18 Aug 2015

Last minute study tips for HSC drama students – Screenwise Tips

Primarily focusing on learning lines and overcoming nerves, Denise offers her expertise to assist you in communicating as a performer.

With over 30 years of vast experience in the industry, professional actor and Screenwise Principal Director, Denise Roberts, brings her expertise to the table to help you in preparation for your exams. Primarily focusing on learning lines and overcoming nerves, Denise offers her expertise to assist you in communicating as a performer.


Do you ever wonder why you can learn lines over and over in your head, but when it comes time to audition or rehearse, your mind goes blank? Well there are a many reasons why this could be happening.

You don’t know your lines well enough:
Anxiety and laziness aside, a lot of people learn their lines over and over parrot fashion until they think they know them well enough. However they haven’t recited them over and over in different environments. For example, try reciting your lines out loud while listening to the news. If you are able to comprehend what the newsreader is saying while reciting your lines from memory then there’s a pretty good chance you know them.
To make sure you don’t pick up any bad habits like pausing in the wrong place with incorrect inflections, learn your lines by rote (using routine or repetition) in a monotone voice with no grammatical punctuations such as full stops, commas and exclamation marks. This will mean that when you go to perform them, they will come out sounding fresh in response to what’s happening in the moment and not sounding like they are coming from a script.
There’s also the Flip and Speed technique, whereby you sit opposite your scene partner with the page face down and when it’s time for your line, you flip the page over, read the line then deliver it. When you get to the end, you follow on with the speed read and quickly rush through all your lines with your scene partner over and over again.

You are trying to learn too many lines at once:
Dedicate a specific amount of time in a quiet and relaxed place to learn your lines each day. Switch off your phone, the television or any other distractions you may have. Break the lines down into beats or units and learn a section at a time. Take a short break to give your mind a rest then go back over it again. Once you feel you have memorised the first beat or unit, then move on to the next one.
Another technique during your line learning time is handwriting the lines down with the opposite hand. So if you are right handed, then try writing them down with your left hand. This of course is time consuming, so it will depend on how much time you have.

You haven’t heard the other actor speak to you in response:
Tape recorders are a great way of helping you learn lines. Record the other character’s lines in the tape recorder, but mime your own lines in response. Then you can play the recording back and talk to the tape recorder.  There are also mobile phone line learning apps you can purchase. There are free versions but these don’t work as well if you have a lot of lines to learn.  One of the most popular apps is Line Learner. This app has many line learning functions including pause, edit, repeat, play other character, play your character, loop scene. A good thing to remember is when recording the other person’s lines, make sure you do it in a monotonous fashion with no punctuation. So that when you hear the real actor speak those lines you won’t be thrown if they have chosen to say them differently to what you had imagined. The great thing about this technique is that you also learn the other person’s lines aswell.

You don’t know what they mean:
When learning a sentence there should be one key word in that sentence that is the most important – the operative word. By saying this sentence over and over again in many different ways working out which word appears to be the most important, will help you define the meaning of the sentence and will help you analyse and memorise it. Some actors circle that word for future reference.

To quote the great Hayes Gordon ‘Nerves are not your friend. Excitement is, but not nerves. Nerves are the occupational disease of the performer’.  Some people say that nerves give you an edge, but this isn’t the case. Excitement can. Excitement creates adrenalin which used in the right way can enhance your performance. Nerves on the other hand, do not.

One way to overcome nerves is to concentrate totally on your breathing. Breathe in for the count of 3 and blow out for the count of 4. Do this until your anxiety begins to fade.
Another way is to focus on something else other than your anxiety. Try reciting your times tables or think of something that requires a bit of concentration such as a poem you once knew a long time ago.
Dedicating your performance to someone very dear to you. Perhaps a loved one or a mentor who’s passed away and imagining them sitting in the audience watching you perform may also help.

To remove your nerves, focus on your scene partner and what you want to change in them.  If you are performing a monologue or soliloquy you need to create an imaginary person whom you are talking to. Ask yourself ‘what do I want from this person?’ and ‘why am I telling them this’? ‘What am I hoping to change in this person when I tell them this’? Once you know that, then you completely focus on them and your nerves will go, because you are not focused on yourself.

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