As a director and teacher, one of my first priorities at the beginning of a new session or rehearsal process is to learn everyone’s names as quickly as possible. It makes young actors feel important and that they are a vital part of the team. Here are some tips that I use all the time to help me learn my actors’ names as fast as I can!
1. Take photos at auditions.
At auditions, either ask your actors to submit a photo of themselves, or even better, take photos of each actor holding up a card with their name written on it, police-lineup style. That way you can start putting names to faces.
2. Once your cast is set, study the cast list to familiarize yourself with the names themselves.
If you go into rehearsals knowing that you have, say, Jessica, Kyle, Mary and Stuart, it is less intimidating that trying to remember every name in existence. Granted, most casts have more actors than that, but even learning 30 names is less stressful than trying to recall hundreds of names.
3. At the first rehearsal, have actors introduce themselves, and then you repeat the names out loud.
Muscle memory! At your first rehearsal, have your actors sit in a circle and introduce themselves. Just a simple, “Hi, I’m Amanda,” is all that’s needed. Then you (the teacher/director) will repeat the name out loud to stick it into your brain. After a few people say their names, go back and repeat the names out loud, and then continue around the circle, going back every few actors and repeating the names. For a challenge, after everyone has introduced themselves, go back and try to say all the names in a row. For an even bigger challenge, close your eyes and have your actors change spots in the circle, and then go back and try to identify them again! Like learning lines, repetition is so helpful for memorization.
4. Repeat and use their names.
When answering questions or asking for thoughts, be sure to practice calling on people by name. If you forget their name, get them to say it out loud again before answering, and you repeat it. You could also have them say their name out loud before they answer during the first few classes/rehearsals.
5. Play name games.
Try the ABC Name Game or the Action Name Game, found on this page, or the Silent Line-Up Game, as follows: start by having actors line themselves up across the room WITHOUT SPEAKING from shortest to tallest. See if they can do it in 30 seconds or less. Then, have them repeat the exercise, only this time they must line themselves up in alphabetical order according to first name, again WITHOUT SPEAKING. Once everyone is in place, have each person say their name out loud to check and see if everyone is in the correct spot! Keep a tally between each class you’re teaching or show you’ve directed and see which group is the fastest!
If you forget someone’s name or feel embarrassed for mixing people up, ask the group to be gentle with you, and remind the group that there are ____ of them and only one of you and you’re trying your best! It happens to everyone. You will get there!
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