Forget About It: Five tips to help you remember lines

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For events like Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Declamation and Original Oratory, competitors are required to memorize their performance material. This may seem like a daunting task for those who compete in as many as four events per tournament, but it can be accomplished easily with focus and determination.

Here are a few tips to help with memorization:

1. Read your piece out loud – one line at a time. This is the same way many nursery rhymes are structured. For example, “This is the house that Jack built. This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.” And so on. This can be an easy way to remember not only the lines, but also their structure in relation to each other.

2. Practice performing your piece as if you’re in Oral Interpretation. Hold your script in front of you while you practice, and after a while, you won’t need it.

3. If you are a kinesthetic learner, you may find that relating your lines to different motions and gestures can be helpful. Try planning out your blocking while you read the script, as this will help you to develop associations between the tricky-to-remember sentences and the movements you’re making.

4. Divide your script into sections (in scenes that have multiple characters with little dialogue – for example, in “Picasso’s Women,” each character delivers her own monologue, so the script is already arranged in three sections) and memorize each one as a separate entity. When you have memorized each monologue, merge them to form one piece.

5. Use a tape recorder to record yourself reading the speech aloud. Play the recording back before you go to sleep at night and after you wake up the next morning. Sometimes it is easier to remember lines when you’ve heard them repeatedly.

These tips, along with the usual advice (practice, of course!) should have you thinking like an elephant in no time. If you do end up forgetting your line in a round, though, don’t panic! It happens to everyone. When you forget, the best thing to do is to suck it up and improvise.

Improvisation is against the rules for many events in most states. But if you legitimately forget a line, you can’t just stand there forever, waiting for it to come to you.

In Dramatic Interpretation, forgetting a line is not a huge problem because you can take advantage of that uncertainty and have an "I'm so upset about this subject, I'm speechless" moment. Pause and stutter for a moment. Say something like "I...I..." until the line comes to you. If you cannot remember, all you can do is say something like “I don’t know what to say,” and act as though it is the end of your piece.

If you forget your next cue in Duet Acting, you just have to hope that your partner is on top of it. This is why practice is vital, especially in team events. If you and your partner both forget, you just have to suck it up and improvise together. Ever seen “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Declamation and Original Oratory are especially tough because they are usually more formal than D.I. and H.I., but the best you can do is either pause for a moment and try to remember, or start over at the beginning of the section again and try to get back into the rhythm of the speech.

The best thing to do in H.I. is to just keep talking until you remember – “Totally just forgot that line. It was there, in my head. And now, it’s gone. Can’t find it. Wait for it, wait for it. Nope. Not in there. Wait up, I think it’s in my back pocket. Checking the back pocket. Not in the back pocket. Checking the jacket. Checking the jacket... Ah! There it is! It’s always in the jacket.” You won’t feel as embarrassed as you would if you just stood there without a word, and who knows? Your judge may empathize with you.

Once, in my second round of H.I., I completely blanked while I was giving my speech. I believe it was the first time I’d ever competed in the event. I was very nervous. In the scene I was doing, I was playing a girl writing a letter to her parents from summer camp. I tried to think of my next line, but when I realized I couldn’t, I ended my performance by saying something like “Well, it’s been swell talking to you, mom and dad, but I’ve got to go because I just forgot my next line. How embarrassing! See you soon. Love, me!”

It was pretty embarrassing, but the judge actually came up to me later at the tournament and told me she was impressed when I didn’t just give up. I ended up going to Semis and winning third place at that tournament.

In speech, you can never fully develop your performance until you have puzzle pieces in place. It is always best to come prepared. Memorize your lines, and you’ll be one simple step closer to a successful tournament.

That's brilliant how you ended your H.I. performance when you couldn't remember what came next. I suppose if you can't recall, and you doubt you will ever recall, concluding in such a comical way is perfect. Nicely done.

Dividing your piece into sections always worked for me. And pure repetition of reading the piece while saying the lines over and over and over again.

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