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  • Writer's pictureGlenn English

"Why Actors Need Monologues"

Becoming a professional actor can seem like a daunting process, there’s a lot to take in, a lot to learn and there are a number of skills you need to acquire before somebody hands you an award with your name on it. One of these skills is monologues and you need a portfolio of them if you’re going to compete successfully and get cast. Now you won’t need monologues for every audition or meeting you take with industry people but you’ll need the right ones and a variety of them when you do.

So before we get into the nitty gritty of that, let’s be clear about where you’ll need monologues and where you won’t. Commercial auditions are the first place you won’t be expected to show off your monologue chops, because the only things that matter in those meetings are how you look and how you handle that copy for “Red Lobster”. Likewise for film and TV auditions, they’ll have their own sides that you’ll read from because they’re likely looking for something specific and even if your monologue’s a perfect fit they likely won’t have time for it.

However in just about any other audition scenario, monologues will come into play, so you better be ready when you walk in those other doors. Top of this list are agents and managers, key players in the careers of all successful actors and they put a lot of stock in how you handle yourself in a “go-see” meeting. First impressions count for a lot, especially for newbie actors, so whatever monologue you do for an agent it better be a good one or your meeting won’t last long.

Anytime you’re called in for a theater audition you can pretty much assume you’ll be asked to do a monologue. There are various theories on the subject but I always advise actors to lead with a comedic one, because casting people work long hours and they can always use a laugh. If that goes well, they may ask you for a contrasting one and that’s when you can show off your dramatic range. Should both of these land well, you’ve got a real shot at the getting the role, which is the goal.

So when exactly should you start working on your monologues? Yesterday. No, I’m serious, don’t wait till you get a call from a casting director before you go monologue shopping . What you don’t want to be doing is trying to cram a bunch of material into your head at midnight for an audition the following morning. What you do want to do is have that material memorized and ready to go before the phone rings. There’s a very simple formula when it come to nailing that audition and this is what it is.

LUCK = Preparation + Opportunity

Actors who take their careers seriously must take their craft seriously. That means you should have between 5 and 8 monologues picked out, worked on and ready to go on any given day of the week. When I say “worked on”, I mean that you know them cold and you’ve done all the necessary prep work. That means you’ve read the play that the monologue comes from and you have a full understanding of the character, along with their conflicts. You need to have a clear understanding of what the character’s objectives are and what the obstacles are that they need to overcome. You need to know exactly where the setting for the monologue is and who you’re speaking to. Are they an ally or an enemy? Perhaps most importantly, you must have a clear idea about what’s at stake, both for you and the person you’re speaking to. If you have all those things in place, you’ve got a monologue that will hold their attention. If not, you’re just rattling off words.

You also want to be sure that your monologues fit your casting, that whatever you’re bringing in is a good snapshot of who you are. This requires a good look in the mirror and a little honesty about what’s there versus what you’d like to see. If you’re 23 years old, don’t be doing the “storm” monologue from King Lear, doesn’t matter how wonderfully you read it. Conversely, if you’re 45 you shouldn’t be doing Juliette from

R & J, I don’t care how good your skin is. There’s a time and place for challenging yourself and pushing your limits but that’s not in a casting session, trust me.

It’s also important to have a good variety of material and that includes the length of your monologues. What does that mean? It means you need some short ones, some medium and some long ones. In terms of actual time you’re looking at 30 seconds, one minutes and three minutes speeches. You’ll want both comedic and dramatic in all of those lengths as well. One should also pay attention to how your monologues fit together as a large body of work. Beyond the funny or not-so-funny thing, you need to have both contemporary and classical material to round out your portfolio. Now yes, some of that has to do with your personal casting but you should also consider what projects are coming up and try to anticipate what producers are looking for. Your monologue portfolio shouldn’t be a static thing, it should be always be evolving and you should keep your eyes open for new material that’s a good fit for you.

Lastly you should be wary of speeches that are closely associated with particular actors because comparisons will be inevitable and odds are they won’t be in your favor. Rightly or wrongly, heavy weight actors have a tendency to leave their marks on iconic roles, so if you decide take one of those on, make sure you’re bringing something unique to the character or stay away from it. More than anything you want to be working with material that hasn’t been done to death. If you’re not sure about your monologue choices ask around and get some second opinions. Your acting teacher and classmates will be a good start but don’t stop there, really try to find out what material other actors are using and how it’s being received. Of course if you’re on good terms with casting folks, always get your info straight from the horses mouth.

Now the actual presentation of your monologues is something else entirely but that’s better served in a separate conversation. For now, keep working on building up your portfolio, make sure they’re appropriate for you and do your homework diligently. The most successful actors are the ones who do the work consistently, there’s no way around it. Keep looking for material, keep your focus and your shot will come.

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