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A Simple Suggestion for Getting Off Book

By • Apr 21st, 2010 • Category: An Actor's Advice

I recently declared myself off book for my current production. I won’t say I am the fastest person at doing so, but I do pride myself on being one of the first people to be so in most casts I am in.

And what is my secret? For a change, it’s not complicated advice that I have to give. It actually couldn’t be simpler.

I recite all of my scenes into a digital voice recorder. But not just my prompts. Most of the lines in a scene in which I appear. (Making sure I vary my voice enough to not confuse the lines of other actors with me own during play back.)

This has many obvious advantages.

  • We more quickly commit to memory something we are actually hearing as opposed to just reading.
  • We can listen to trouble spots over and over again as long as we need to. (And most machines let you “index” a certain spot in your recording, allowing you to jump right to it when you don’t have time to review an entire scene.)
  • It permits you to pause the recording at each of your lines, deliver them out loud, and press resume to hear your line right away to make sure you got it correct.
  • You can walk around and work on lines without holding your script at all. Right away you begin to experience what it feels like to deliver lines without having a book in your hand. It will take some time to actually be off book, but all the while your brain is getting comfortable with the idea of moving about freely while discovering your lines. This can shorten the book carrying time during rehearsal by a large margin.
  • Perhaps the best part of this approach though is that you can lead into your lines and speeches with as much material as you choose. The ten proceeding pages if you wish, instead of reading just the line or two before your own line in a book. In so doing you are not just absorbing your lines, but you are absorbing the whole scene faster than you otherwise would. And the earlier on that happens, the earlier on in the process your performance will reach maturity.

Simple advice is sometimes the best, and I hope I have not disappointed you by taking a break from the complex advice I sometimes give. But when it comes to getting off book, the sooner the better, and this method has always worked quickly and well for me.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs (for theatre related thoughts) and (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

4 Responses »

  1. Simple but very good advise Ty. I have been doing a simular thing for some time. What I do is come to the first read through of the show I’m in and record the entire show. I then will edit out the lines I spoke and record everything on a CD. I can play this back while driving to and from work or at any time. Since it was a read through most lines are spoken slowly and out of character. I found that in this way I can be off book very rapidly. In rehearsals I start to apply character along with the other actors. I know my lines, don’t need to rely on that dreaded book carry and can add movement and all the other ellements. Of course i also spend time away from rehearsals listening and studying with the script in hand. That i think is most important and valuable, using time away from rehearsals and not just learning at rehearsals. Sometimes I suprise myself. I get a role that has many lines and I think “no way am I going to memorize all of this” but the simple suggestions you make really work. I find I’m off book quickly and have my character down long before that first cutain opening.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this approach. I find I memorize everyone else’s lines too. I once memorized an hour-long monologue this way. I was surprised at how easily the lines were absorbed. I listen to them in the car, at work on my computer, doing dishes… even when I’m not consciously trying to memorize them, and it amounts to just “background noise” as I’m doing other more important things, the lines seep into my subconscious, much like the lyrics of a song that you can recall even though you never consciously tried to memorize them.

    The only downside to this approach is that if you record something wrong, a missing word, or a mis-read sentence, for instance… well, you get the idea… In my current show, I have a line describing a woman coming at me in a crowded bar: “She was up in my face.” But I had memorized it incorrectly as: “She was in my face.” When I realized my error, after being prompted by the stage manager, I was shocked. The entire sentence has a whole new meaning with that one word (“up”) added in.

    Great advice!

  3. yup, been doing the same thing for a few years now. i’ve worn out 2 mini-cassette players by doing this. now, i have an ipod & a microphone attachment. bring it to the read-thru & record the whole thing. i can then burn to cd, or to my dektop at work. coolest device ever! as i struggle with a.d.d. & meorizing lines (don’t get me started!)that type of ‘background’ noise/listening to my lines is UNBELIEVABLY helpful. having it in a digital format is easier to skip through scenes, rough spots, etc….

  4. I am glad to see that many other make use of this simple technique. Simple really is best. Thanks for reading!