Finding the perfect monologue.
I have had the privilege of teaching kids and teens for the past twenty years. It seems that nearly every week I get asked by parents and students if I can pick out or recommend a monologue for an upcoming audition (that is usually happening later that week).
The simple answer is no.
You wouldn’t want someone else to pick out a monologue for you in the same way you wouldn’t want someone else to pick out your groceries. They might pick out some things you like but it’s more likely than you will get a bunch of food that doesn’t really suit your taste. Finding a monologue is so much more than fulfilling the audition requirements of length, genre category, etc.
Here is the secret to picking out the best monologues:
YOU MUST READ PLAYS.*
There is no way around this. You should be reading plays weekly if you are serious about this (and SEEING plays as often as possible, as well). There is no shortcut to finding a good monologue.
The definition of monologue is “a long speech by one actor in a play or movie, or as part of a theatrical or broadcast program. A long and typically tedious speech by one person during a conversation.”
I really love that the word “tedious” is in this definition. However, the tedious part should NOT be the monologue itself. It should be the work of getting and working the monologue. The monologue does not mean that you search the script or a character having a paragraph of dialogue. In fact, sometimes monologues are not truly monologues in the show at all. They are conversations with the other person cut out completely. You may need to change a word here or there to make it flow, and that is where your teacher is a great asset to you. Once you have found this “perfect piece” that represents you as an actor in 1 minute or less, then you can email me. That’s when the acting work can begin. Until that point, the tedious (however, often enlightening) work is on you!
Advice on choosing material: The purpose of this blog is to give you a place to begin. Monologue choices and definitions on the types of monologues is something that is frequently debated and less frequently agreed upon. Every actor should have a minimum of two contrasting monologues of each of the following genres: Shakespeare, Classical, Contemporary, Greek and Children's Theatre.
Typically the best monologue choices are those that are spoken in the moment. In other words, the characters are not sharing memories or telling stories but instead are spoken in the present tense. This kind of monologue is even harder to come across.
From Published Plays
There is a reason why auditors/directors want monologues from published plays. It tells us a lot about what type of actor you are, what your work ethic is, and how you interpret material.
And I hope that this goes without saying… only do monologues from shows you have actually read. The results can be disastrous if you don’t have the full context of the words you’re reciting.
The Caveat: Remember, when it comes to an audition, you are showing the auditors the type of actor/performer you are. If you are lazy, you will do something from something along the lines of the Coat Hanger Sculpture monologue from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”.
This may be the single most overdone monologue in the history of monologues. This will instantly let the auditor assume you are a lazy, unread, and careless performer. It also very nearly guarantees that your auditors will tune you out.
Plenty of monologues are overdone. There is a reason for this – they come from well written plays. Once you have established a base line of plays, read those authors’ other works. Chances are you will find equally gratifying monologues. This is the same belief I have with overly-used audition songs. I understand why they are overdone; it feels good in the voice, you really connect with the character, you know you can do it better than the original actress. Musical Theatre writers are not “one hit wonders”, they have TONS of music to look at. Get familiar with their styles, research their other shows. LISTEN to them.
From the Monologue Books:
When you pick a piece that has been written by someone in a monologue book you are given a monologue that has no background or story around it. You lose the context part of your character development. A stand-alone monologue (while it may seem interesting to you at the time) lacks nuances, reveals, and levels that good directors see in a committed and passionate performer.
There are monologue books with actual monologues from published plays. A major pitfall from choosing one of these monologues comes from the easy availability of the monologue. Since reading plays and finding monologues is hard, it makes sense that a lot of actors will buy these books as a way to shortcut reading a lot of plays. So what does that leave you? Doing the monologues that EVERYONE does. While learning how to beat a monologue or quite frankly, effectively perform a monologue, using these IN A CLASSROOM SETTING, are fine. These are not for auditions. This is for practice. Your teacher is there to guide you, not do the work for you!
As you work on your repertoire, let’s start with good solid pieces and as you CONTINUE to read, in the present monologues will begin to pop out at you.
Side note: While I am a teacher, I am also a performer. This is a tough, often cut-throat, small world business. No matter how much I like you, I am not giving you my hard earned stash of monologues.
Nor will any other performer friend.
In short, NO, I WILL NOT GIVE YOU A MONOLOGUE! This is doing you a disservice, and it undermines the craft. You want to be a professional actor? Do the work!
What I Will Do
I will help you with your monologue. I will help you cut your monologue. I will recommend plays. I will give honest feedback on monologue choices. I will help you interpret I will help you perfect your monologue. Bring me your new find and let's get to work.
*I know that sometimes learning difficulties or special abilities can make reading plays difficult or impossible. My daughter has a mild form of Tourette's Syndrome which causes uncontrollable eye movement which makes reading pretty difficult. To work around these challenges, we utilize Audible so that she can listen to plays (look through their Modern Plays). Audible has a new service called Audible Theater where plays have been adapted specifically for the listening experience. We also use services like BroadwayHD, Great Performances: Broadway on PBS, Netflix, and Youtube to watch shows.