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SOD article about actors learning there lines (SOD August 31, 1993)

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I thought that this would be good to share, since it has some interesting stories about how actors learn their scripts.


By Bill Lieberman

How actors memorize their scripts to avoid being left speechless

You've probably seen your favorite actors flub a line or two but it doesn't happen often. That's because each soap star has a system for memorizing those mountains of pages of dialogue. Some methods are basic, some bizarre, some downright time-consuming, But if it gets the job done....

While many actors take the conventional approach-get the script, learn the lines, come to the set prepared and ready for action-some rely on music, tape recorders, typewriters and visual imagery.

Susan Batten (Luna, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) uses a mixture of music and memory. "If i had to say, 'This man with a cigar that smells like tobacco smoke was leaning at the bar stool at Rodi's asking me to dance,' I would have many images to help me. I can think of my uncle John, who smokes cigars. Then there is the smell of Rodi's bar, and in my mind I will set up all these different smells. I hear songs that are playing, and i smell popcorn and beer. All of this helps me memorize."

The music comes into play for Batten when she needs to tackle monologues. "when I did my monologue about being raped," Batten recollects, " I choose music by Tracy Chapman, because her music has a very lonely sound. It's about people who have very little way out. So I listen to that music, lay on the couch and think of the words I have to say. When I'm saying lines on the set, I hear the song in my head."

For ANOTHER WORLD's Robyn Griggs (Maggie), background music is mandatory when studying a script. But not just any tune will do: "It has to be [one of] two particular artists. I listen to Celine DIon or James Taylor. If I have a mushy love scene where I have to cry, I listen to Celine. If it is just an everyday thing, then I listen to James Taylor. Even in highschool, I just couldn't do anything unless music was on, but then I always used to listen to the soundtrack of grease."

Several actors claim to have photographic memories, like Grigg's co-star Anna Stuart (Donna, who says, "I Just read the scripts, then take a picture of it with my brain." Julia Barr (Brooke, ALL MY CHILDREN) is able to memorize her dialogue on the day she has to tape it.

"When i get my script," Barr explains, " I just look through it to see what's going on. Then I look at it the night before and make any minor changes that make it flow better. I get the sense of the scene and then leave it until the day we tape."

Barr's Pine Valley neighbor, James Kiberd (Trevor), has developed a different approach. " I used to take it to bed with me and make it the last thing I do before I would go to sleep," he reveals. " I was hoping that the words would marinate in my head for that period of time. But since then, I've developed a process that fuses the lines into you so that you are not learning the lines so much, but you are learning the thoughts and actions behind the script."

Jess Walton, who plays Jill on YOUNG AND RESTLESS, depends on the alliteration commonly found in the scripts, as well as her own images. "That is all part of my process," the actress explains. "I draw different designs around each section to take them into chunks. Like I might do a lacy frill around the first half of the paragraph that deals with one thought; then when it moves into another thought, I might put parentheses, and on the third chunk of it, I would underline each line. So visually, I can see it in my mind."

Co-star Peter Bergman (Jack) tends to review several scripts at a time. The key to his studying is his study-which is off-limits to his family.

"My children, are not allowed near me, nor is my wife," the actor says. "Many people would argue with me, but memorization is homework, and homework is absolutely required.

"I do one of two things. I sit with the script and really study it and put a piece of paper over the lines and slowly drop the paper and see what the other person says. Then i try to guess what I am going to say and I uncover it and confirm that I said the right thing. Occasionally, I will use a dictaphone. I will read the other's persons's lines into it, and then I rewind and talk to this machine. It says the other person's lines and I answer."

Bergman is not the only actor to use electronics. BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL's Darlene Conley (Sally) and DAYS OF OUR LIVES's Robert-Kelker-Kelly (Bo) take a similar approach.

The flamboyant Conley concentrates solo-with a time recorder. "I work alone," she emphasizes, "because you don't have time to rehearse with each other. We barely have time to run through a scene because of hair and make-up, wardrobe etc... So what i do is learn my scripts at night. I get a tape recorder, and I do a wonderful imitation of all the people that I am working with. Sometimes, I must admit, they don't read the lines as well as I do.

Believe it or not, Kelker-Kelly types out his script every night. "it's very time-consuming, but I get the lines down better," he explains. "My typing has improved. If I were cranking it out, I would probably type 60,70 words a minute."

The actor with the weirdest (his word) system for learning scripts is LOVING's Michael Weatherly (Cooper). He credits his technique to Executive Producer Haidee Granger, who "yelled at me for never knowing my lines.

"I read about this gambler in a book who used a grid," Weatherly begins, "and it suddenly made everything easier.It's a three-dimensional grid that essentially helps me concentrate on where to stand, when to say my lines, I have a very short attention span and a hard time concentrating, especially when the pressure is on. Therefore, my tendency to forget my lines increases with the more pressure there is on me. Laura Sisk (Ally) used to want to kill me in the beginning because I was so bad"

Weatherly's technique is the most offbeat, but there was one actor who said ....hmmmmm.... let's see if we can remember.....

Hey, where's that tape recorder?


Peter Bergman (Jack,Y&R) would like to go on record regarding one aspect of memorization. "It's a subject I love to talk about in a building where it is not taken terribly seriously," he says. "I have worked with people who use cue cards, who haven't even read the script before they get to work, They have no idea who they are working with when they arrive at work. I have had someone apologize to me as they arrived late and missed blocking, saying that they will be available to run lines, and I tell them, "You don't have scenes with me today.'

"I'd say that 80 percent of the actors on this show would never use cue cards. As for the other 20 percent, they are embarrassed and don't want you writing this-and you can quote me on that! Anyone who uses cue cards is embarrassed to be found out. They are considered unprofessional, but that doesn't seem to matter. It's difficult to do a love scene with someone where they are inches away from your face and reading over your shoulder. I have offended people, i have pissed people off. We have some very nice people who work the cue cards here, whose livelihood I am endangering whenever I suggest that we get these cards out of here. It's also worth saying that in the industry, cue cards, for many years, were called idiot boards. I think we should return to that."

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Thanks for sharing this. Some great stuff in here - I was especially interested in Susan Batten's comments.

Odd that Bergman has such a haughty demeanor in that interview when he'd only been on the show 3-4 years at this time.

Your welcome, stuff like this always fascinates me.

Boy, would i hate to be Peter's kids. He probably screamed at them for distracting him when they were younger when he was trying to learn his lines.

I can see Braeden reading this and attempting to cause a rematch of their real fistfight, since about 75% of what Bergman said was directed at Eric.

He obviously is talking about Melody when he mentions the love scene distraction with cue cards.

I think he is a hypocrite. I see his eyes wander off screen from time to time...

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So, who were the best and the worst? I know there are some soap stars who are famous for NEVER flubbing a line, so when they do its like a major event. On the other hand, I'm sure we all know of those who are like Obama without a teleprompter, absolutely lost. The classic case would have to be Jonathan Frid, from Dark Shadows, who might as well have held the script in his hands during scenes. (Well, almost anyone from DS, to be fair!)

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Nicolas Coster said Beverlee McKinsey had a photographic memory, something he did not have. He felt that she could be condescending about it when he'd be struggling to get his lines together.

Susan Lucci is not a highlighter, but an underliner. tongue.png Random thing I remember her saying once.

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I just don't get why Bergman is so OCD, when it comes to cue cards. So what if AMC didn't use them not everyone has to be the same. I really think that he would never admit it, but in the beginning you can really tell that Bergman kind of was uncomfortable being part of Y&R, and wished he stayed at AMC. I think that's why his ego always takes over in these interviews. I mean like carl said, he had only been here like 3 and a half years at this point, and was acting like he was already a 10 year vet.

I loved Darlene's strategy, I wish there was a video where she demonstrates her technique. I would loved to her her imitations of Stephanie etc...

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