Monologues for Auditions

Monologues are more difficult than an interactive two-handed scene as a vehicle for an audition. The reason for this is that all the usual pitfalls for the auditioning actor are magnified when performing a monologue.

Failing to Listen
This is an easy trap to fall into at the best of times. While in general circumstances the 'character' mostly never knows what will be said next, the 'actor' always does and being in possession of this knowledge of the future often means that actors forget to listen with the same sense of purpose their characters would. This possibility is increased significantly in a monologue because the actor knows without doubt that no one else is going to speak - so listening is often a casualty.

What do you listen for in a monologue?

Actors should -

  • listen to themselves to assess whether they are actually achieving their sense of purpose or have any hope of fulfilling their "need"
  • actively assess and/or at least be aware of any possible response the person/s they are addressing may make.

Failing to Tell the Story
Because doing a monologue puts a huge emphasis on the individual performer the actor is often over-diligent in searching for opportunities to act. This might mean that a pre-occupation develops with movement or emphasizing certain words or even using 'funny' voices while often the story is forgotten or overlooked completely.

The other pitfall is that the story is often thought to be, 'what is being spoken about' (particularly if the text is a reminiscence) whereas usually the story is about 'what happens to the character while they are speaking the dialogue'. If the latter process is the focus of the performance then the emphasis will be taken away from the articulation of the words and placed upon the reason for which they are being spoken. This is a much more active and productive choice. It is also the key to a truthful performance.

Pursuing the Emotion
As the story is often not strongly evident in a monologue the actor turns to the emotional content of the text to provide a vehicle which will display their performance skills. This often leads to -

  • an overacted and self-indulgent performance because the context, purpose and external circumstances of the situation are generally ignored while the actor searches inwardly for a personal emotional trigger to induce the emotion
  • the story becoming completely obscured because the emotional display generally replaces all the elements which would allow story to unfold. (Without a story there is no reason for an audience to watch.)

Failing to Build a World for the Character
This is an area that often gets put aside in audition preparation. Sometimes this is because so little information has been provided that building a world for a character is either too hard or a waste of time, but often it is just because the actor neglected to spend a few moments making some concrete decisions about the character's world. It is essential to know when preparing a monologue,

  • who you are speaking to
  • whether you have spoken to them before,
  • if so, what was the outcome,
  • what are the expectations of this encounter,
  • is this something you do often …

… and so on.

Not Playing Subtext
If the actor has not clearly defined the character's world and/or the relationship with the person/s to whom they are speaking, then more than likely they will not have selected a "need" for the character. Without a "need" in place it is probable that the character will be one-dimensional and the acting obvious. It is the character's "need" which creates complexity and truthfulness when listening. Without a "need" in place there is no sub-text. The tendency when preparing a monologue is for the actor to only think of how they themselves will be acting. In fact it is placing the focus on 'the other' person/s in the scene which will create a sense of purpose for the character and a believability in the performance.

Being Shakespearean
Shakespeare's monologues are always a trap because they are well known and associated with other great performances. This tends to lead auditioning actors towards the desire to produce a great performance of their own. Consequently all the effort is focused on 'being great' and none goes into the essential preparation that will generate a good performance no matter who the author is. It is terribly easy to be portentous, contrived and mannered when delivering Shakespearean monologues.

Good performances emerge from actors who understand

  • the world the character occupies,
  • the pre-history of the character,
  • what the character needs most at this moment,


who listen openly but with purpose

and truthfully interact with the people/world around them


All this can be achieved with a monologue.

FOOTNOTE: A monologue should not be a declamation but a truthful interaction. The difficulty is building an interactive component when no one is there to participate. A successful path to achieving this is usually found through making simple choices not complicated ones.

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