Memorization and the Declaration of Independence Print
Written by Terry Smith   

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Memorization is not an activity that should be limited to actors preparing for a role, to politicians preparing a speech, to musicians rehearsing for a performance, or for students preparing for an exam. Memorization can be used by anybody as the first step toward discovery and more complete understanding of any area of inquiry. Had I not made the commitment to memorize the Declaration of Independence, for example, I might have glossed over much of it if I were to just read it. Instead, having to really understand what was intended, I learned through research that:
- although we were already fighting, allies needed us to formally declare independence
- Jefferson's anti-slavery clause was deleted from the final draft by the Continental Congress
- much of the Declaration's wording was influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights
- Lincoln's Gettysburg Address references the Declaration

As an amateur actor, the first step to creating my version of the character Iím portraying is the memorization of his lines. Rote memorization leads to further development of the lines and their full meanings, together with the characterís movement, expressions, and reactions to other characters.

Taking on different roles, learning new songs or pieces of music, are always enriching and rewarding in themselves. Although itís still a vicarious experience, by participating more directly in the arts, you can learn many valuable things. But, in my opinion, some roles or texts are more valuable, are more worthwhile memorizing than others. These include texts on which our freedom is based, especially the Declaration of Independence.

Not that other memorizations are not worthwhile - anything from texts associated with personal relationships, comedies, farces, coverage of social issues, from Shakespeare to the efforts of local playwright Neil Donnelly (not to imply they represent opposite ends of the spectrum) - they are all worthwhile, but most of these others could not be fully expressed without political freedom. So, just as our individual lives are filled with priorities, just as we need the simplest pleasures along with the serious commitments that family, work and citizenship entail, there are levels of performances, of monologues, of texts, that take priority over others, that are worth more than others.

Just as the Declaration was used as a model for Franceís Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen during their revolution in 1789, the document can be referenced today not only by Americans to reinforce their own beliefs and values, but by countries around the world whose independence is relatively recent, such as that of Sierra Leoneís, or whose independence is in progress.

Click the photo below to open a YouTube video of my performance of the Declaration of Independence.
Also, at the end of the video, see links to a reading of Declaration by a group of prominent actors, including Michael Douglas, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Bates, and others, with introduction by Morgan Freeman.