9 Elements of a Great Monologue

Photo Source: Shutterstock

Actors audition for a new play with a script, for a new series with sides, and for a new commercial with copy. But once in a while, actors will be asked to do a monologue, especially when meeting with an agent. It’s always easier to audition opposite a partner, reader, or actor from the series on which you want to work as it allows you to build a rapport.

But with a monologue, you’re on your own. These are always the most difficult auditions to pull off successfully, so be prepared. Follow these winning strategies when choosing one.

1. Select an entertaining one.
No one in the industry wants to watch an actor working really hard to impress them with their acting, especially if the piece is boring or mediocre. Choose a monologue you love doing so we will love watching you.

2. Find one that fits like a glove so we believe you.
Know your type and range, and make sure the part is age-appropriate and physically accurate. It’s agonizing to watch a 25-year-old trying to be 45 or a guy from Minnesota trying to be a Mafioso from Brooklyn. A monologue should show who you are, not add layers of dialects, character traits, a limp, or something outrageous to impress. If they can’t tell you’re acting, that’s good acting.

3. Choose one that is serio-comedic, not just comedic or dramatic.
Serio-comedic monologues are my favorite: Show us a change in emotion but also keep us laughing. Start with a piece that’s funny, quirky, and gets people to laugh and then turn the screw. Hit them with something heartbreaking or touching. They’re already in your corner and you’ve won them over! 

4. Work on one that has an arc or storyline.
Avoid the Johnny-one-note monologues that show one emotion throughout. They’re boring and tedious, and there’s nothing worse than watching someone rant and rave angrily at the audience for four minutes. We all love to hear stories with twists and turns, so bring us along with you.

READ: The Monologues You Should Never Audition With

5. Keep it short.
Every agent I’ve ever met made up their minds about an actor in less than 10 seconds. After two minutes, they change their mind and it goes the other way. Stay within their attention span and you’ll have more success.

6. Find one with an element of surprise.
If the audience is three steps ahead of you, they get bored fast. Shift gears suddenly and change your mood or voice. Find a way to keep us on the edge of our seats, wondering what will happen next. Everyone loves to be pleasantly surprised.

7. Choose one that’s not full of foul language or rude, sexual innuendos.
The exception here is unless it is essential to the character who, in spite of the language, is funny or quirky. But be careful. Well-written monologues like that are few and far between and most actors aren’t clever enough to pull them off. You run the risk of alienating everyone within earshot and looking like a mediocre actor. Choose good writing over something flashy.

8. Discover one that shows you’re a winner.
When you leave the room, what will they think of you? What was your lasting impression? Will they cast you? Call you back or shrug? Don’t choose to play a loser, someone who whines, or is a victim. Leave them thinking you’re amazingly courageous—a pirate, a rebel, a survivor!

9. Avoid a recognizable one that a star did really well.
You’ll be compared to that star and you won’t win. (Examples include Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” or Angelina Jolie in “Girl Interrupted.“) Just don’t go there; you are not Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie. Find a likeable character and do the monologue your way. 

*This post was originally published on Jan. 25, 2017. It has since been updated.

Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!

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.

Gwyn Gilliss
Having been selected by over 100 east and west coast agents, managers, and casting directors as the “foremost marketing coach for actors,” Gwyn has also had a successful acting career in all medias. She studied at Carnegie Mellon, and was an Emmy Award-nominated Daytime/Primetime TV actress with over a dozen contract and recurring roles. Favorites include: “All My Children” (ABC),“The Lucy Arnaz Show” (CBS), and “Woman of Valor” (NBC, Emmy Award).
See full bio and articles here!