The Monologue Post: Part 1

Where do I find a monologue??

First of all, for those of you who are newbies, a monologue is a long piece of text from a script where one person speaks.  For many auditions, an actor will need to prepare a one to two-minute monologue that showcases their talent. 

After spending a few years as a casting director, I can tell you that I’ve seen my share of amazing audition monologue performances.  The best monologues have several things in common.

1.     They are from a published play.
This should go without saying but a monologue is usually found in a play with characters and context that helps it make sense.   There are MANY monologue books out there and they can be a great place to start BUT only if the monologues found in these books are from actual plays.  Many monologue books are filled with monologues just written for that publication and they are not found in published plays.  I always tell my students that if they want to peruse a monologue book for inspiration, that’s totally fine BUT if they find a monologue they would like to use for audition purposes, they must purchase the play and READ IT!  How can you possibly understand the wants and needs of your character without understanding their full story, which is conveniently located in the PLAY! 
Something to be aware of when finding a monologue from a monologue book: you’re not alone.  There are not too many monologue books out there and ALL of the actors have looked through them so the chances that you’re monologue will be performed by someone else at an audition are high.
Ideally, the best place to find a monologue that works for you is by broadening your personal database by going out and seeing plays as well as reading them at home.  If you see a play with a character that you connect with, purchase the play and try to find a monologue from that source.  Or find the reading lists for the acting classes at top universities and read those plays.  Ask friends for recommendations.  Or better yet, be the best read friend that everyone ELSE asks for recommendations!

2.     They are short.
I do not need to see a full minute of your monologue to know that you’re talented.  In fact, most often, my opinion of you is formed in the first few seconds of your monologue.  Make sure your monologue has a clear beginning middle and end and that you cut yourself off when you’ve reached a climax or natural stopping point.  I shouldn’t have to stop you at the one minute cut off because you have practiced your monologue using a timer and you’ve planned it to end before the cut off and you’ve allowed yourself to hit a “button” at the end so it feels finished.

3.     They involve your whole body.
Don’t be a talking head.  This does not mean you must MOVE for the sake of MOVING, however!  While on stage, an actor should only move when they are moving towards something or away from something.  Idle movement is distracting.  When I say to involve your whole body, I mean that you must connect with your toes, breathe into your belly, and engage your core to support your performance. 
My favorite monologues to watch DO involve the whole body.  So many actors come out and stand still and speak beautifully without taking a single step and that’s lovely to watch when they’re connected to their material.  BUT it’s always refreshing to see the actor who plops down on the stage and speaks from the floor as they fish a rock out of their shoe and complain about a horrendous first date they’ve just been on.  When someone makes a big, bold physical choice and it WORKS, the whole room feels energized.  Directors sit forward in their seats, their pencils and paper forgotten as they stare, enraptured by the performance onstage. 
Again, don’t move for the sake of moving but if you are able to connect to your piece or your character in a physical way, you’re bound to get noticed.

4.     They are age appropriate.
But, Stephanie, my daughter is eight years old!  There just aren’t many plays with monologues for young kids!
You’re right, Make-Believe Parent That I Just Created.  There are not very many monologues for young kids.  One can only perform Anne from Anne of Green Gables, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Nora from Brighton Beach Memoirs, Anne from The Diary of Anne Frank or Sally from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown so many times.  It takes an effort to find appropriate monologues for young actors.  Google “monologues for young actors” and you’ll find the same ten monologues on dozens of sites.  These are great monologues, actually, but you run the risk of everyone at the audition doing the same thing.  Frankly, I don’t dismiss young actors using monologues from those monologue books I just advised against not five paragraphs ago when I see them for the first time.  It’s not ideal, sure, but I’m not going to pass over a young actor just because they picked a piece that isn’t from a play.  Actually, in that same vein, I don’t hate the idea of using monologues from movies.  The movie Holes has some great monologues and it’s totally age appropriate for young kids.  That being said, once I’ve been working with a student for awhile, I do expect that they’ve done their homework and have found age appropriate monologues from published sources.  It’s not easy, I know.  But it definitely sends a message to the artistic staff that you’re serious about your acting and we don’t take that lightly.

So, you’ve got an audition coming up and you’ve been reading a bunch of plays so you’ve got some interesting choices for new monologues.  Let’s say you’re auditioning for a production of Heathers and they’ve asked for 32 bars of a pop song and a monologue.  Because you’re a pro, you decide to choose one of your monologues that’s full of dark sardonic humor in keeping with the mood of the musical.  Good for you!  Now, as you begin to memorize and practice for your audition, keep in mind some of the things we look for in a monologue audition.

1.     FOCUS
Make sure you take a moment before your start speaking to really “see” the imaginary person that your character is talking to in their monologue.  They should be out in the audience, just over the heads of the people in the audition room.  Do not make eye contact with your auditioners because this will force them into a different role, your scene partner, and they really need to be watching your performance, not involved in it somehow. 
You don’t have to STARE INTENTLY at this imaginary person as you speak.  If you’re speaking naturally, you will find yourself looking away now and then as your formulate your thoughts, but always use the same point of focus when you come back to them.  Having a strong focus tells the directors that you have a rich inner life and are “seeing” what the character would see.  This helps us to see that world as well.  We see it through your eyes.

Using your body to tell the story is important.  Even if the character isn’t very different from yourself, you’ll need to express the character through your body in ways that are different from the way YOU use your body to express YOURSELF.  Watching an actor slate (introduce themselves) with an open relaxed body then shift into a tense aggressive posture for their monologue tells me that they have a great understanding of their instrument and that they are able to use it to communicate character.  Very big deal!

We need to hear you!  In the back!  This is the theatre, dearies, and I need to understand every word.  If your character is a smooth talking gangster who speaks like they’re a reporter in a 40s film, we still need to understand every word.  Or if your character is having a big time epiphany (very common in these monologues) and they are talking to themselves, well we still need to hear their words.  Mumbling through an epiphany is the worst kind of theatre sin.  The character climax is what we all paid to see – don’t keep it to yourself!  Revel in every word, every syllable, every letter you speak.  The playwright chose those words carefully – do them justice.

Seems easy, right?  Just remember to breathe and you’re all good.  Well, not exactly.  When I say connect to your breath, I want to see you breathe as your character.  If you’re angry, let that affect your breath pattern.  If you’re relaxed and joyful, I want to see that breath travel all the way to your belly.  And if I see you release your breath before you speak a line, I know we’ve never worked together because I would have broken you of that little habit.  Don’t release your breath in a sigh before your line!  Save that breath to express your frustrations ON the line.  Breath is life and being connected to the breath of your character is incredibly important. 

Well this was a lot of information and yet it really only scratches the surface of a very complex part of the acting process.  Performing a monologue does become second nature after many years of auditioning.  I hope these tips have made it seem less intimidating and shed some light onto the audition process.

Until next time, DREAM BIG!