Monologues are becoming an increasing rarity in the modern audition landscape—but that doesn’t mean actors shouldn’t master the art of performing one. By delving deep into a character’s interior world, you can hone your craft and demonstrate your acting chops. But choosing, preparing, and delivering an effective monologue can often be a minefield riddled with clichés and inauthenticity. (Look, we can’t all be Emma Stone at the end of “La La Land.”) Whether you’re looking to get cast in a high school ensemble or an Off-Broadway revival, this in-depth guide to audition monologues will help you make the most of your time in the spotlight.
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A monologue is a long speech delivered by a single character in a larger work, often a theater play or a film. Monologues can be used to gauge a performer’s acting ability, imagination, and understanding of a project’s overarching narrative.
While monologues are not the dominant audition material these days, they’re still very important—especially for young actors applying to high school or college theater programs. You’re most likely to be asked to perform a monologue when auditioning for a play, conservatory, or acting program, or proving yourself to an agent. In most other cases, a casting director will assign you “copy,” “sides,” or a script in advance of an audition, instead.
“How to Get Away with Murder” Courtesy ABC
A monologue refers to a speech delivered to other characters or the audience; a soliloquy is a speech where a character speaks aloud to themselves—an inner monologue, so to speak. Think Juliet’s “Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?” (monologue) vs. Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” (soliloquy). For the purposes of an audition, casting directors tend to use “monologue” as an umbrella term for any speech made by one character, so you may prepare a soliloquy should you so choose.
“Succession” Credit: Macall Polay/HBO
Monologues can be either classical or contemporary; they can also be dramatic or comedic. It’s helpful to be familiar with these terms as an actor, since you may be asked to prepare a specific type of monologue for an audition.
Classical vs. contemporary monologues: Classical monologues are generally taken from works written before the 20th century, and contemporary monologues are those from the 20th century onward. (These binaries are not clear-cut; some early 20th century playwrights, such as Chekhov and Ibsen, have been categorized both ways depending on whom you ask.)
Dramatic vs. comedic monologues: Dramatic and comedic monologues are exactly what they suggest: dramatic monologues tackle a serious, often emotionally challenging topic, whereas comedic monologues are more humorous and lighthearted.
Generally, it’s best to prepare something in line with the tone of the character and production you’re auditioning for (assuming casting hasn’t specified the type of monologue they want actors to deliver). An experimental contemporary monologue probably isn’t the best fit if you’re auditioning for a straightforward Shakespeare adaptation. A dark, dramatic monologue might not be the best way to show you’re right for the lead role in a sitcom. Choose a monologue with similarities to the character you’re auditioning for, and casting directors are likely to have an easier time picturing you in that role.
The most famous monologues come from Shakespeare’s many plays—and perhaps the most well-known “monologue” example of all is the “To Be or Not to Be” speech from “Hamlet.” In it, Hamlet cooks up a plan to take revenge against Claudius for the murder of his father. It begins:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
But there are a number of iconic monologues that come from more contemporary sources. One of the most famous film monologues of all time comes from “Pulp Fiction,” when Samuel L. Jackson’s character reflects on a Bible verse he’s memorized, Ezekiel 25:17. “I never gave much thought to what it meant,” Jules Winnfield says. “I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice.”
Keep in mind, the more famous a monologue, the worse choice it is for an audition. You’re bound to draw comparisons to the world-class actors who’ve performed the material before you—and the comparison is unlikely to be favorable, even if you’re a talented performer.
A monologue should be 60 to 90 seconds long unless you’re directed otherwise; any longer and you’ll actually be hurting your chances in an audition. “Every agent I’ve ever met made up their minds about an actor in less than 10 seconds,” says acting coach Gwyn Gilliss. “After two minutes they change their mind and it goes the other way.”
This applies regardless of the environment in which you’ll be performing, notes audition teacher Craig Wallace. “Keep the piece at one minute unless otherwise instructed. This is important if you’re going to use it to audition for an agent or casting director. People in those professions are used to seeing auditions on reels in short bursts,” he says. “If you’re using it for stage or in a workshop, one minute is still a good idea, as your monologue will have more immediacy and you’ll show that you have the skill and confidence to deliver in a shorter time frame.”
“Hidden Figures” Courtesy 20th Century Fox
The best way to find a monologue is simple, if time-consuming—pay close attention to the world of theater, film, and television. The more scripts and screenplays you read, and the more films and plays you watch, the more opportunities you’ll have to find singular, exciting work. The staff at drama bookstores can also be invaluable when it comes to recommendations, as can acting coaches.
But if you’re crunched for time, we recommend checking out the Monologuer. A search engine featuring over 600 classic and contemporary monologues, the Monologuer also provides a synopsis of the scene and surrounding work for context. It features a number of filters, including age range, gender, play title, author, genre, and theme. Need to find a contemporary, female comedic monologue about jealousy? A classical male dramatic monologue about love? A Shakespearean monologue for teens? Just choose the criteria you’re looking for and run the search.
You can also consult the many monologue lists we've compiled:
Monologues for Women
- 5 Alternative Contemporary Monologues for UK Female Actors
- 5 Alternative Classical Monologues for Women
- 5 Great Comedic Monologues for Women
- 6 Shakespeare Monologues for Women
- 6 Female Playwrights Older Women Can Turn to for Monologues
- 5 Dramatic Monologues for Women
Monologues for Men
- 5 Alternative Contemporary Monologues for UK Male Actors
- 5 Alternative Classical Monologues for Men
- 6 Shakespeare Monologues for Men
- 6 Plays Men Can Turn to for Monologues
Monologues for Teens
- 7 Comedic Monologues for Teens
- 6 Dramatic Monologues for Teens
- 46 Monologues That Are Perfect for College Auditions
- 10 Great Contemporary Plays for Teen Actors
- 6 Musical Theater Monologue Sources for Young Men
- 6 Shakespeare Monologues for Teens
Monologues for Kids
“Training Day” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
A good audition monologue has an emotional arc, demonstrates your range as an actor, and suits the project and character you’re auditioning for—and does it all in 90 seconds or less.
“[Monologues] need to go somewhere and have moments,” says acting coach Clay Banks. “And because it’s so compact, you can really focus your attention on finding and filling those moments and executing an effective arc.” A good place to start can be a monologue that’s serio-comedic, combining comedy with pathos and tragedy. Get them laughing, then hit them with an emotional wallop. “Avoid the ‘Johnny One-Note’ monologues that show one emotion throughout,” adds Gilliss. “There is nothing worse than watching someone rant and rave angrily at the audience for four minutes.”
Also, watch out for story pieces or memory monologues which, “while funny or touching on the page, can spew out in an unfocused ramble,” warns acting professor Jackie Apodaca. A memory or story doesn’t necessarily have an emotional arc, just a narrative one—and the best monologues have an objective.
Finally, a good audition monologue is right for you (and right for the part). “Choose something in your wheelhouse, especially if you’re just starting out,” advises casting director Lana Veenker. “Help the casting director picture you in a suitable, age-appropriate role. Don’t make their job more difficult.” Your job is to nail down your type as an actor, to make sure that your monologue material is age-appropriate and makes sense physically. “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,” says Gilliss. “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.”
If you’re a young actor looking for your first monologue, stick to characters in your age range. “A young teen should not choose a monologue about their day at work, their bad marriages, divorces, or lovers,” says acting teacher and coach Rita Litton, who specializes in teen acting. “Even if you play leading adult roles in your high school, you should choose roles close to your age.”
Monologue ready? Apply to casting calls on Backstage!