The Fastest Way to Learn Lines is Slow

Imagine this: you’ve just been given a script for a self-tape by your agent. Hallelujah! It’s been ages! God I hope I get it! It’s six pages long. It’s full of big words you don’t ever use in normal conversation. And, among your other jobs, you have to learn the script and produce the self-tape in two days.

Is your pulse getting quicker already?

That’s where I was this week, and I want to help you avoid the trap that I started falling into.

Ten days ago I got a script from my agent which I knew I was perfect for. A suave, middle-aged marketing guy who uses his humour and charm to get what he wants. The challenge was they wanted two completely different characterizations. (Like every director, they don’t really know what they want until they see it. But we love you anyway.)

So I set about to jamming this script into my head so that I could blow them away. Within a day I was getting hoarse.

AND THEN I REMEMBERED: Slow is the fastest way to learn.

Crazy as that sounds, that’s what I teach my own acting students when it comes to learning lines. I’ve used the approach before – I just forgot – because a self-tape is a cause for celebration and perfectionism!

So I slowed down,  I started ’honoring the word’ (a Cicely Berry technique), and I had the script learned at a faster pace than I ever would have if I was doing it quickly. IMPENDING EPIPHANY: Ideas started popping into my head. I started channeling David Lynch, who talks about “fishing for the big fish” – and I started getting the big ideas about the two different characterizations that I would give the piece.

HERE’S THE NEUROSCIENCE:

I became a student of Anat Baniel’s when I began teaching acting students on the autistic spectrum. Anat is a clinical psychologist and movement specialist, and she works with neuro-divergent people who are stuck in life.

Here’s what Anat Baniel says about how the brain works:

When we’re operating on the proverbial fast track, our brains will only do that which they have already done before. Going fast, we can only do what we already know. There is no room for the new. Slow is always the first step toward being in the now. Why? Because Slow gets the brain’s attention, increasing its activity and forming new patterns. from ‘Move into Life’ by Anat Baniel, page 135.

Slow works in many other instances in the Neuro Acting system. Besides learning the core acting techniques, students go through several exercises that use Slow as a way to increase their connection to their own soul (solar plexus if you like) and their scene partner. Invariably, the actors are calmer and more sensitive to their partner. They rediscover why they liked acting in the first place. It’s magical to watch.

Neuro Acting, as set out in my course ‘THE ACTOR’S WAY’ (both live and online) is all about hacking our minds to become better artists: to become more sensitive, yet more more relaxed, more creative and more expressive and spontaneous – and be healthy when we step out of a powerful emotion.

THE ACTOR’S WAY live course begins on January 12, 2022 at the American School of Acting in Leeds, UK, and here’s where you can find more about it.

So the next time you have to learn a script, close your eyes, take it easy, reduce your breathing and visualize your brain getting excited about the new connections and untapped creativity that are yours if you do Slow.

Bryan Bounds, MFA in Acting, is a working actor, director, screenwriter and creator of the Neuro Acting system of actor training. He also coaches students privately to reach peak levels of performance before auditions.

PS EVEN THE GREATS TOOK IT SLOWLY

Rachmaninov was a dedicated and driven perfectionistic pianist. He worked incessantly, with infinite patience. Once a student had an appointment to spend an afternoon with him in Hollywood. Arriving at the designated hour of twelve, he heard an occasional piano sound as he approached the cottage. He stood outside the door, unable to believe his ears. Rachmaninov was practicing Chopin’s Etude in Thirds, but at such a snail’s pace that it took him a while for the student to recognize it because so much time elapsed between one finger stroke and the next. At first the student suspected the master must be recovering from a stroke, but then realized this was his method of learning a new piece. Twenty seconds per bar was his pace for almost an hour – which is about 1/10th the final playing speed!