• Jeff Thomakos

5 Do’s and Don’ts for Finding an Audition Monologue

It’s audition season again and you need a new monologue for general auditions. This can be one of the most difficult and trying parts of the actor’s life. How do you pick a monologue that works? That fits the time limit? That will be memorable? That you will want to use for a long time to come?

Before we begin, let me preface this by saying that there are no hard, unbreakable rules with this kind of thing. Rules are meant to be broken and you may find yourself vehemently disagreeing with me on some of this stuff.

I would recommend looking at these as a few loose guidelines that you should think about and try to follow and if you find yourself doing something that goes against these guidelines then don’t sweat it. At least you will be more thoughtful in your approach and that’s valuable in itself.

So, in no particular order:

5.    Read and watch as many plays as you can.

Actors can be the worst at this. Mostly because they are notoriously busy all the time. “I can’t I have rehearsal” is the life code of every actor and if they are always in rehearsal and have a day job, when are they going to get a chance to read or watch a play that they aren’t involved in?

But, here’s the deal: This is part of the actor’s job. You have to expose yourself to as much theatre and as many plays as you can so that you have some idea of where to start when audition season rolls around.

I have met actors, PROFESSIONAL actors, who have no idea who Neil Simon is. Who have never read a Shakespeare play. Who can’t name 10 playwrights off the top of their head.

There is no excuse for this.

If you have no money to watch theatre, offer to usher if you can, or see if you can’t come to a final dress or a discounted preview.

I don’t really recommend begging your friends for comps though. If your friend wants to comp you in, they’ll offer, but most theaters really need either the money or your labor so offer one or the other whenever possible.

If time is an issue, try to find matinees; or plays that are performing on off nights like Mondays or Tuesdays. Actually some of the most interesting works are happening on those nights if you can find them so check them out.

Reading a play can be a lot easier and you can pick up a play whenever, but many actors just don’t do it. Buying plays can be hard on both your wallet and your space (try moving across the country with 18 boxes of plays and you’ll know what I’m talking about), but don’t forget about your local library and apps like Hoopla or Scribd which have tons of plays that are completely free.

Make time to read them, even if it’s just a half hour before bedtime. I cannot stress enough how important it is for actors to know plays. It makes finding a monologue so much easier.

4.    Don’t choose monologues from movies or from the internet.

If you are auditioning for a film then most likely you are reading sides from that film for any given audition. It is very, very rare to be asked to perform a monologue for anything on-camera and if you are asked to perform one, the casting director or director will most likely give specific instructions regarding this.

If you are auditioning for a play or attending a general audition for a theatre company, then you will most likely be asked to find two contrasting monologues or one monologue or song with your total audition being no longer than 3 to 5 minutes.

I have auditioned many actors who just pick a monologue from a movie or online and frankly, their auditions are almost always inferior to those who picked from an actual play. The reasons for this can be a little complicated, but here’s the problem in a nutshell:

For movies, I most likely have already seen it and in many cases, it may be one I’ve seen more than once. Many directors will strongly advise you not to pick monologues that are done too much and overused. One of the reasons they say this is because they may have developed a strong opinion about how the piece SHOULD be done and if you diverge from that preconceived idea in their heads, you are working from a disadvantage. You have to be REALLY good to break them out of that notion and, even then, they may still find fault with your interpretation.

With a movie, you have basically found a shortcut to that problem. Because you chose a monologue from The Godfather, for example, you are now competing with Marlon Brando’s Oscar winning performance that is very clearly etched in the mind of anyone who saw it. That’s a tough hill to climb. Why put yourself through it?

Most monologues found on the internet either come from unproduced plays or are monologues that are written without entire plays in mind. Basically they are orphaned pieces that exist completely as a work in itself.

The problem with doing works from unproduced plays is that no one ever had to get up and say those words aloud in the context of rehearsal or performance. Unless the playwright is friggin’ brilliant, plays need a rehearsal process to work out the kinks and finetune the language so that it makes sense for the actor and the audience. As a result, many online plays feel stilted or actors may find that they have difficulty finding a playable through line and objective.

What separates a great monologue from one that is…not great, is that great monologues have strong playable objectives. It may be witty. It may be beautifully written. But without a strong playable objective, you will struggle to make choices that will make your audition memorable.

The problem with doing a monologue without a play is that you may have difficulty finding a strong “Moment Before” and “relationship” that you need to have in order to give a truthful performance of a complex character. Plays generally provide you with all the information you need for a monologue, but you may find you have to invent much with an orphan monologue which is exponentially harder. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be, pick a monologue from a play.

3.    Do pick active monologues where you are fighting for something.

As I said before, a great monologue is one that has a strong, playable objective. Beware of monologues that just give exposition, ones that just relay a whole bunch of information without a strong relationship of want and need attached to them.

Many monologues are just the character giving lists or describing something. It’s really hard to do something with these monologues other than give information and they tend to be rather dull. Avoid them.

You know you have picked a good monologue when:

  • You are speaking to someone specific in it and that person is important to the character, usually a lover, friend, or family-member.

  • You are FIGHTING FOR something. For example, you are fighting to keep the marriage together. You are fighting for your friend to stop drinking. You are fighting for your father’s respect. These are the kind of strong, playable objectives that fuel a dynamite audition.

  • Finally, there needs to be more than one tactic that your character is using to achieve their objective. If your character is yelling the whole monologue, then either find a different way to achieve the goal or pick a different monologue. No director wants to be yelled at for 3 minutes straight. If the monologue doesn’t give you a chance to show a diversity in choices, choose something else.

2.    Don’t pick monologues from monologue books and compendiums.

The problem with monologue books is that the publisher of those books wants to sell lots of copies of those books. The more copies of books that are out there being used by your fellow actors, however, means that the chances are high that someone will be using the same monologue as you for the same audition.

Again, we want to avoid our choices being compared whenever possible. It’s not going to kill your chances of getting cast necessarily, but the auditor is there to choose actors, not their favorite interpretation of a given monologue and it does put you at a slight disadvantage when this happens. And a slight disadvantage may be all that is needed to choose to cast someone else.

If more than two people pick the same monologue at auditions, the director may begin to find it funny or annoying and it will distract them from putting their attention squarely where it belongs: ON YOU. And that problem may become exponentially worse with each actor who uses the same monologue.

So the best tip I can give is to avoid it whenever possible. You may not be 100% successful, but picking from a monologue book will increase the likelihood of having that problem so don’t do it.

That being said, you CAN use monologue books to find playwrights that you like and THAT can be very, very helpful. If in reading a compilation, you find a great monologue that really connects to you, the chances are pretty good that that playwright has written other plays that aren’t in that book. The playwright may like writing monologues for your age group and type so you can find a really great monologue that no one else is using this way.

1.    Don’t pick monologues with constant shouting or that are too dark.

As I said before, no director likes to be shouted at for 3-5 minutes. If every actor makes the same choice, then after 3 hours, the director will be deaf and traumatized. If the director has to see actors for days or weeks on end, then you will be considered a walking headache.

The same can be said for monologues that are especially dark in tone, language, or subject-matter. Unless there is a specific play that you are auditioning for with a similar tone, I recommend trying to avoid the super dark stuff. You have no idea what the director’s triggers are and by choosing to do a monologue about your lover’s suicide or abortion or gruesome car accident, you may be inadvertently pulling your director’s attention away from you in a negative way.

If it’s for a general audition, I recommend keeping it fairly light. Directors get tired and grumpy during those things so making them smile is always a good thing. If you are asked to do a dramatic monologue, then proceed carefully and use your best judgement. You have to remember that directors are people too.

Bonus: pick a monologue that reflects your tastes and personality.

Finally, I want you to remember to always pick monologues that you love and that you really, really want to do. Some of these monologues can be in your repertory for years or even decades, so if you don’t love doing it, then it can be a chore.

As you probably know because you are watching this video, finding a great monologue can be time-consuming and very difficult so picking one that you can do for a long time to come will make your life as an actor exponentially easier.

Do you agree with my list? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments. See you guys later.

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