Whether you are looking to audition for a show or honing your craft as an actor, it is always good to have a repertoire of monologues on hand. In fact, if you plan to audition for the University Resident Theatre Association (URTAs) to be matched with an MFA program, it is strongly encouraged to have a repertoire memorized so if someone asks you to do more than the two monologues required you’re prepared. No matter where you are in your theatre experience, here are seven tips from my time adjudicating to take your monologue to the next level:
- Know your who, what, when, and why – although your monologue might just be for an audition, treating your audition as a final performance is the best way to go about it. Establish who you are, who you are talking to in that moment, what you are doing in that moment of the play, when this monologue takes place, and why your character is saying this monologue. We’ll get more into why in a moment. I find it best to write everything down in detail because when I write it it becomes real.
- Understand your text and your character – this may be the first time you are performing this monologue, but that doesn’t mean it’s the first time someone else is seeing it performed. Knowing the play it comes from, where your character has been before this moment, and where they are going to go by the end of the show is integral. In addition, if your monologue is a stylized text, be sure to do the research to understand what the monologue is actually communicating in modern English. For example, Shakespeare, Chekov, and Classical Greek plays all need to be performed with care so your audience knows what you’re saying even if they can’t always understand the language.
- Have a clear objective and super objective – if you are not familiar with the terms objective and super objective, the super objective is what your character wants to get by the end of the play. The objective is what your character is trying to get in the scene to achieve their super objective. Having a clear understanding of both the objective for your monologue and the super objective can help you define more about your character and what they want. What is your character willing to do to get what they want? What is in your character’s way? Knowing all of this can guide you to have the specificity you need.
- Make choices vocally – The audience always needs to understand what your character is saying at all times. Diction and volume are your friends. Don’t be afraid to enunciate and speak up. If your character is whispering to another character, do a stage whisper. If your character is speaking to a large group of people, project your voice to fill the whole room. These choices make the audience believe they are right there with you. If you have an accent, fully commit to it and be sure it is accurate and consistent. Even if it isn’t accurate, if it is consistent it will be believable to the audience. Please do not forget to breathe! Some of the most tender and real moments in acting comes from actors who breathe when they need to in a scene. Breath connects the audience to your character and what they are going through.
- Make choices physically – Your audition room is your stage. Use chairs and other props in the space to your advantage. If you don’t have items available, take the audience there with your use of the space. For example, if you are on someone’s front porch, show us by pantomiming using the porch, the door, the doorbell, and everything that is appropriate to use during your monologue. Be sure to have reasoning behind using the space or not using the space. One of my favorite college teaching artists, Jennifer Peterman, loves to talk about ‘actually actually’ doing an action. Would you pretend to dial a phone in real life? No. Actually actually do what your character would do in the monologue. Find natural gestures for the situation your character is in. I recommend while practicing the monologue to try three different ways of using the space. Make them different every time and note what you liked and didn’t like. Record practicing it or have a friend watch for feedback.
- Choose your monologues wisely – If you are being adjudicated or asked to bring more than one monologue, having monologues that compliment each other is key. It is important to show your range of talent by having two different styles of monologues.Being age appropriate can be difficult depending on your age, but it always looks good to have a character about the same age as you. If you are only asked to bring one monologue for an audition, pick a monologue that is by the same playwright or has a similar style to the play for which you are auditioning.
- Specificity is your friend – Making specific choices as an actor makes your character more believable to the audience. The more specific you are the more engaged the audience will be. It is better to bring more work to the piece and have a director or adjudicator help you fine tune the monologue than to not put the extra work in at all. For example, if your character shoves their head in a bag, use your face and hands to pantomime the details. Sometimes what makes the moment real is the tiny details you add to make the audience believe your reality.
Just remember, as long as you put in the work you will do great. Practice makes perfect. Your body and mind remember the work that you do every time you practice. Take comfort in no one being perfect and that your craft gets better the more that you practice it. Break a leg!