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Backstage Experts

Reaching an Emotional Level During Monologues

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Reaching an Emotional Level During Monologues
Photo Source: Robert Wilson

Being alive and connected to your emotions while performing a monologue is a challenge, and at no time is this more evident than at the beginning of the piece. From the first beat, you are solely responsible for the entire emotional life of the character as well as the expression of that life. This makes expanding your exploration of the events leading up to the scene an essential part of your work. 

One way to do this is to ask and answer a variety of questions that will help you bring all three dimensions of the character to the piece with emotional clarity and force right from the start: What is making you tell this story? Was there an actual event or a series of events? Why is it essential that the story gets told now as opposed to later? What time of the day are you telling the story? What are you wearing and how long did you take to get ready? If it is a planned meeting, are you early, on time, or late? Are you cold or warm? Are you hungry? What do you lose if you don’t tell the story? What do you gain if you do? And finally, what were you doing right before the scene started?

Now add some of your own questions—as many as it takes to connect your heart, mind, and body to the world of the character. Having deeply explored the events and associated feelings leading up to the scene and having a compelling moment beforehand ensures that you’ll have access to all the emotions you’ll need to live the emotional life of the character from the very first moment of the monologue.

Once you’re in the monologue, the emotional challenges continue. You may find that it can be very difficult to get to the emotional places you need to be when no one else is in the scene and there are no words to trigger the emotion. One way to have your emotions readily available to you is to have them alive in your body.

Every feeling you have has an associated physical sensation. If you physicalize the piece and attach a sensation to the emotion, it will be much easier to call up that emotion when you’re doing the piece. When I coach monologues I have the actor moving all over the place. If there is rage, we punch walls and run around in circles; if there is fear, we cower in the corner and lash out; if there is sadness, we lie down in a ball and rock. By the time we’re done, all of the emotions of the piece have a very real physical life in the body. When the time comes to be sad, angry, happy, etc., the body remembers the feeling and sends the correct signal to the limbic (emotional) center of the brain, and the emotion is produced in its purest and truest form. So when you’re preparing, don’t just stand there—move! And when the time comes to finally stand and deliver, you’ll find yourself able to access your emotions easily and powerfully.

It is sometimes a temptation to rush through a monologue, for the simple reason that nobody is stopping you! But, just as in any audition, it’s what happens in the silences that makes the biggest impression. If you’ve done all of the work—if you have a driving, high-stakes intent, meaningful, connecting relationships, as well as fully explored and completely alive choices—you may find that one minute is more than enough to make a lasting impression.

Craig Wallace is an acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, visit www.wallaceauditiontechnique.com.

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