For the actors
It has been said, "This is the hardest thing you'll ever love!" Making Shakespeare's words your own is a truly awesome experience. But it does take effort.
Joining the company means making a commitment to learn your lines—for yourself and for your cast. There are many approaches to memorizing, but all o f them require daily work. About 15 minutes a day is required to prepare most roles in the plays. It's not a lot really, but you have to actually do it!
The most common strategy for memorizing is to sit with your script, cover all but your first line, repeat that out loud, cover it up, repeat it again, then look at the second line, repeat the first and that one out loud, cover them both and repeat, and so on. Most people can easily memorize 15 lines or so at a memorizing session. Some of our actors can memorize as many as 60 in about 20 to 30 minutes.
For many of our uncut productions, we provide a link to SoundCloud audio files where you can hear your part. Repeated listening can be a helpful way to solidify lines. Some actors like to make their own recordings of their lines and listen to them on their phone or computer.
For some, writing out the lines over and over is effective. Some make little drawings in their scripts to create visual mnemonics.
Once you’ve started to learn the words, you’ll need to “run” your lines with someone. It’s helpful if family members will do this, not only because of the convenience of practicing at home, but it’s a fun activity to share. If no one at home is able to do this, the Crows will provide a lines-running partner to run lines by phone and during rehearsal.
Running lines means speaking the lines out loud, on your feet, with blocking for the scene to create muscle memory. Saying lines in your head is nowhere near as effective.
Memory works on a kind of learning curve. What you can do in your head will not work the first time you speak out loud. What you can do out loud sitting alone won’t work when you get up on your feet. What you can do on your feet in your living room will be shaky when you get up with scenes partners on a stage . . . . Repetition is the key to success.
Full-length plays will have memorizing goal dates for each part to help actors stay on track.
Workshops add scenes as actors memorize their parts.
In all cases, it’s best to come to rehearsal ready to perform your role—the sooner you are able to rehearse without a script, the more time you have for developing the character.
Memorizing Shakespeare is different from memorizing modern plays. The language presents challenges, but it also contains an almost endless amount of built-in information about the characters and action, as well as stage direction.
These YouTube links will take you to places where you can learn more about Shakespeare’s language:
Playing Shakespeare: Together with Royal Shakespeare Company actors including Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley, and David Suchet, director John Barton demonstrates how to adapt Elizabethan theater for the modern stage.
Listen to the ISC Artistic Director, Ariana Karp, in discussions about various aspects of acting Shakespeare at Ducdame’s Tabling the Podcast.
iReadShakespeare.org: a website devoted to understanding the language of Shakespeare (includes many of the editions we use as scripts in the Upstart Crows).
About the Great Chain of Being: an excellent short (half an hour) online presentation about how the Great Chain of Being is so pervasive in Shakespeare’s plays and why it’s important for an actor or reader to understand.
After you learn about the Great Chain of Being, then the reason why Shakespeare sometimes uses thee and thou and other times uses you and your will be so obvious. Watch this half hour presentation on thee/you to learn why you, as an actor, must understand why Shakespeare chooses to use thee or you.