How Chunking Can Help You Remember Your Lines

Wow, it has been a LONG time since my last post. It’s been a busy summer: I moved (from Boulder, Co to Fort Collins, CO) to take a full-time teaching gig at Colorado State University’s Theatre Department, went on a two-week vacation on Lake Michigan (well, not technically ON it, but we swam in it!), and I’m also prepping two shows simultaneously that go up in August and October, respectively. I’m not complaining, work is a “good problem” to have, right? Very exciting, but moving is never fun…and as those of you who have moved a lot like me can attest: it takes a TON of time, both before and after the move.

That being said, I’m glad to finally be settled with my family and able to devote more time to H2R again!

We left off, way back in May, in the middle of my series on the best methods and biggest blocks for memorizing. This week, we are going to focus on the #4 most popular method for memorizing: chunking.

Often, when you are breaking down a script or a monologue, you break bigger ideas into smaller, more specific beats/actions/intentions, right? In your own training, you may use the term bit, beat, physical action, wants, intentions, etc. I’m not a big fan of semantics and technical jargon. Any of these terms are fine as long as you understand their importance/function, right?

Well, chunking is the opposite of that. Chunking involves taking small pieces of information and grouping them into larger “chunks.”

So, what is the importance of chunking? And how can it help you memorize?

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The chunking process is important and extremely useful for you as actors because it creates meaning out of something meaningless. If you read this blog regularly, you know that in order to remember something, it needs to be meaningful to you. One of the best ways of transforming a piece of text into something meaningful, especially if it is complex, dense, non-linear, etc. is to find a way to group smaller units of action together into a linear, rational whole. Let’s take this example from the show I’m directing now, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). In this section, the final scene in Act 2, three actors decide to speed through the entire show, backwards. It’s the final event of the second act, and a feat that brings the show itself to a close. But it’s a bear to memorize. But chunking could help:

J/Hamlet Silence is rest the. Thee follow I.

A/Gertrude Poisoned am I O!

D/Laertes Slain am I O!

J/Hamlet Foils the us give. Dane the Hamlet, I is this.

D/Laertes Earth the off hold.

A/Gertrude Sweet the to sweets.

D/Laertes Earth the in her lay.

J/Hamlet Queen the comes here. Yorick poor, alas.

Um, see what I mean?

Now let’s look at it using the chunking process:

CHUNK #1

J/Hamlet Silence is rest the. Thee follow I.

A/Gertrude Poisoned am I O!

D/Laertes Slain am I O!

CHUNK #2

J/Hamlet Foils the us give. Dane the Hamlet, I is this.

D/Laertes Earth the off hold.

A/Gertrude Sweet the to sweets.

D/Laertes Earth the in her lay.

J/Hamlet Queen the comes here. Yorick poor, alas.

Let’s break this down:

Chunk #1 I’ve grouped three lines together that share a common pattern: They all use the personal pronoun “I”, and “I” cues the next two lines, both of which end with the characters saying “(insert verb here) am I O!” If you know that, as an actor, “I” cues your line, and that your line ends with “…am I O!” that’s a helpful way of organizing that text, no? So you know two things: all three lines reference each respective character (I) and the next two finish the same way.

Chunk #2 The next 5 lines (and six sentences total) all begin with the same phrase: a noun followed by the article “the.” Earth the off hold. Sweet the to sweets. Earth the in her lay, etc. Chunking these together makes the entire section more meaningful. See?

The next time you find yourself battling with individual lines that don’t “connect,” look within the structure of the text for opportunities to chunk. You won’t be sorry…

Have any of you used chunking in the past? If so, make sure to leave a comment below. And, if you haven’t already, go to our FB page and hit the LIKE button. I want to make sure we spread the word and build this community!

Have a great week and happy memorizing!

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