Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of my theater casting director colleagues about monologues. Erik Stein is the CD for PCPA Pacific Conservatory Theatre and the recruitment coordinator for the theater’s professional actor training program. David Caparelliotis casts for Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally and has credits including last season’s “The Waverly Gallery” and “The Boys in the Band.” In other words: They know what they’re talking about when it comes to what makes a great monologue in the audition room and beyond.
In film and TV, we rarely use monologues. Why are they used in theater?
David Caparelliotis: As theater casting directors see theater on average four or five times a week, our knowledge of the NYC casting pool is vast and deep. What makes casting exciting, however, is meeting as many new actors as possible to begin to fold into the greater pool of actors we call in regularly. This is where monologues come in. Every time I cast a play in NYC, or even regionally for that matter, Equity requires that we hold something called EPAs, or Eligible Performer Auditions. For a Broadway straight play, we usually have to hold three eight-hour days of auditions, where we see 140 actors each day performing monologues of their choice, between two to three minutes [in length]. I would say CDs almost always are open to seeing nonunion actors. If an actor has chosen a monologue wisely [and] has selected a character within their age range, a character in whose skin that actor feels comfortable, a character who speaks the way that actor might speak or think, then chances are we will get enough of a sense of that actor as a person and as a performer that we will have a good idea of what specific roles from specific plays we are casting might be a good fit. So, monologues are really the vessel through which an actor can channel a bit of who they are in the world to us casting directors. Monologues are sort of like the first single off of the album that is that actor, so to speak.
Do you assign the monologue to the actor or is it their choice?
Erik Stein: The monologue is the actor’s choice. The monologue the actor chooses to show me gives me great insight into the actor. Do they understand the play for which they are auditioning? Do they understand the character for which they are auditioning? Do they understand where they themselves may fit into this play? Do they understand how they fit into the industry in general? How much effort did they put into this audition? Did they find appropriate material, or are they just showing me the same monologue they do for every audition? I like to feel worth the actor’s time. I want to feel like the actor created this audition just for me. I know that most of the time actors are showing me monologues that they have done many times before, but smart actors make me feel like they selected this monologue specifically for this audition; they make me feel like they created this audition just for me.
What should an actor look for in a monologue? Should they tailor it to the show they’re auditioning for? How long should it be?
ES: I like monologues where the character is talking to one specific person and the character is using their words to try to make that person do something right now. I like it when there is discovery, when something unexpected happens to the character, so I can watch that character deal with the unexpected. The perfect monologue to me is the character using their words to try to make one person do something, they are fighting to win, they discover something unexpected, this metaphorically or literally knocks them off-balance, they fight to recover, and then they try a different way to change the person.
DC: Actors should be wary of monologues that are simply anecdotes or stories well told, or memories well remembered and recounted, [like], “I remember when I was 5. The grass was green. The sky was blue. I smelled coffee my mother was making in the kitchen. Our dog was lying by the fireplace….” Those types of monologues, where an actor gets to evoke the past, are catnip to actors. What we are looking for are forward-driving monologues that have a point, characters who need to communicate a specific something to a specific person for a specific reason. Strong monologues provide the auditioning actor a hurdle that the actor is trying to get past or run away from. Best thing to keep in mind: Not all monologues are good auditioning monologues. Learning to discern the difference separates an audition where I like the actor but the material has failed them from an audition where the actor has chosen well and I get a good sense of them as a person. Practically speaking, a one-minute monologue can often be long enough for us to get to know you.
What are some tips for tackling a monologue?
ES: Know who you are talking to. What did the person you are talking to just do that makes the first words out of your mouth necessary? What are you trying to make the person you are talking to do right now? What do you know at the end of the piece that you didn’t know at the beginning, and where do you discover it? How does that discovery change your tactics? How does it change how you deal with your other?
DC: Pick a character in your age range whose language you speak well. Some are aces at speaking Richard Greenberg’s dialogue, not so aces at Sam Shepard’s dialogue—so don’t do Shepard. A monologue is not the time to tackle “a role I just love” or “a role I’ve always wanted to play.” Do those in a class. A good monologue should be age-appropriate and be a character you feel you might objectively be cast in, that plays to your individual strengths through the character you’ve chosen to perform. When you rehearse, be your own director, since you are on your own. Set goals each time you run the piece; try new things, see what works, what doesn’t, [and] incorporate what works and shed what doesn’t. Ask questions of yourself about the character you think a director might ask, answer them for yourself, and try to incorporate your answers into your runs of the piece. Try to avoid just repeating the piece over and over and over, hoping somehow it will just get better magically, by sheer religion. It might, but rehearsing it as you might a play can make your work richer, deeper, and more interesting.
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