There are many different techniques that actors use to memorize their lines. Memory is like working out, the more you practise then the more your skills improve.
Prior to rehearsals, actors will read over the script multiple times to familiarize themselves. At rehearsals, the same scenes will be repeated over and over, allowing more time for memorization.
Some actors are more visual learners. For people like this, a prop is often used as a visual prompt for certain lines. Acting out the scenes will begin to build associations between the actions and the lines.
Many actors work through the script, scene by scene. This allows them time to focus on a smaller chunk more intensely. This makes it much easier to memorize dialogue. Using a small section of the script helps the actors to assign emotion to each line, making them more memorable.
When reading the script, the actors will try to embody their character. They will work out why their character says what they do and what made them feel like this. Their immersion in the character’s mindset helps to subconsciously lodge the lines into their head.
Most actors will tell you not to get too caught up in the word-perfect memorization of a script. This means that you focus too intently on the words and not the manner in which they are being delivered. This can read as canned and stilted on camera.
How fast do actors memorize lines?
This really depends on the actor and on the script. Different people have different skill levels and memorization comes more naturally to some.
As mentioned above, memory is a skill that can be refined over time. It would be safe to assume that experienced actors will be able to memorize scripts at a faster pace than newbies.
According to actors, for TV, commercials, and film auditions you often get around 24 hours to remember lines for your audition. It is wise to work on your memorization until you can memorize a side or 2 of dialogue in a few hours to a day.
This is not just an applicable skill for auditions. In the media industry you are likely to get script rewrites the morning of filming, which you must be able to adapt to.
Do you have to memorize a monologue for an audition?
This really depends on the casting director and what they have specified for that audition. If they have explicitly stated that the actors must be off book during the audition, you must learn all of the lines that they have given you.
Generally speaking, it is not necessary for you to have memorized a monologue or the entire script. You may think that it works to your advantage being off book, but this is not always the case.
If you do not know your lines properly you are likely to stumble and give off a worse impression. Casting directors understand that all actors will learn their lines properly for the shoot and so it is not that important unless previously stated.
The most important thing to do during your audition is to deliver your lines in a conversational and fluent manner. This allows you to engage with your audience and makes your performance more realistic.
If you have not been told to be off book for your audition but feel confident in your memorization of the script, you do not need to use it.
We would still recommend holding the script in your hand though. This gives you a safety net just in case you forget your lines under pressure. If you blank and cannot save yourself, you are unlikely to have impressed with your audition.
How do actors memorize scripts?
Each actor has their own special method for script memorization. One trick is using a mnemonic device. Say the line you are memorizing is “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Write down the first letter of each word in the line, like so: R, R, w a t R?
Repeat the line while looking at your mnemonic. You can use your script to help you to begin with, then repeat it relying solely on your letters. Keep going until you can say the line without looking at anything.
Some actors prefer to record themselves saying their lines. If you do this on your smartphone, you can listen to the recording while performing household chores and going about your day. This will subconsciously embed the lines into your brain. Some people find that singing is even more effective than talking!
Some actors will write out their lines on scrap paper multiple times. This builds on the premise of muscle memory and many people find this method very useful. It also ensures you have fully absorbed the words and their meaning.