As an acting teacher and coach, I often field requests from young actors seeking their first monologue. Something distinct. Something comedic? One-to-two minutes… Can I help?
I usually suggest a private session. I bring in folders with hundreds of age-appropriate monologues and promise that student will leave with at least two contrasting pieces they love, and that suit them. Finding a good monologue is not simply a matter of knowing which new play has a catchy or memorable monologue, or jumping on the first monologue your drama teacher hands you. Finding the right monologue is a lot like Prince Charming peddling his glass slipper. You want a great fit.
I begin a search session with the student reading several monologues out loud. Actors have a hard time knowing their “type.” And a young actor who’s morphing yearly is even harder to peg. I focus on your vocal quality, inflections, and timing (which is key for comedy). Are you at ease or uncomfortable with the material? How smart (street or book) are you? Do you understand complex language? Can you easily identify with the life story/background of the character or are major substitutions going to be necessary? How comfortable are you with your body and how do you use it? Is there anything in your physicality that suggests this is material you can relate to, whether or not you have had these personal experiences? When a piece clicks with an actor, their reaction/response will often form the basis for coaching and directing sessions to come.
Keep the choice of material appropriate to your age range. A young teen should not choose a monologue about their day at work, their bad marriages, divorces, or lovers. Even if you play leading adult roles in your high school, you should choose roles close to your age. Contrasting pieces require a variety of situations, statuses, attitudes, and uses of irony and humor—not age span.
Most students are not well-versed in the theater nor have they read many plays—the required material choice for most colleges. It’s important to understand the background and exposition of your monologue when the stakes or the subtext may not be obvious in the text. Lanford Wilson wrote a wonderful play in which a young high school girl describes her upcoming wedding, the perfect gown, veil, etc., and is crying “tears of joy” about dropping out of school to begin her new life. However reading the play reveals that the girl is expecting a baby and her unaware fiancé is not the baby’s father. The girl is desperately trying to get to the altar before her life unravels. That’s why she’s crying.
While students know they should read the play, many either don’t take the time to do so, or don’t read it before choosing their selections. Working with a coach with extensive theater experience is invaluable in choosing appropriate material.
Choose monologues that speak to you, that allow you to bring your intelligence, imagination, life experience, empathy, unique type and personality to your performance. Seek opinions from those you trust and allow time to find something wonderful! You’ll also have a more satisfying audition experience performing something you love!
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Rita Litton is the founder and director of ACTeen, the nation’s first on-camera acting program for teens, and a three-time Backstage Readers’ Choice Award Winner (Favorite Acting Coach/Classes for Teens). Fourteen ACTeen alumni were recurring or series regulars last year. And four summer conservatories are now accepting applications.
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