How to Choose a Winning Monologue: Part II

In part one of this series, we offered you advice on things to avoid when choosing an audition monologue. This time, we will be focusing on proactive measures you can take to make sure the monologue you select is the perfect one for the job:

Read the entire script.

So you needed a monologue relatively quickly, devoted several hours to combing through those monologue books, and finally found the perfect monologue. Hooray! And on the side, it even provides a basic description of the plot and the character, leaving you all good to go, right? Nope, not if you really intend to excel at your audition. You can get a general idea of what’s going on in the play by reading a synopsis, but actually taking the time to read the entire play benefits you in many ways:

– You have a far better understanding of your character and his motivations. It’s easy to assume, from reading just the monologue, that you know what your character feels, thinks, and wants. But taking the scene out of context, you might be surprised. Perhaps he devotes the monologue to ranting about a woman who’s made him angry . . . but if you read the script, it reveals that he is angry because he’s secretly in love with her. How differently might you play the scene once you know that important fact, versus simply the emotion you first saw on the surface level?

– You learn what happens directly before your chosen scene, and directly after. What leads your character to say and do what he does in this monologue? What development or action is it leading up to next?

– You learn important information about your character, based on how other characters treat him, interact with him, and speak about him when he’s not even in the scene at all.

– And if all of that is still not enough, keep in mind that the auditor just might ask you a question about your monologue. It’s well within the realm of possibility that your monologue could be from his favorite play on Earth, or is perhaps the last play that he cast or directed. It’s up to you whether you want to use that opportunity to display your preparedness and professionalism—and maybe even built rapport over a little bit of common ground—or undermine your monologue performance, and your entire audition, by admitting that you don’t know a thing about the play from which you’re reading.

 Be mindful of time constraints.

If the audition notice specifies a 3 minute monologue, the odds are high that they really do mean a 3 minute monologue. Many times, the schedule is packed tightly with actors auditioning back to back, so the casting team has very little room to deviate from that schedule without causing a 101-style traffic jam in the waiting room. So, early on in your preparation process, take out a stopwatch and time yourself reading your chosen monologue. Playing around with this not only allows you to pick and hone the very best portion of your monologue (if you’re cutting it down), but also to get a good sense of exactly how your pacing feels when you’re within the desired time limit, so you can comfortably replicate that even under stressful audition circumstances. Believe me—this little bit of extra work up front beats the heck out of deciding to just “wing it”, then getting right up to the best, most poignant moment in your monologue and hearing a loud, “THANK YOU”.

 Play to your own strengths.

One of the most important keys to your marketability as an actor is knowing who you are. This is not the same as who you wish you were, or who you were five years ago. Having a solid grasp on what type of character you are best suited to play helps you in your marketing efforts, helps casting directors know how best to cast you, and can help you right here, in choosing a monologue. The audition may specify that you are to prepare a comedic monologue, leaving you no choice in the matter. Of course you will know, though, that even within the category of comedy, lies an enormous range from which to choose. This is where the actor who is well-attuned to his own strengths benefits over the actor who is not. Do you nail a deadpan delivery? Do you have a way with self-deprecating humor that causes audiences to howl with laughter? The better you know yourself and your unique instrument as an actor, the better you’ll be able to choose material to perfectly showcase you, and what you have to offer that others do not.

 Use the chance to sell yourself as the character.

If you are preparing a monologue to audition for a specific role in a show, you are really in luck! Not only do you get to show off your talents as an actor, but you are able to spin a mini-performance as your intended character, leading the casting director’s mind precisely where you were wanting it to go in the first place. Now, if you are auditioning for the role of a neurosurgeon, it is by no means critical that you dig up and perform the monologue of another neurosurgeon character . . . but simply suggesting the character type—femme fatale, loveable geek, precocious child—helps the auditors to envision you in that role, and shows them what you will bring to the table if cast.

 If it doesn’t feel right, change it!

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself plodding through the process of preparing a new monologue, and realize that you’re truly struggling. Something isn’t clicking, something feels wrong. Maybe the very rhythm of the words that captured your attention when you read them through in your head, now sound forced or phony coming out of your own mouth. Or you feel unnatural, contrived as the character. If this is the case—scrap it and find something else! Naturally, you won’t always have the luxury of time to stop and start over with something fresh, but if you can, do it. The most compelling story in the world isn’t going to win over the casting director if you don’t look and sound convincing as you tell it. And if you feel pained and awkward—believe me, anyone watching you will feel just as uncomfortable. Choose a monologue that has you feeling confident, proud, and in control.

With so many aspects of an audition—traffic, sides, schedule, reading partner, room layout, auditors’ moods, number of other actors, on and on—outside of an actor’s control, a monologue is like a golden ticket. Here is your chance to project precisely the type you want, envelop the room in precisely the mood you want, leave precisely the impression you want. The number of monologues out there is infinite—go out and find that one which speaks to you, compels you . . . the character into which you slide effortlessly, seamlessly . . . and which enables you to deliver to the auditors the gift of the very best version of yourself. That is your winning monologue.

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.