If you’re a professional actor or in the process of becoming one, you should have a great monologue in your back pocket ready to bring out at the drop of a hat. Having a dynamic monologue is a wonderful tool for you to use to showcase your skills at any given time. A huge benefit to utilizing a hand-selected monologue is that you can really exhibit what you’re capable of doing with a character and material.
You can take as much time as you need to find the perfect monologue, yet I’m blown away by how many bad monologues actors choose for their arsenal when there’s absolutely no reason it shouldn’t accentuate your acting skills at the highest level. There are many different elements that come into play when selecting the perfect piece to consistently knock the socks off your chosen audience and a great way to figure out what will work for you is to first establish what won’t.
Here are three pitfalls to avoid in your quest for monologue excellence.
1. I remember when…
The moment I realize an actor has chosen a monologue that is simply a story about “something that happened” is the moment I want to literally smack my palm against my forehead. It’s baffling to me how often this happens. You have to understand that we (your audience, potential representation, a casting director, etc.) are not looking for you to tell us about that time you did that thing and felt that way about said thing. We want to see all of this transpiring in the now, right here in this moment. We want you to take a slice of life and then bring that slice of life to, well, life! We want to see you connecting with and immersing yourself in that moment. We want to see conflict and connection.
Sure, it can be fun to watch someone tell us about something that happened in the past like a huge argument they were in the middle of and all of the chaos that ensued. But you know what’s a heck of a lot more interesting to watch? The actual argument! You also need to remember that telling a past story doesn’t allow you to show us how you can connect with your fellow actor in the now.
2. But I want to be the hero!
I’ll never forget when a colleague said to me, “Your dream may have always been to play Superman. However, if you’re really Clark Kent, you’re much better off being the best Clark Kent you can be.” I’ll also never forget when a 14-year-old male student of mine thought it would be a good idea to play the role of a 75-year grandmother in a monologue he was set to showcase in front of an array of industry pros. I asked him why in the world he would pick a monologue like that. He said he thought the monologue was “fun and different.” Look, I get it. You’re an actor who has range and you want us to all know it, yada yada yada. OK. Fine. But until you’re getting the Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep type character options in TV and film, I would recommend first focusing on the character who most effectively showcases your strongest archetype and actor persona or essence.
The process of exploring and understanding your archetype is a powerful and often underutilized tool. One of the first things we’ll do in my class is have each of the actors sit in front of the class and have their fellow classmates write on a piece of paper how they would cast said actor. We then read off, without mentioning who wrote what in order to let each student freely express their thoughts, each character description prefaced with the statement “I would cast you as…” Once you’ve honestly established your actor persona you have a wonderful tool to help you find that right monologue!
3. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
If at any given moment during your audition monologue your audience has checked out, odds are your piece is too long. While you of course want to show some arc in the story, that arc doesn’t need to span across the ocean. I find this to be true with many things people do in life. You get caught up in wanting to show them everything. I believe this comes from a desire to “do as much as you can” in the short time you’re given. It’s also an epidemic with many actors suffering from what I like to call the “eager little beaver” syndrome. “It’s my big shot! What if I never get it again!?” As cliché as it might sound, I truly do believe you always want to leave them wanting more.
When you’re able to engage your audience throughout the entire performance, keeping them consistently on the edge of their seat, you’ve done your job. You’ve showcased your skills and have hopefully left your audience in a state of curiosity. This is a beautiful place for an actor to be. The best response an agent or casting director can say to you is, “That was great! I would love to see more.”
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.