While it seems rare to audition with a monologue these days, that’s all the more reason to avoid the ones that are painfully overdone, right? As industry professionals spanning various areas of the business, our Backstage Experts work with actors as coaches, casting directors, and everything in between. We knew they’d be perfect to ask the following question:
What is one audition monologue you NEVER want to hear again?
Here are answers from nine industry professionals!
(And if you missed the last installment of this column, check out “18 Must-Read Books for Actors” and see how to get your acting questions answered at the bottom of this article!)
Paul Barry, L.A.-based acting teacher and founder of Acting 4 Camera
As much as I love David Mamet’s writing, I could do without seeing another rendition of Blake’s “always be closing” speech from “Glengarry Glen Ross”— unless your take on it is mindblowingly unique.
Allegedly, this scene (which is not in the play) was introduced to beef up the running time when Mamet transferred it from stage to screen. Mamet is adamant in his writing that monologues should be active and not simply reflective. “Who wants what from whom?” “What happens if they don’t get it?” and “Why now?” are his three hurdles a scene must overleap to maintain inclusion in a final production. With these three points properly tackled, nothing sounds like a “monologue” because they are simply group scenes in which the others don’t get the chance to talk.
The monologue in question though is always edited to remove the small attempted interjections from the other characters, making for a jarring performance and often coming across as a lecture, which is the last thing we want to hear when considering you for a role.
Tracy Byrd, L.A.-based casting director
The one monologue that I never want to hear again is the Denzel Washington monologue from “Training Day.” “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” is a powerful piece, full of passion, introspections, and vulnerability, however, some actors misinterpret it for anger. They get loud, yell, and scream. Someday I look forward to a different interpretation, but until then, please, no shouting.
Jeremy Gordon, L.A.-based casting director
In almost 15 years casting film and TV I have never heard of an actor being asked to audition with a monologue. We need to see actors interact and not just spit out words. I’m just not a fan of monologues in general, as they tend to be somewhat boring. That said, I most certainly don’t want to hear anything we would all be familiar with because then I will automatically be thinking of the actor who actually did that monologue in the actual production, and that’s a setup for failure every single time. Find something new and different and exciting. The best monologues I’ve seen in workshops and classes are those the actors write themselves about an experience they had. Write what you know. Said with love. xoxo
Basically this means don’t do anything iconic because you will always seem like an imitator instead of the originator.
Find the piece that is you.
Don’t do something famous. Do something that will make you famous.
Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio
Anything from Neil Simon will put me to sleep at this stage. For men, material from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” by Tom Stoppard has been done to death for years. For women, “Assassins,” by Stephen Sondheim, the Charles Manson speech specifically, is way overdone.
Generally, I suggest whatever monologue you choose, love it passionately and choose one that turns on your magic. If that happens, I’ll watch you read a phone book. But remember, if you surprise your auditor with something fresh, they will already like you better.
Kate McClanaghan, L.A.-based casting director
“The quality of mercy is not strained…” It is if I have to hear that done poorly one more time! (I’m kidding, of course.) Frankly, it’s not one monologue that bothers me as much as ignoring a handful of key guidelines, such as playing your age, your dialect, your type, and making sure the monologue is appropriate to the audience. If casting is looking for dramatic, deliver a dramatic monologue. If they do comedy, play comedy. Avoid doing someone’s “signature” piece. For instance, if you were a singer, you don’t sing “People” as if you could do it better than Barbra Streisand. She’s known for it and you’d only manage upstaging yourself with the inevitable comparison. And, just like a professional voiceover demo, start your audition with the height of the action, the height of the emotion. Open (and close for that matter) with power. Last, and most importantly, be sure to engage your audiences’ imagination. Choose a piece that allows us to think something we never thought before…in a good way.
Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY
As an owner and acting coach for kids and teens, I can tell you that I hate hearing monologues that aren’t pulled from real plays! More often than not, the pieces that are pulled from monologue books are very shallow indeed. For example, the whole monologue can be about your prom dress! Not interesting and it certainly doesn’t take you or your audience on an emotional journey. We also don’t want to hear monologues about the acting profession. Boring! Bring in something that has an arc and is truthful. Something that has more depth than talking about your favorite sports team.
Denise Simon, NYC-based acting coach
I don’t mind hearing anything again if the actor has his or her own voice and connects to the piece. It is actually refreshing to hear an overdone piece done really well. However, some common overdone pieces which may have worn thin include Sophie’s pieces from Neil Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl,” Claudia from “Nuts” by Tom Topor, and “Fat Pig” by Neil LaBute. There are so many new wonderful playwrights and monologues to choose from. It is nice to see actors choose something fresh and smart.
Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera coach, founder of Screen Actors System
Since all of the casting I do is for film projects that I’ve written myself these days, I have to admit I might find someone else’s work refreshing to hear again, even if it is a tired old chestnut. But I’m going to go with the “You can’t handle the truth” speech from “A Few Good Men.” The only real crime in performing this is that all I can hear is the iconic delivery of the original. No matter how well you do, you can only fail if the first rendering of the material is already burned into our memory.
Check out the video below to see what makes a great monologue:
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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.