How to Choose a Winning Monologue: Part I

Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 12.23.55 PM“Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy na—“

THUNK.

What? Oh, that? That was nothing- just the sound of the casting director’s head hitting the table as he dozed off in the middle of your audition monologue. Even worse? It may not have had anything to do with just how well you delivered the words, or how much time you spent picking apart and poring over the character . . . the bottom line may just be that the casting director has heard Juliet call out to Romeo 100 times before. He might have those lines memorized, himself. And while, sure, this was a tongue-in-cheek example, it is designed to illustrate one of the
pitfalls an actor may encounter when choosing a monologue. The monologue—a dramatic or comic piece delivered by a single performer; often required of an actor to be prepared and performed at an audition—may sound like a straightforward enough idea. The truth is, though, that there is a whole world of factors separating a bad monologue from an okay one, an okay monologue from a good one, and a good monologue from a great one. As an actor, you’ve chosen a field where competition is just plain tough! You need a monologue that is no less than your best.

Avoid standard monologue compilation books.
This might come as a surprise, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who disagree with me. So please just understand the reasoning behind the thought— there you are, browsing through the theatre section of your local big-box bookstore. The selection is maddeningly limited, but you only came for one thing anyway: a monologue. Finally, you see it! A small assortment of narrow-spined books with titles like, “100 Best Monologues for Women”, “101 Ultimate Monologues”, and “102 Monologues They Haven’t heard”. Great, right? That last book is practically guaranteed to contain your elusively perfect, unique monologue and give you an edge! Eh, yeah . . . you and the 10,000 other actors who read the book. Undoubtedly, the authors of these books strive to research, hone, and present a great array of quality, useful material—some of which are from obscure plays you possibly wouldn’t find on your own. However, with the popularity of these books—plus the limited selection, especially for actors in smaller cities—your auditor is probably well-acquainted with these “uncommon” monologues, long before you walk into the audition room. So sure, grab a handy monologue book in a pinch. But know that there are an infinite number of other monologues from which to choose! The time spent finding them is nothing less than an investment in your future roles as an actor.

Avoid iconic scenes.
Classic films and plays are often packed with well-written, juicy characters and dialogue . . . which makes them an obvious source for great monologues, right? Unfortunately, no. In the case of beloved films, you face the frustrating-but-inescapable fact that most people have the performance of the original actor seared into their brains . . . and no matter how passionately you declare that “after all, tomorrow is another day!”, or drawl that “life is like a box of chocolates”, it’s still Vivien Leigh and Tom Hanks that will be on your auditor’s mind. It’s a real drag to be upstaged by an actor who is not even in the room with you!

In the case of highly popular plays, you don’t have to worry so much about whether you’re competing with your audience’s involuntary recollection of a star’s trademark performance; after all, a timeless play has been performed by thousands upon thousand of different actors over the years. Do understand, though, that if you absolutely insist on taking the stage to ruminate over the well-worn, “To be or not to be, that is the question . . .”, it had better be the best darned rendition of Hamlet that casting director has ever heard!

 Avoid a character who is drastically different from you in age, type, etc.
In some monologues, the specifics of the character are completely unimportant: this would be any monologue that deals with gender-neutral material, or speaks from a gender-neutral point of view. Ditto for age. And even if, somewhere in your monologue, your character is inconsequentially identified as being male or female—and you yourself are of the opposite gender—you won’t be committing a crime if you change that little “he” to a “she”, or vice-versa. On the other hand, just keep in mind basic common sense: a man should probably not be choosing a monologue in which he details his recent experience giving birth, and a 10-year-old girl should not wax poetic about her love of her grandchildren.

Avoid relying on “shock value”.
Some actors, it seems, believe that any way they can find to stick in the casting director’s mind is a good thing . . . and if their best idea for making an impact is to choose a monologue in which they drop the F-bomb 20 times in 2 minutes, so be it. Now look, I’m not here to tell you that you should absolutely censor every single potentially questionable word or topic, every single time, forever and ever, amen— but I do think it’s wise to err on the side of caution. A curse word here or there in your monologue probably isn’t going to make or break the average audition—but for some auditors’ taste, endless repetition of curse words just might. Ditto for monologues that are blatantly, over-the-top risqué, sexual, racist, obscene, demeaning to certain groups, etc, etc. Sure, it’s entirely your decision. You can proudly exercise your right to free speech, pick that monologue, roll the dice, and bank on it not offending the stranger who will be casting this show. But is it really worth it?

These tips should get you started . . . look for even more in the second half the article, which will be posted next week!

 

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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. www.elizabethsekora.com.

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