Herb Parker is an associate professor at East Tennessee State University and the author of “A Monologue Is an Outrageous Situation! How to Survive the 60-Second Audition.” Teaching students to act is Parker’s passion after a decades-long career onstage.
What brought you to teaching?
As my career [progressed], I was working in various theater companies with younger actors. I was asked to coach them on monologues, and I discovered I liked it. I enjoyed helping young actors in the same way that older actors had [with me, taking] me aside to give me tips and help me out.
Why write a book?
This book came out of several years of watching young, fledgling actors do their auditions and their scenes. I discovered I needed to find a more targeted way to help them make bigger choices. They’re rather squeamish about doing something wrong; they’re scared they’ll be made to look foolish, but that’s all students. I’d been looking for a way to give students a language to go for it and make big, risky choices to see if they can make a discovery in the material and in themselves. The action of the play between characters is based on conflict, but that term, “conflict,” wasn’t helping me get through to my students to go further in their actions. So finally I hit upon this notion: Suppose they think of it as “outrageous.”
What is outrageous to you?
Fantastic, out of the ordinary. Through that premise, I make the point that a monologue is outrageous. A character must speak to someone about his or her problem, and whenever human beings are forced to speak to another human being or forced to speak in soliloquy, we’re struggling to find an answer. In the midst of the monologue, I list a host of actions and exercises that students can use to try to challenge themselves with the material.
Does outrageous always mean big?
I use outrageous as a way to help the student make bigger choices. These outrageous monologues are just as outrageous if they are spoken quietly—that’s also a point I try to make. [Actors] don’t have to feel the outrage that’s driving them is violent. It’s also emotional and psychological.
What advice do you have for choosing monologues?
I choose monologues from major theatrical plays that gained success and have stood the test of time. Almost any Shakespearean monologue will serve this technique. I also tell students to ask themselves: If this monologue were cut from the play, would that change the play? If the play would be fine, it’s not a worthy monologue to work on.
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