This week, we’ll be examining monologues: When do you need one? Where do you find one? What makes a good one?
Having worked in film and television for the last 40 years, I can tell you that we never use them—ever. Rather than have you come in with a rehearsed scene, I want you to audition with our material. I need to see how our screenplay and role fit with your sensibilities. I want to see how you can master our writer’s words. Imagine auditioning for a movie written by David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin when you haven’t done scene work with copious amounts of rapid-fire dialogue. You’d be lost!
Another reason I don’t want to see a monologue in this space is that I need to assess your listening skills. When you choose a monologue to highlight your talent, I’m only seeing a one-sided conversation, which isn’t how life works. We want to see how you work and relate to the other person in the scene. Many times, I can see more by watching you listen than watching you speak.
Monologues work well in class. They are also effective in theater auditions. I’ve also seen actors use a monologue when they’re seeking representation and need to do a scene for an agent or manager.
There are many free resources online to furnish your monologue needs. That said, I think we’re all a little bored by seeing the same monologues over and over again. I’d rather put hot pokers in my eyeballs than sit through another scene from “Death of a Salesman” or “True West”—no disrespect to Mr. Miller or Mr. Shepard, but there are so many other fresh choices available to you. Off the top of my head, there’s a great monologue in the Oscar-nominated film “Marriage Story,” where Scarlett Johansson’s character is explaining her crumbling relationship to Laura Dern, who plays her divorce attorney. Another showstopping monologue comes from 2018 Oscar winner “Call Me by Your Name,” when Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) learns that his son (Timothée Chalamet) is lovesick after a breakup with Oliver (Armie Hammer). Again, make sure you think outside the box to find unique material that suits you!
If you do choose a monologue for these situations, be sure to thoroughly read and research the source material. You need to read the entire script so that you get a sense of the world that the character lives in and the tone of the piece. You cannot afford to take shortcuts in this prep work; if you do, your performance will end up flat and one-dimensional.
The same goes for auditioning for a film or TV project. Don’t prepare just by reading the sides. Even if you have only one scene or one line to perform, you simply must read the entire script if you can get your hands on it. This will help you fully understand your character and the setting. Many times, I’ll be auditioning an actor for a specific role and realize that they are better suited for another role within the project. If you’ve already read the script, you’ll be familiar enough with the other characters to make the leap when directed.
What are some of your favorite monologues, and how and when do you use them?
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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