Your audition monologue is a portfolio, showcasing more than just how well you can act. It displays your understanding of movement, your preference of role, the way you carry yourself on stage, your command of a room, your projection and diction, your strengths, your interpretation of the script, your confidence, your energy, your ability to tell a story, your imagination, and your overall passion for this activity.
How do we find a monologue that sets us up for success in all those areas? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when searching for your audition monologue:
First impressions are made in about five seconds.
If they are honest with you, directors will tell you that they made their opinion about your acting ability in about five seconds. And you know what? That impression doesn’t change easily at all. So, your prime directive is to optimize your first five seconds of your audition (Note: Your audition starts when your name is called, not just when you start speaking!). Assuming you intend to introduce yourself with a confident smile, and not offer a list of disclaimers about why this monologue might not be 100% awesome, then your monologue will be off to a great start. Find a piece that starts with interest, if not a BANG. What are your first five seconds accomplishing? A laugh? A startle? Suspense? Great! Set-up and backstory? Lame…
Keep it to a minute.
(maybe minute and a half) Since the impression was made in the first five seconds, going long can only hurt things. Don’t flatter yourself in thinking that they will enjoy your short one-person-show. Even if the audition information states that your monologue can be about two minutes, don’t feel like you must fill that entire time. Go long, and you will leave the director hoping you get it over with. Go a little short, and you leave her wishing she could have seen more of you–that’s a superior aftertaste, obviously.
Be in the present.
Pick a piece that requires action in the moment, not retelling something that happened in the past. I have two reasons for this: (1) Diminished emotional connection, and (2) “Wish-I-was-there”-Syndrome (It’s a real medical thing, trust me…).
- You know how emotions can get a bit calloused over time? When telling a sad story from your past, you probably don’t feel as sad as when the event happened in the first place. If it’s an exciting story, the excitement has likely died down a bit since then. If your monologue is in the past tense, I see it as a lose-lose situation. Either you retell it realistically, and the emotion isn’t as raw and interesting, or you retell it trying to maintain the original intensity of emotion, and it looks contrived and presentational.
- By “Wish-I-was-there”-Syndrome, I’m referring to the audience (or director) feeling like “That sounds funny. I wish I could have seen it; I bet it would have been funnier in person.” Through the magic of live theatre, we can and should give the audience the experience of witnessing something first-hand. One extreme example, and then I’ll move on: If you are recapping a situation about how you almost died, the fact that you are here telling me about it means that you, in fact, did not die. But if I am watching you navigate the situation presently, I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation, rooting for you, struggling alongside you.
In short, do something. Don’t tell something.
Start right at the beginning of the action.
If your monologue only “gets good” half way through, it’s too late. You probably have a section of your monologue that’s your favorite part. Can you possibly start there? I know that set-up is sometimes necessary, but the overall point is do whatever it takes to be interesting early.
Start with physical action.
Consider a piece that lends itself to starting with a brief pantomime or silent set-up. Are you approaching someone in their home? Take a second to groom yourself, and ring the doorbell. Are you preparing a meal? Chop some vegetables or stir a bowl. Since most actors will just jump right into speaking, a silent start will grab the directors’ attention and make them wait in anticipation for what you are going to say and when. Not a bad use of your first five seconds! For some tips in the art of pantomime, check out this article.
Showcase your strengths.
Find (or write, if you’re into that) a monologue that showcases your strengths. Are you physical? Then show us some of that physicality. Can you cry truthfully? Then turn on the waterworks. Do you do an accent that a native speaker would mistake for genuine? Go ahead and fool everyone. Think of your monologue as your sales pitch. Show off the best features of your product (that’s you) as it works under optimal conditions.
Resemble your preferred type of role.
If at a season audition (with many directors and producers looking to cast their plays throughout the year), let the material hint at what kind of show you would enjoy doing. What is fun for you? What kind of roles are up for grabs? Find a similar character with a similar objective or attitude or dilemma. Do you prefer comedies? Then a comedic monologue should be a given. Is it physical? Witty? Mirror those attributes in your choice of monologue.
Do you enjoy it?
Ultimately, if you don’t think your monologue is very fun, just don’t do it. It may have some other benefits, but if you’re not energized and excited about performing it, then the whole point is lost. Your lack of enthusiasm will eventually become obvious to the directors. Even if you do it well, you may be inspiring directors to cast you in similar roles that, likewise, aren’t fun. Avoid the not-fun cycle!
Do you have an audition monologue? Have some of these thoughts persuaded you to look for another one? Have they solidified your choice? I’d love to hear about your experience with your monologue!