WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link
Blogs

Anoushka Warden: Here's my guide to learning huge chunks of writing (you're welcome!)

In her second blog for WhatsOnStage, My Mum's A Tw*t writer and performer Anoushka Warden explains how to learn a whole script by heart

Anoushka Warden
© Helen Murray

Oh my god learning lines is AWFUL, "like really properly full-time job kind of" hard. I've just quoted myself in the play there, coz that's what also starts to happen during line learning. I feel like I can't have conversations with people without sounding like the person in the play. Who is a version of me, but from very long ago, so not really me, so it's all a bit weird and meta.

Is this maybe what method acting feels like?!

Loads of people have said to me, "but you wrote it, it will be easier to learn…"

And I say to those people, here's your dissertation that you wrote on The Similarities between Hamlet and Moby-Dick and here are six days to learn it good luck!

Douches.

It turns out me having written it does not help at all with actually saying it correctly. Obviously I know the story, which is a bonus, but my style of writing is to go off on sh*tloads of tangents, so really my recalling of it can end up like a jumbled muddle if I try and freestyle it.

To put my line-learning worries at ease my friend Helen got me to try and improvise the start, to give me confidence that I could do it.

Here is how the play actually starts:

‘My mum wasn't always a twat. In the memories I had of her before I was 10 she was a good mum…'

Here's what I said:

‘Er, yeah, ok um, hmm the start, the start. Sh*t I know this but. Ah it's gone. Hold on, my mum was a twat, but not always one, she was one though, a twat.'

Yeah, I couldn't be trusted to improvise.

So, I learnt it. The whole 15244 words.

Well, that was my intention, until I remembered that things are just so much nicer when they are shorter. I LOVE going to see shows that are under 75 mins, it's like the gift of theatre. You can have dinner before or after or both!

My dream was for it to be an hour (15000 is about 1 hour 30 mins) so I needed to cut a third of the f**ker.

Debbie Hannan (the director) and I had two sessions, and any bits that weren't absolutely crucial got cut.

She was worried I might be a bit defensive doing it, as it was based on my real experiences, but it turns out it might be my favourite part. See a bit, it's too wordy, CUT IT!!! It also meant that on the first day of my six-day learning schedule I now had 12048 words to learn.

I asked around for the best learning advice, loads of actors said about App Learner, but when I downloaded it, it was meant for scenes where you had other characters. So that was no good. So, I came up with my own system:



Noush's Guide to Learning Huge Chunks of Writing (you're welcome!)

1. Give yourself a proper week to really do it everyday, like 9am to 5pm. Only stop for eating and poos. (I found that having food related rewards was a great incentive during this time, so, learn a bit, have a strawberry milk, learn a bit, have a Nutella Bready*, learn a bit, eat some crisps, learn a bit, have a G&T)

2. Cut it up into sections (Debbie and I had done this and named them whilst doing the editing stuff)

3. Divide the number of sections by the amount of days and record which ones you need to learn on each day.

4. Record each section (normally about a paragraph's worth).

5. Listen to that constantly until you can say it alongside it.

6. Then say it without it.

7. Once learnt write the start of the section on a postcard sized bit of paper and blue tack to a blank wall (not any wall, one in your house ideally!)

8. Then use these wall chapters to practice it and they can prompt you instead of a script.



The system worked excellently. And by the end of my six days I had learnt the whole thing.

A REALLY interesting discovery happened during this learning stage.

After I had recorded a section, when I tried to learn it on the second time of listening to it I could immediately work out which words weren't useful and were dragging the sentence down. So I then did an extra unplanned editing stage where I would slice off these unhelpful bits. I guess my brain was working out the clearest and most direct way to deliver the story (and make remembering it easier).

For example this:

"There was really faint pan-pie like music coming from the tape player in the corner of the room and some candles had been lit"

Became:

"There was really faint pan-pie music coming from the tape player and some candles had been lit."

By the time I had learnt the whole script I had filleted off another 600 words. Which was an exciting bonus.

It made me think that I should try and learn the other stories I have written to get them into a better shape. But then I remembered I HATED LEARNING IT, so unfortunately my writing will have to suffer.

Anoushka Warden
© Helen Murray

I think it's a useful thing to hold on to though, and good advice for all writers – if actors want to change your words in rehearsals they aren't just being d**cks, your words are just a bit sh*t.

When I got home, the day before rehearsals started, I ran around Regent's Park and told myself I wasn't allowed to stop until I had said the whole thing. Which I did!

It turns out saying a play to yourself as you're running around a park makes you look a bit mad. As I ran through Camden side streets people looked a bit scared and backed back into doorways. So my biggest number one tip from all of this is, if you need to run around practising stuff put your headphones in (I stuffed the unconnected end into my sports bra) and just pretend you are having a conversation on hands free. And if you are actually legit mad, maybe also do this, as people might be kinder to you.

I hope my "Guide for Learning Huge Chunks of Writing" may be of use to you – if you're not an actor you could utilise this method for presentations, wedding speeches and break-up conversations.

Next up how to nail rehearsals…

* Practically, I knew I would be much more motivated to do this somewhere hot. So I went to Menorca, they sell the best Nutella Bready's I have ever tasted (they sell them in this country now too so seriously if you've not had one and love Nutella find them).

Anoushka Warden is performing her play My Mum's A Tw*t at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Summerhall, Red Lecture Theatre at 17:30, from 31st July – 25th August (not 1st, 12th or 19th August)

Head to our dedicated Edinburgh festivals page for all the up-to-the minute coverage.