Enlarge Text Size
Normal |Large |Extra-Large


Get Involved!

If you are interested in being involved and helping VASTA grow, please write to hr@vasta.org to see how you could become involved.


Volume 1, Issue 3
July 2005

Table of Contents:

A Message from the President
From the Editor
VASTA Conference - Final Update
Vision Plan Update: Questionnaire of Interests
Memorization & Practice
VASTA Presentations at the Voice Symposium



Lisa Wilson

Dear VASTAns,
I am happy to report that our first on-line vote this spring had a very high rate of participation. You have elected 3 new VASTA board members to serve from fall 2005 to fall 2008. Welcome to Cynthia Blaise, Joanna Cazden and Rena Cook.

In the same special edition of VOICE in which you voted, you were asked about your preferences regarding the location of the 2006 conference. Your vote expressed a strong interest in attending a conference held in conjunction with the National Center for Voice in Denver. Unfortunately, some major staffing changes in Denver have led VASTA and the National Center for Voice to postpone this joint venture. We will keep in touch with the very talented scientists and teachers in Denver and hope to renew these plans in the near future.

We therefore look forward to returning to Chicago in summer of 2006 for our VASTA conference, piggybacking our conference with ATHE. We take this opportunity to follow one of the action plans developed at the VASTA VISION retreat. This conference will begin a series of pedagogy based conferences, focusing on a specific area of voice and speech training, contrasting different points of view or approaches. Phil Timberlake is our incoming VASTA conference planner for Chicago.

We would like to hear from you regarding your interest in the VASTA conference continuing to offer a day of VASTA member presentations, like the ones we hosted in Philadelphia and will host in Glasgow. Please e-mail me with your input, a simple reply of 1) yes, please keep the VASTA member presentations at the Chicago 2006 conference OR 2) no thanks, we have enough opportunities to present at ATHE. This input would be useful to the board in our planning; of course, we also welcome more detailed input. Please e-mail to <lisa-wilson@utulsa.edu>.

We have a few more transitions coming up in the VASTA organization. You will see new names as of August or so in a variety of positions. Thank-you to outgoing Newsletter Editor Chris Morris; welcome to Erica Tobolski in her new position as Editor. They have transitioned us to a new e-letter phase, as well as handling the printed Newsletter with great aplomb. Welcome to Allison Hetzel, our new Associate Editor of the VOICE.

Thank-you to outgoing Director of Membership Krista Scott--with her help we are now using e-mail for our renewals--and welcome to Mark Enright, our incoming Director of Membership. Jeff Morrison is concluding his term as Webliographer--thanks Jeff for your work in launching our web version of the Bibliography. Our new incoming Webliographer will be Brad Gibson, a voice trainer currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Our archivist, at the Virginia Commonwealth University, is Amanda Durst. Thanks to VCU and Janet Rodgers for becoming the home of the VASTA archives. Thanks to the inimitable Eric Armstrong as he concludes his 8-year term as Director of Technology. Eric you have taken us to where we are today. Our undying thanks. And a belated welcome to Michael Barnes, our new director of technology. As you can see he is already doing a fabulous job. Thanks Michael and we are so glad to have you on board officially.

Rena Cook will be concluding her term as Secretary of VASTA--great job Rena. She will be handing over her duties to Lynn Watson following the August conference. Welcome Lynn--we look forward to working with you.

I am sure some of you have noticed that we have gone almost a year without a President Elect. In accord with our bylaws, the nominee for President Elect must be either a current or past member of the board. When the board conferred to select the new President Elect we found that many of our eligible and very capable choices for president were truly too over-extended in their obligations to work, current vital VASTA jobs or urgent family needs to allow them to consider the position. This is a 6-year commitment and the person taking it on must be willing and able to fulfill the office and commit to that time period.

The board and the past board members conferred during the Visioning meeting in Las Vegas. One name kept coming up--Rena Cook. The board chose to nominate Rena Cook to the board in the spring elections; the membership then voted to simultaneously and unanimously elect Rena to assume the term of President Elect. So, officially on behalf of the board, I extend congratulations to Rena and gratitude for her agreement to serve. The membership's overwhelming election of Rena as one of our new board members supported the board's confidence in electing her to this position. Rena has served VASTA in so many areas: newsletter contributor, associate editor of and contributor to the journal, VASTA conference planner for ATHE, and currently as Secretary. She also has a long history with ATHE and has strong ties in both the US and UK. We welcome her to this position. Her love of VASTA, knowledge of its many branches and exemplary networking skills give us great confidence in her ability to lead.

I am getting my ducks in a row for the Glasgow conference. Airline tickets are purchased, train tickets secured, online investigations begun for Edinburgh Fringe hot tickets and plans made for our stop off for a few days in London. I will see many of you there and some others of you in San Francisco.

Sadly, at this point in time our planned one day master workshop with Phil Thompson presenting must be cancelled. With extremely low numbers of VASTAns registered for ATHE San Francisco, we were unable to make the needed number. We hope to persuade Phil to present at a conference in the near future, as I am sure that the Knight Speechwork is as interesting to our membership as it is to me.

In other news, as of my last e-mail with Lise Olson we have 80 participants registered for the conference in Glasgow. Mandy Rees and all of her associate editors as well as the board are very excited about our Shakespeare Issue of the Voice and Speech Review. You will be receiving a PDF version of the VASTA membership directory to keep on your desktop or print to hard copy. Look for the directory in this issue and an updated version in the September issue.

Just the other day I returned a phone call inquiring about VASTA. I had the pleasure of speaking with a free-lance journalist for the New York Times researching an article on the state of voice training as it now moves into lives of everyday people who want to improve their sound and communication. So look for a VASTA mention in the New York Times. Paul Meier was interviewed on NPR in relation to dialects in Oscar nominated films. VASTA is out there in the world. You are doing a great job.

And finally, look in this issue for the questionnaire designed to assess members' interest and availability in serving VASTA. There are many ways you can use your talents and skills to support and strengthen VASTA and its membership, so please reply to Judylee Vivier where indicated. This previews a survey that will be included in the September issue of VASTA Voice. You are VASTA and we are doing some terrific things.

Stay present and breathe deeply,

back to top



Erica Tobolski

Erica TobolskiHello from your new Editor! After serving for the past two years as Associate Editor under Chris Morris’ confident and collegial leadership, I’m ready to take the helm for the next year. Allison Hetzel will be my “XO,” learning the ropes until she steps into the Editorship next year.

I’d also like to introduce the Regional Editors for the coming year—some new and some returning. They are responsible for gathering your announcements and professional accomplishments that make up the column Member News, appearing in the April and November issues. Regional Editors include: Daydrie Hague (Southeast), Beth McGee (East Central), Darryl Thompson (Southern) Dawn McCaugherty (Canada), Linda Cartwright (International). To be announced will be Regional Editors for the following regions: New England, Mid-Atlantic, Western, and West Central. Expect to hear from your Regional Editor in March and October asking for your submissions.

In this issue, look for the new VASTA Vision Update column. Here you’ll find information on the future goals of VASTA and how you can contribute. This month, the column features a questionnaire designed to tap your interests in growing VASTA. Composed by Judylee Vivier, the questionnaire prompts you to reply to her by e-mail. A survey will follow in the September issue. You’ll also find an article by Eric Armstrong on memorization (based on an exchange he prompted on VASTAVOX), information on VASTA presenters at ATHE and the Voice Foundation, and a final Glasgow update. A current member Directory is included; check for your entry and if any changes are necessary, see the contact information link found in the membership section of the VASTA.org website. An updated Directory will come out in the September issue.

I look forward to helping spread the word this year via VASTA VOICE. See you in Scotland.

If you have ideas for articles or would like to submit an article for future issues, please contact Erica Tobolski, Editor at tobolski@sc.edu, or Allison Hetzel, Associate Editor at ahetzel25@aol.com.

back to top



BREAKING BOUNDARIES: Crossing the Cultural Divide

Lise Olson

I’d like to take this opportunity to report on VASTA GLASGOW 2005, being held at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama from 9-13 August.

We currently have 90 delegates registered for the Conference, which will include a Reception in the historic Glasgow City Chambers hosted by the Lord Provost and the Glasgow City Council, a keynote address by Cicely Berry on Hearing Language, workshops by international teachers Kevin Crawford, Barbara Houseman and Donna Soto-Morettini, Roundtable discussions on International Voice organisations, a panel on ‘Training the Trainers’, and a full day of papers, presentations and workshops by VASTA presenters on a variety of topics, from dialect to poetry to transgender voice to the provocatively titled “Umlaut! The Musical!”

Glasgow City CenterGlasgow is a short 45 minutes from Edinburgh, home of Festivals (the Fringe, the Television, the Book, etc…etc….) and we have left your evenings free to take advantage of festival going, or remaining in Glasgow and catching up with new (or old) acquaintances over dinner or pub crawl.

There is still time to register! Please print out the registration form on <www.vasta.org>. VASTA accommodation is full, but many delegates have made alternative arrangements, so there are still rooms in Glasgow!

Registered delegates should have received their joining instructions. If you haven’t received yours, please e-mail <vasta@lipa.ac.uk>.

If you are as excited as I am, you can’t wait for August!

Lise Olson
Director of Conferences

back to top


Vision Plan Update: Questionnaire of Interests

Judylee Vivier

Dear VASTA Members,

As you know, VASTA is a rapidly developing organization! In order to foster this growth productively we would like to identify and involve many more of you, our invaluable membership, in “hands on” participation/contribution. Without your active participation in our organization, we cannot expect to fulfill our vision for the future of VASTA. As director of Human Resources, my title since I was elected to the Board late last year, I have listed a few simple questions below that offer you an opportunity to express your level of interest and willingness to become involved in these future plans. Please read the questions carefully and if you feel you possess the skills and talents that will contribute to the development of these areas, please e-mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com. If you would like to refresh your memory regarding the VASTA VISION please click on the following address http://www.vasta.org/publications/vasta_vision.html

Thank you!! I send you best wishes for a restorative summer. Perhaps I will see some of you in Glasgow? I hope so. In the mean time please respond to me as soon as possible. If you feel you cannot take on any major jobs right now, please indicate areas toward which you would like to contribute in the future. I look forward to hearing from you.

Judylee Vivier
VASTA Director of Human Resources,

VASTA’s Mission is listed below. Please indicate which, if any, general point interests you, or if you feel you have particular skills that would help facilitate that area.

To improve the ways in which our culture values voice and spoken language, and the ways it recognizes the skills required for effective communication, such that:

  1. Voice and Speech trainers are recognized and remunerated as valued professionals.
  2. Voice & Speech training becomes part of the core curriculum from Kindergarten through Higher Education.
  3. International alliances among trainers foster an exchange of learning and organizational growth.
  4. VASTA advances a point of view about voice training that celebrates common goals and diverse ways of achieving those goals.
  5. VASTA's membership and leadership is as diverse as the communities that we serve.
  6. Voice and Speech trainers are able to employ technology in support of our mission.
  7. VASTA has the power and financial backing to support and implement its mission.

If you generally interested in contributing to one of the above, please e-mail me: JLV@nyc.rr.com

Some of the specific areas that VASTA seeks to develop in the next two years (2005-2007) are listed below. I have included detailed descriptions below each area to inform you about some definite goals we aim to achieve.

  • Increase of Membership and Diversity within the membership and leadership.
  1. VASTA wants to create a "How to" web document on Self-marketing for individual practitioners.
  2. VASTA wants to develop an outreach to other communities. VASTA is interested in creating an ad hoc committee with a Chair to create a list of whom we currently serve, and whom we might potentially serve. The goal is then to create a plan to expand service to those we might serve.
  3. VASTA would like to initiate a scholarship for potential members/trainers from under-represented groups. A committee will be created to draft the guidelines.

Is this where your interest lies? Please mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com

  • Outreach to other organizations.
  1. VASTA would like to encourage members to connect by travel to other countries and establish contacts with faculties and students at International Theatre Schools.
  2. And to establish reciprocal Web-links between vasta.org and other websites.

Is this where your interest lies? Please mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com

  • Advocacy and Awareness – to raise the profile of VASTA and what we do as an organization.
  1. The maintenance of the website.
  2. The maintenance of current publications.
  3. VASTA wants to establish a committee and create a National Award for Voice, Speech, and Text Excellence in Performance and create a committee to work towards the goal of presenting the first award in 2006.

Is this where your interest lies? Please mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com

  • To raise the standards for practice within the profession.
  1. VASTA has initiated a dialogue with the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) and the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA) regarding the accreditation of MFA Voice and Speech Pedagogy programs, and Voice and Speech components of current actor training programs. A committee will be formed to develop recommended guide lines for training/coursework related to outcomes assessment in the areas of Voice and Speech within degree programs, including BA, BFA, and MFA. The areas of specialization will include Acting, Musical Theatre, and at the graduate level specialization in Voice and Speech pedagogy.
  2. VASTA would like to do outreach to drama High School Teacher In-Service Programs. This would include acting as resource for volunteers, and you would need to follow through and report to the Board.

Is this where your interest lies? Please mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com

  • Organizational Capacity.
  1. Involvement in the leadership of the organization: to serve in various responsible jobs in the organization that might lead to Board Election such as Director of Membership, Board Secretary, Conference planner, Organizational Treasurer.
  2. Involvement in the planning or assisting in the planning of annual VASTA and ATHE conferences.
  3. Taking on VASTA jobs such as the Regional Editor, or Associate Editor for the VOICE, a peer reviewer for VSR, writing for VSR, or the Associate Editorship of VSR.

Is this where your interest lies? Please mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com

  • Professional Development.
  1. VASTA is interested in creating a program of visiting teaching Fellows from among VASTA’s membership. These Fellows would be available for exchange or visitation during their term of service at a reduced fee or in receipt of expenses, housing etc. to exchange teaching specialties or present workshops. An ad hoc committee with a Chair will be created to devise guidelines, and an implementation plan for review at November 05 or August 06 Board meeting.

Is this where your interest lies? Please mail me at JLV@nyc.rr.com

Thank you!

back to top


Memorization & Practice

Eric Armstrong

This article was written as a result of my request for help from VASTAVOX. I was preparing a handout on memorization for my Voice Class , and I thought I would seek out some suggestions from members of the 'vox on how to memorize. The discussions led me to research memorization in greater detail than I had originally envisioned. The following is what I prepared for my students, thanks in no small part to my colleagues in VASTA.



an elephant never forgetsCommitting something to memory is a process that all actors working outside of Improvisation need. Memory is a complicated process whereby images, sounds, ideas, words, phrases, and even times and places are encoded, so we can recall them later. To effectively learn "lines," one may use several different kinds of memory at different times in the process of encoding, storing and recalling the text at hand. The basic learning of a single line begins with you using your working memory to get the line off the page and into your head. At this stage of the process, you can repeat the line while looking at an acting partner, or moving around the space, but it won't last more than a few seconds. The next phase is when the text gets encoded into the short-term memory. These kinds of memories will stay in your mind for a few minutes at most. For your memory work to be useful, the language of the play must be transferred into your long-term memory. There is some speculation that material that enters the long-term memory is, in fact, always stored in the brain. What becomes lost is the means to retrieve the "data." Generally, the actor's memorization process is semantic in nature, a memory of knowledge, meanings and understandings. However, it may also be episodic in nature, particularly if it is memorized in a manner that involves spatial relationships (such as blocking, e.g. what you do when you say line x). In some cases, memory may involve visual or spatial memory, particularly if you're the type of memorizer with a "photographic memory," seeing the text on the page as you read it back in your mind's eye.

The short-term memory can only hold so much at one time. Generally, people can hold between 5 and 9 things in their minds at once time, with 7 being the average. Note that phone numbers are 7 digits long. These items are more readily memorized when they are clustered into chunks, so 767-6093, with two chunks, is more memorable than 7   6   7   6   0   9   3. This process of chunking is an important tool for the actor. It's a means of organizing the information that you're learning. Often the writer of the text will have clustered many points of an argument, steps in a story or images together, making the piece effective. Identifying this structure will make it more memorable, and help you to find the chunks of thought within it.

There are six principal reasons why things stick in your short term memory. First things first, it is easy to remember the first part of something you are learning, partly because it was new and unique and our attention is still well focused, but also first things tend to get rehearsed more; this is called primacy. Similarly, the last thing you learn is likely to be memorable because it's been in your memory the shortest time, and its memory hasn't had time to degrade; we call this recency. Distinctiveness describes when something unusual, like an unusual image or word, stands out, making it more memorable. Apparently sensual things (like bawdy humor) are particularly good at standing out, so making those kinds of connections to your text is actually a good thing. It's pretty obvious that the frequency effect, which occurs when you repeat something over and over, is an important part of any memorization process. Associations are very important - the more links that you can make to ideas behind the text, to images within the text and to other words and phrase of the text, the easier it will be to recall. This can be elaboration (associating the text with other information), and personalizations (associating the text with ideas and images from your own experience). Finally, we often fill in the blanks in our memories, a process called reconstruction, when we make an educated guess as to which word belongs in the gap in our memory. These concepts can help you to tailor an effective memorization technique that is suited to your needs.

Once you've learned your lines, you must be able to recall what you've learned. Cues, like the line that comes before your line, serve to spark our recall. Each cue must serve as the spark that ignites the fire of your memory. Making a clear visual image of the connection between the ideas and/or images in the cue and your text can be very effective. But cues can be far more than just a line of a partner's text. In a monologue you can build your own 'cues' into the text, reminding you of what comes next. Each image, thought, operative word can be imagined as craving the next word, image, or thought. Find or make linkages between them, so they are easier to recall.

During performance or rehearsal, what causes us to forget? As actors are typically juggling many thoughts at once, the most likely cause of drying on a line is a distraction. Frequently, our fear of forgetting our lines is enough to distract us from the associations that would bring the lines back. This in turn can cause you to stop breathing, to focus on what you've said last, and to try to visualize something that may have not been learned visually in the first place. It has been shown that there is a mood component to memory, and that people remember things that they associate with the mood that they are currently in. People struggling with memory issues are likely to be in a highly alert state, perhaps feeling anxiety, fear, frustration. However, when they learned their lines they were feeling none of these things – frequently people learn lines free of emotional affect, in what some people call a flat read. Finding a way to rehearse in the appropriate state of being for the character may be more effective, so that when one is trying to recall the lines the mood matches the state in which the lines were encoded. Also, an effective warm-up that centers the actor may help to reduce anxiety around preparation, so that negative feelings are less likely to distract from the focus on the performance.

Frequently people forget what they thought they knew the night before. This may be a case where inattention in the memorization process keeps the text from being effectively encoded. Typically, actors have learned their lines statically, with no distractions, and when they begin to test their memory while moving, acting or engaging with another actor or an audience, they become distracted. In the process of testing your memory, it is important to advance to the stage of multi-tasking, doing the text while doing something else, to see whether you truly know it.

What matters most is that you use the techniques that work best for you and that you find ways to learn lines using as many different memorization modes as possible. Create a web of links between words, ideas, thoughts, images and impulses (and actor choices such as intentions, sounds and actions) so that your text is readily available.

Over time you will begin to forget what you know. This kind of forgetting is primarily a loss of how to retrieve the stored information. It's as if you've lost the map of how to get back to those memories. It has been shown that things once learned and then forgotten are much more easily remembered than things that have never been learned at all. So if your goal is to learn a repertoire of audition pieces, a strategy for reviewing those pieces should be part of your practice.

Why study memorization technique?

  • memory is a skill, and it can be trained
  • quick studies are more employable
  • skilled memorizers are more confident, and have less anxiety about preparation & performance
  • quick memorization leaves more time for effective, meaningful preparation & rehearsal
  • those confident with their texts are more capable of being present with their acting partner, of listening effectively, finding emotional states, taking risks
  • in the business, scripts/sides are often faxed/e-mailed to actors with less than 24 hrs to prepare

What does it take to be an effective memorizer?
it takes workNote that few people have an innate gift. You'll need:

  • motivation to begin the task
  • discipline to stick to the task
  • time management skills to practice regularly and frequently
  • commitment to being fully prepared by the off-book date: effective memorization is word perfect; paraphrasing is not good enough
  • determination & belief that you can/will succeed
  • strategies to commit the text to your short-term memory, and to convert it to your long-term memory
  • belief that it is important, that you need to improve at this skill
  • connection to an actor's 'practice'

What can sabotage memorization practice?

  • danger shallow actornot wanting to get better, feeling "good enough"
  • previous failures, lack of confidence
  • dissatisfaction with slow improvement and the effort required
  • inability to start: fear of failure leads to procrastination
  • memorization is a low priority, too many other things to focus on
  • fear that discipline will curb spontaneity
  • using poor memorization as an excuse to hide behind, so you cannot be judged on your lack of talent (imagined or otherwise)
  • lifestyle choices that sabotage time management, focus and discipline (e.g. sleep, food, booze, drugs, behavior)
  • lack of balance in managing priorities
  • lack of a personal memorization system or method
  • lack of accountability: what benefit/reward is there for success? what consequence for failure? not working with a buddy
  • friends/family criticizing your work ethic, distracting you from your goal with fun alternatives, lack of support,
  • cultural bias toward quick-fix, easy methods

Steps toward a successful practice

  1. Make a plan describing your personal resolution to practice. Some people treat this as a contract with themselves, committing themselves to a certain level of work.
  2. Find a way of way of adjusting your plans over time. Address the reasons why you are struggling and celebrate your successes.
  3. Schedule time during the week when you will practice and memorize.
  4. Create a schedule of checkups to make sure you are practicing effectively.
  5. Experiment with a variety of memorization techniques, to figure out which ones work for you.
  6. Not only must you learn the texts, you must also review them.
  7. Build the arts of physical, vocal, memory & acting practice into your life so you utilize & own what you have learned in class.
  8. Get yourself a buddy to support and challenge you in your work.

A Practice Journal

journaling worksOne way to begin to address issues of practice is to keep a journal.

The first section of your journal should include a list of your reasons why you want to practice and your resolutions to do so. Outline your fears here, too. Plan to review your resolutions through the year - schedule these review times in your calendar now. These resolutions can include things you want to start doing, and things you want to stop doing.

The second section allows you to track your practice times: plans for practice sessions, notes on how they went, scheduling of practice during the week.

The third section is the place where you will keep a list of exercises (physical & vocal) to utilize in practice sessions, plus poems, monologues and other texts you wish to memorize in the future.

Finding the Time

find the timeBegin by looking at how you typically spend your time. Make a list of what you do, and try to estimate how much time you spend on each activity. Naturally, there may be a lot of flexibility in this, but even just documenting how you spent every minute of every day for one week will give you a good idea of how you typically choose to spend your time.

Try to assess what activities you consider essential (e.g. sleep, eating, laundry, attending classes, working), variable (social activities, athletics), and expendable (TV, gaming, clubbing, surfing the web). It's important that you have some "down time" to recover and relax; however, many people are accustomed to spending excessive amounts of time in leisure activities that, though fun, limit their time available to practice. You may have to sacrifice some or all of this in order to get what you want from your training.

Time for Memorization and Practice

During the day there are frequently many small blocks of time between larger activities, when you may not be able to get a lot done, but you can drill yourself on skills that you're currently working on. In fact, many skills are better practiced for several short periods throughout the day, rather than in one longer session only once a day or every other day. Recovering those small blocks of time allows you to use your day more effectively. Multitasking can also help to use time more effectively. Showering, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, walking, commuting, exercising are all good times for memorizing, drilling voice skills, etc. Don't try to memorize while driving, unless you've recorded your text to a CD or tape (which can be a very effective method for memorization, if you are an aural learner). Finally, there are always times in the day when you are waiting. For instance, if you are to be punctual for classes, you must arrive early, and in this time you should be practicing, not socializing. If you have texts written out on cue cards with you at all times, you can work on memorization when these times arise.


link up with a buddyAt first you will be very enthusiastic and energized by planning your practice. But over time, it becomes harder not to return to your habitual pattern of using time, and you find it more difficult if not impossible to stick to your new routine. This is why it is important to have a weekly review of your use of time. Also, a buddy can help you to ensure that you're meeting the challenge of being prepared. You can goad each other on to success, and support each other through challenging times.

Weekly self-evaluation: time usage

  • Did you manage to practice when you said you would?
  • Why did you miss if/when you did? (fatigue, unmotivated, forgetting, etc.)
  • Evaluate the times when you missed: is it a bad time of day, of the week? Do you need to adjust your schedule at this time?
  • Are you wasting time? How can you use your time more effectively, to do routine things more efficiently? Are you doing anything to excess? Is there anything you can do which would organize your daily chores more effectively so as to free you up sooner? Have you found new times in the week when you might practice?
  • Did you get done what you set out to do this week?
  • Remember to seek balance in your life, as best you can. There's only so much that you can do.
  • How would you rate your efforts this week: could you work harder? are you working too hard?
  • Did you help your buddy to stay accountable and vice versa?
  • Only you know how well you did. If you met your goals and went beyond your expectations, reward yourself in a small, affordable way with a "gift" to yourself (something inexpensive that isn't self-destructive, e.g. a CD, or lingerie...)

Memorization Techniques

baby elephants have to start somewhereIn a typical theatre rehearsal process, you may get to do a fair amount of exploration, text analysis, blocking and staging before being required to be off-book. This process may help you to make associations with the text, connect the text to spatial memory (your blocking and business), connect with partners, and make effective actor choices. In film and television, however, the expectation is that you are off-book almost instantly, and usually before the first rehearsal. For classes, you are also expected to bring in text off-book as soon as possible, and frequently for the next day.

The following strategies are useful for learning a text, such as a poem, monologue or scene:

  • Understand the text:
    • if the text is a portion of a larger work (a monologue or scene from a play), read the entire work first
    • meaning: use a dictionary, a lexicon or glossary, encyclopedia
    • poetic devices and complicated language structures: understand the poetic devices used to artfully get your message across, and understand how to use them in your own words – you should be able to make up your own, as if you were using that scheme or trope as a choice
    • layout, especially for poetry: why does it appear in this way on the page?
    • prepare your actor's homework
    • style: what does talking like this do to me?
    • character: If I spoke like this, who would I be?
    • imagery: isolate the images in the text, elaborate them in great detail and personalize them as deeply as possible
    • paraphrase the text, then speak the words of the text choosing to use these words because, for some reason, they are more effective that the words you came up with
    • make up a story based on the text
    • hold a discussion on the content of the text
    • The more voice & text preparation you can do before you start to memorize it the greater chance you'll have of remembering the ideas of the text rather than merely learning the words by rote
  • Break up the text to learn the story: it's important to start with a small number of large ideas to a text, between 5 and 7. Name those chunks, and learn the sequence of those names as a start. (You might do this with an entire play, then for each scene, then for each beat in a scene.) This will serve as a road map to the piece. Then, break each of those chunks up into smaller chunks. It may help to name these chunks – using an action verb can help to connect the memorization to an actor choice. Link your tactic/action verb to the text by saying it followed by the line you are learning – " I mock: Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?" Do this for every thought chunk in the piece.
  • Explore the breath connection to those chunks – start with many small chunks, and lots of breaths, and explore the breath-thought connection. Are you using your breath pattern, or the character's?
  • handwriting Write out the passage long hand on cue cards (especially if you are a fast typist - slow handwriting seems to make a big difference). Carry these cards with you wherever you go. Color can help key words and ideas jump out of the text, highlighting their uniqueness.
  • Rehearse out loud as much as possible. You will be speaking the text aloud, so it is important to practice what you'll actually be doing. Also, speaking aloud appears to force you to concentrate more fully when learning the text and while retrieving it – you can't fake it when you're speaking aloud. If you can rehearse with your acting partner, so much the better. If not, rehearse as if you were speaking to them – talk to a chair, a lamp, something on which to focus.
  • Testing your memory: as you learn your text, it is essential to test what you know. This is often done most effectively with a friend of colleague quizzing you; when alone you can quiz yourself by covering the text with a card, flipping your page over, or looking away. Don't cheat!
  • From the top down: learn chunk 1, learn chunk 2, repeat chunks 1 & 2, learn chunk 3, repeat 1 -3, continue to the end.
  • From the bottom up: learn chunk 10, learn chunk 9, repeat 9 & 10, learn chunk 8, review 8-10, continue to the beginning. This uses primacy to your advantage: you're leading up to the part you know best.
  • elephant Review before you go to sleep, then again just as you wake up: this sometimes manages to get the text into your mind during sleep, though it may just serve as a way of giving you some very focused practice time in bed with few distractions.
  • If you forget in a particular spot, examine why you forget at that point – what is the link between chunks, how can you add more associations to that part by personalizing or elaborating the details. In a crunch, a mnemonic device may help you make a link: that phrase ended in this way, this phrase begins in this way (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance can all be very helpful here). Seeking patterns in the spelling, sounds, rhythm, structure and ideas of the text can help you to structure your thinking effectively.
  • Run lines as you do other activities: exercise, bathing, brushing teeth, commuting. If you can, say them out loud. Running, walking, jogging, swimming, X-country skiing may help as the bipedal rhythm may serve to help anchor the text in your mind.
  • Speed run your text (sometimes called, somewhat pejoratively, an Italian) – follow along in your text with your finger, skimming over the words to check to see where there are hesitations or any paraphrasing going on. Remember: you must be word-perfect!
  • Mouth the words as if trying to communicate with someone on the other side of a glass wall that is 4" thick –microphone get the muscle memory of speaking the text going.
  • Record the text - listen to a phrase, pause, speak the phrase; once you have it down, reverse that: speak the phrase, listen back to check the phrase. with dialogue, you can record your cues, and then leave a pause that is long enough for you to say your line, then record your line. Once you think you have it down, record it without looking, then check your recording to see if you are word perfect or not.
  • Move the text: to get your kinesthetic sense engaged with the imagery of the text, act out the text literally, dance the ideas of the text in an abstract manner, move your body to match the sensation of your mouth making the words, speak the text in your own made up sign language.
  • Draw the text: speak the text while drawing any word that you can in quick pictographs – then try to recall the text using the pictographs as your script; while speaking the text aloud, draw a picture of something from your colored pencilschildhood, trying to make associations between the language of the text and your personal memory.
  • Sing the text: sing the words to an improvised tune in any style – opera, jazz, musical theatre, folk song, Gregorian chant; sing the words to a simple tune such as Yankee Doodle or a popular tune that you know well.
  • Method of loci: this old style memorization technique is best used for memorizing lists. First learn a "route" than is unforgettable. For instance, you might remember a way of walking through all the rooms in your house, bedroom, hallway, bathroom, guest-room, staircase, entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen, stairs to basement, office, den, cold cellar... This route must be very vividly recalled and clear in your head. Then you "place" the items of your list IN each of the rooms on your route, being careful to visualize someone or some way of using the item in that room.
  • Test the text by doing distracting, "discombobulating" activities, such as calisthenics, jumping jacks, trying to balance on one leg, bouncing a ball off a wall using your non-dominant hand. You can make the text more challenging by going back to the top any time you forget your line. Try doing the text in different dialects, funny voices, doing your favorite impersonation. Try running them while flipping through a new magazine, or with the TV running with the sound off. Juggle.


Special thanks to all the people who contributed their time and energies to supporting this project, especially those who shared their techniques via vastavox. You can read their contributions on line via the archive at: http://maillists.uci.edu/mailman/public/vastavox/2005-June/thread.html


E-mail Contributors via VASTAVOX:
Pat Fletcher, Actors Studio Drama School, New School University; William Esper Studio
Ned Holderby, The Woodshed Music School
Dianne L. Holly, The Accent and Speech Improvement Center
Jack Horton, Presenter's Studio
Kirk T. Hughes, Healthcare Communication Group
Deborah Sale Butler, http://deborahbutler.voice123.com /
Bill Smith, The Actor's Studio
Amy Stoller, Stoller System Dialect Coaching & Design
Craig Tompkins, secretary, International Congress of Voice Teachers 6th Conference
Elizabeth van den Berg, McDaniel College
Mark Wilson, York University Dept. of Theatre

On Practice:
Practice , David Smukler http://www.yorku.ca/dsmukler/Voice2060/main.html

On Memory:
Just Ask Amy: On Learning Lines, Amy Stoller http://stollersystem.com/archive.html

Memory , Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorization

How to memorize a poem, Bob Holman & Margery Snyder http://poetry.about.com/cs/textarchives/ht/howmemorizepoem.htm

Memorize with Mnemonics, Gregory Lloyd http://www.back2college.com/memorize.htm

Human Memory: The Science, Intelligen, Inc. http://brain.web-us.com/memory/human_memory.htm

Sense-Think-Act, wikiwiki http://www.sense-think-act.org/index.php/Thinks#MEMORY

Psychology 101 Chapter 6: Memory, Intelligence, and States of Mind All-Psych Online, http://allpsych.com/psychology101/memory.html

How to Memorize Scripture, Steven Simpson http://www.memoryverses.org/index.shtml

Suggestions On How To Prepare For A Presentation: Some Useful Tips on Ancient Practice of Memorization,
Judith Koltai, Dale Genge and David Smukler http://www.yorku.ca/dsmukler/Voice2060/presentation.html

Eric Armstrong is Acting Area Co-ordinator for the Dept. of Theatre at York University (Toronto), where he teaches voice, dialects and text. Recent projects include: two articles for the Voice and Speech Review's next issue, "R and its Articulation" with Paul Meier, and "Hybrid Dialects;" photo editing all the images for that issue of the VSR; creation of the weekly Imagine IPA Letter for students to practice their phonetics skills; and his VoiceGuy Blog, where he trackshis current projects and releases his VoiceGuy Podcast. Recent dialect coaching includes "That Was Then" and "John Bull's Other Island" for Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY.

Images for this article came from stock.xchng.

back to top


VASTA Presentations at the Voice Symposium

Jan Gist

At the 2005 Voice Symposium in June, VASTA members were a strong presence. Presentations by members included “The Moving Voice,” by Deena Burke, “Stream of Emotion,” by Lisa Wilson, “Moving Voices: Integrating Voice and Movement using the Alexander Technique and Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis,” by Ruth Rootberg, “Acting Voice,” by Judylee Vivier, a number of presentations by Katherine Verdolini, and “Building Skills of Volume Variety with Acoustics (Filling the House with Ease),” by Jan Gist.

Jan describes her presentation: “(This workshop/demonstration was) a presentation of skills and how they can be taught. Exercises demonstrated how to teach actors to own: a sense of ease, awareness of healthy production, flexibility of choice, rich resonation applied to a wide range from the quietest that can still be heard in the last row of the house, to the loudest that can still be physically supported and theatrically meaningful. I presented specific warm-ups to prepare for volume variety. Then I had the 3 actors that were assigned to me, try out lines from different Shakespeare texts I'd given them, at different volumes from the quietest that could still be heard in the space to the loudest that could still be spoken with health and clarity. We were testing out the actor's ability/skill to change, the requirements of the space's acoustics, and the reception/impression that the audience received. What was the difference between a quiet, intimately spoken line and a quiet conversationally spoken line? What change of intention was needed? What change of breath was needed? What change of tone-placement? What was needed for every seat in the house to receive the quietest line? And I used a number system from Jerry Blunt:

  • -1=the quietest that could still be heard and understood in this space.
  • 1=quiet/intimate
  • +1=strong end of the quiet/intimate range
  • -2=quiet conversation
  • 2=medium conversation
  • +2=strong conversation
  • -3=the beginning of loudness
  • 3=loud/strong
  • +3=the loudest that could be heard and understood in the space, and spoken without damage to the speaker's voice

back to top



Eva Breneman

Several workshops and panels are lined up for the ATHE conference in San Francisco this July. If you will be there, be sure to stop in and give your support to your fellow VASTANS! Also, you’re welcome to stop in for a glass of wine at our Joint Hospitality, July 29 at 5:45 pm in the St. Francis Study, 12th Floor. Hope to see you there!

Breath into Action, presented by Rena Cook, Leslie Ann Timlick, Eudaemone Battilega
July 29, 2005; 10:45 am-12:15pm

Voices from the Body, presented by Pamela Christian, Eva Breneman, Krista Scott
July 29, 2005; 4:00-5:30 pm

Alive & Kicking!, presented by Krista Scott, Ruth Childs, Third Panelist to be announced
July 30, 2005; 9-10:30 am

Yoga and the Voice, presented by Experience Bryon
July 30, 2005; 10:45am-12:15 pm

Information submitted by Eva Breneman, VASTA Conference Planner for ATHE

©2005, Voice and Speech Trainers Association

Questions or comments? E-mail us at vastavoice@vasta.org



WWW vasta.org