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How to Memorize a Solo Show

To observe attentively is to remember distinctly.” -Edgar Allan Poe 

You’ve spent months, maybe even years, writing and perfecting your solo show script. You’ve dedicated hours in front of your computer selecting the perfect adjectives, killing one precious darling after another, constructing clever sentences, punching up your punchlines, and highlighting the most memorable moments of your life. 

All of that creative expression and dedicated work has culminated into a one person play that you can truly be proud of. 

Now, you are looking down at page after page of this hour long play that you just printed off and you begin to ask yourself… 

“How the hell am I going to memorize all of this??!?!?” 

Your trepidation is certainly warranted because putting a solo show to memory is unlike the feat of recalling lines in a typical ensemble play. Afterall, it is solely you up on stage with no one else to bail you out if you go up on your lines and there are no backstage breaks to consult your script while your castmates carry the plot along on stage. 

However, it is crucial that you face and conquer the fear of memorizing your solo show because it is impossible to perform from your heart if you are stuck in your head. 

When you perform from the heart, you’re connecting emotionally to the content of your story. You are authentically and confidently expressing yourself. You are fully immersed in the world you’ve created. Your audience can sit back and relax knowing that you’ve got this so that they can simply enjoy the show. 

Yet, if you’re stuck in your head, you’re so worried about the next line that your performance comes off as robotic and disconnected. Your audience senses your stress and they become worried about how you’re going to get through the show rather than being swept away by the drama of your solo story. 

However, before you get totally psyched out and just give up, please know that you can totally do this! 

I personally do not consider myself to be a quick memorizer and yet with the tips I am going to share with you in today’s blog, I was able to memorize, perform and tour two very successful solo shows for well over a decade. I have also aided hundreds of other solo artists in the memorization of their one person plays. 

That said, I am here to support you in feeling cool, calm and collected when you hit the stage with your one person play. 

Here are three of my tips and tricks to help you know your solo show inside and out.

1) Record & Relax

For this memorization exercise you will first record yourself as you read your entire script aloud to ensure that you are word for word, line for line, accurate. Pay special attention to emphasizing your CUE LINES (ie. the lines that prompt your technician to fire your lights, sound, projections, etc.). Be sure to keep a true pace of speech and capture as much real emotion as you can while you record to emulate how you will actually perform your show. Once the show is recorded, press play and begin doing something brainless like washing dishes, going on a walk, or painting with watercolors. Let the words seep into your subconscious mind as you do mindless tasks. Much in the same way we find ourselves reciting music lyrics or lines from movies we have listened to over and over again, this method will allow you to absorb your script on a subconscious level with little effort. 

2) Speedthru 

The goal of this memorization exercise is to eventually be able to run through your show in about half the time it would actually take you to perform it. For instance, if your runtime is one hour at a normal pace, then in a speedthru rehearsal you want to be saying your last line in approximately 30 minutes. 

It takes time to know your show this well. So be patient with yourself. Start slow, a few lines at a time, repeating them out loud over and over again until naturally your pace increases. Every time you feel you can speed through a particular section of your show, go to the next section and add on a few more lines, gradually increasing your pace. Soon you’ll have memorized your entire show so rapidly that your lines automatically flow out of your mouth without any need to pause and think about what is next. 

During a speedthru, you don’t need to speak at full volume and you certainly don’t want to emote during this type of rehearsal. But make sure to do all of your blocking. Bringing your body into this will help you develop your muscle memory, too. Knowing your show in hyperspeed enables you to be in control of your pace during an actual performance. You won’t be taking a “dramatic pause” as a stalling technique to recall your next line, instead the next line is right there ready for you when you feel inspired to deliver it. Once you have mastered your speedthrus, you will be able to step on stage confident that you have done the work and that your lines are truly there. 

3) Knowing Your Chapters 

The objective of this memorization technique is to know your show in broad strokes, not simply the line for line, word for word, small strokes. To begin “knowing your chapters,” take out your script and a separate piece of paper and pencil. As you read over your script, start to divide up your show into one or two word chapters. For instance, your opening monologue may simply be called “Introducing Myself” and perhaps after that you move into an opening song which you label “Power Ballad” and so on and so forth. 

Continue on like this until your entire show has been mapped out into “chapters.” There is no “right way” to categorize your chapters. Just divide them up in ways that make sense to YOU. Next, you will physically walk through your show doing your blocking and saying out loud the order of the chapters. Talk yourself through your entire show in these broad strokes like this “First I enter from stage right and as I come center I introduce myself to the audience, then I cross further downstage and I sing my power ballad” and on and on like this until you get to the very end of your show. So rather than saying your actual lines, you are talking yourself through the chapters of your show. Consistently doing this type of rehearsal allows you to know the bigger picture of your play so that if you ever go up on a line, or forget a specific word, you can remain confident knowing the “chapter” you are in and then you may paraphrase your way to your next chapter and get on track again. 

Try all three of these memorization exercises and see what works best for you. And don’t be afraid to mix it up! A combination of all of them can make memorization interesting and impactful. 

If these tools resonated with you and you would like my full memorization guide for Solo Artists, complete with deadlines to aim for, then click here for your FREE COPY of my Memorization Road Map! 

Jessica Lynn Johnson
Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo LLC  

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Jessica Lynn Johnson
Author: Jessica Lynn Johnson

Jessica Lynn Johnson (Director and Developer) is a published playwright, recipient of BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST AWARD, Advisory Board Member of the LA Women's Theatre Festival, and Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo LLC. Jessica has aided in the development of over 150 solo shows (and is still going strong)! As a performer, Jessica has “edu-tained” international audiences touring her own one person shows ZE and OBLIVIOUS TO EVERYONE for over 15 years. Jessica's projects have taken home awards such as TOP OF FRINGE, HFF ENCORE PRODUCER AWARDS, TVOLUTION BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE, LARRY CORNWALL AWARD FOR MUSICAL EXCELLENCE & several other accolades! Jessica was also nominated for the Female Director of Distinction in Theatre by Girl Trip LLC at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Jessica Lynn Johnsonhttps://www.soaringsolostudios.com/bio/
Jessica Lynn Johnson (Director and Developer) is a published playwright, recipient of BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST AWARD, Advisory Board Member of the LA Women's Theatre Festival, and Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo LLC. Jessica has aided in the development of over 150 solo shows (and is still going strong)! As a performer, Jessica has “edu-tained” international audiences touring her own one person shows ZE and OBLIVIOUS TO EVERYONE for over 15 years. Jessica's projects have taken home awards such as TOP OF FRINGE, HFF ENCORE PRODUCER AWARDS, TVOLUTION BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE, LARRY CORNWALL AWARD FOR MUSICAL EXCELLENCE & several other accolades! Jessica was also nominated for the Female Director of Distinction in Theatre by Girl Trip LLC at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival.