. I know it’s not intense physical activities, but learning what I’m supposed to say in the context of the actions of the trick, really helps me to remember.
    Also, oftentimes saying something at a very particular point in the routine can greatly add (or take away from) the effect. So I think that practicing both parts (the movements and presentation) together while still in the process of learing them can really help.
    Sometimes if I’m performing a trick that I’ve done a thousand times I forget to concentrate and I worry that I won’t remember what I’m supposed to say… but I still remember to do the right actions, and the actions of the trick remind me of the patter.
    I know this way doesn’t involve going outside but… it’s snowy and cold here, we don’t all live in L.A.

  9. 9 Jamie Sanden April 1, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    I agree with all of the above regarding movement in character. The only thing I would add is the importance of looking at WHY you’re saying what you’re saying in your script. Magic script writing, like all writing, is about editing it down to only what’s necessary. Regarding remembering your script, if every line is important, it becomes easier to remember it, because, in a sense, the effect demands it. I find this to be particularly true if I really imagine myself communicating the words I’m saying to the audience and imagining their response. When I recreate that experience, not only does it make it much easier to memorize my script, but I can also tell (even from an imagined audience) when a line doesn’t fit or make sense. This is also where a lot of my best lines come from. I don’t sit down and write them; they actually come to me in rehearsal. I sometimes even find myself unconsciously imagining what the audience might say in response, which is always a great source for relevant, interesting (and frequently funny) scripting. In essence, what I’m saying is that being present, focused and deliberate in rehearsal produces many more results than just more easily remembering my script. Though it does that as well.


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