Finding the right monologue is one of the most important elements of any audition—which is also why it can be the biggest source of anxiety and anguish for actors, no matter how much in-the-room experience they have. Whether you’ve got an audition on the horizon, or just want to sharpen up the ol’ monologue muscle, industry and Backstage Experts share their most useful tips for nailing your next one.
Find something to demonstrate emotional breadth.
“Show us some change in emotion but keep us laughing. Serio-comedic monologues are my favorite choices. Start with a piece that is funny, quirky, and gets people to laugh and then ‘turn the screw.’ Hit them with something that's heartbreaking or touching. They're already in your corner and you've won them over! Be compelling to get them involved in liking you, loving you, and hiring you!” —Gwyn Gilliss, marketing mentor for actors and Backstage Expert
Ask an acting coach for insight.
“I have seen all too many stock monologues that begin with, ‘I hate my sister. She always steals my clothes....’ Want something a bit more interesting and playable? I have been coaching young actors for more than twenty years. I have a huge library with hundreds of plays and monologues that have worked for my students over the years. It is my job to read plays, see theater, and replenish my library regularly. Acting teachers have a pretty good idea of what is overdone, what to avoid, and what may be the perfect piece.” —Denise Simon, New York-based acting coach, career consultant, and Backstage Expert
If you’re cutting, cut wisely.
“When piecing together a monologue from within a scene, it’s important that your character has the same objective throughout the cutting. This will create a through line that makes sense and gives you a clear objective to play. Your character should be talking to another person they need something from. Speak directly to that person and use a variety of actions to get what you want.
“Avoid dialogue that’s directed to the audience or a group of people rather than one person. Also, avoid dialogue spoken while on the phone or reading a letter, email, texts, or from the computer.” —Mary Anna Dennard, author, founder of College Audition Coach, and Backstage Expert
What’s right for one audition is probably not right for another.
“ ‘What monologue is good for me?’ isn’t enough.That’s an incomplete question. They need to consider themselves as an actor, what it’s for, who they’re going to be in front of. You choose one monologue for a particular director and another monologue for another director, based on their style and your résumé. There are two, even three things to consider outside of ‘What works for me?’ ” —Karen Kohlhaas, founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company, director, filmmaker, and acting teacher
The power is wholly in your hands.
“Until you become a name, picking a monologue is one of the very few times you, the actor, will actually get to choose your own character and scene to perform. That ought to be enough motivation to make monologuing a significant part of your regimen.
“More often than not, one of the most difficult parts of the monologuing process is finding just the right solo piece. Locating a monologue that will showcase your strongest attributes and talents and put you in your best light is not an easy task. Choosing anything less than the best is not wise. The actor should always be in pursuit of that perfect piece.” —Clay Banks, acting coach and Backstage Expert
Hook them from the start.
“Don’t hit them in the head with it. You never want them to see the technique. For example, when you want to look great for a special occasion, you don’t want them to know that you took two hours to get ready. You want them to think that you just walked out of the shower looking like that.
“Wow them at the very beginning. Surprise them. It might be the way you start with your back to them and then flip around. It could be a sound you make or an audible breath you take. Do something different; something they don’t expect, something weird. Obviously, it should go along with the interpretation of the monologue.” —Cathryn Hartt, Dallas-based acting coach and Backstage Expert
These are the two most important questions to ask.
“I believe that the two most important questions you must ask yourself when breaking down a scene or a monologue are:
“ ‘What does the character want?’ and ‘Why do they want it?’
“If you can always start by answering these two important questions then you are 90 percent towards success in the scene.” — Douglas Taurel, actor and producer
Yeah, you should read the whole play.
“People come in with a monologue, and they’ve never even read the play. You think, Well, that can’t be the choice, because we know that person is this, that, and the other.” —Stuart Howard, casting director
Ready to audition? Check out Backstage's casting calls!