How to choose a good audition monologue

Cartoon white figure of person standing in front of question mark

An actor should have an array of monologues memorized, as noted in my previous article. This is because many auditions require actors to perform monologues (usually two contrasting ones) but it also makes you more familiar with your craft. If you know a monologue that means you know the play it’s from–because yes, you have to read the play!–and hence if you know several monologues you know several plays. Among other things, this will shape the kind of actor you want to be and give you a better idea of the kind of plays you wanna perform in. But all this raises the question, what makes a good audition monologue? How do you choose one? It should go without saying that you should choose a monologue from a role that would be good for you, that you could easily play. And you also don’t want to perform a monologue that’s from the play you’re auditioning for. But when it comes to selecting an audition monologue, I’m afraid there’s a lot more to it and I’m here to give you some good tips.

Avoid monologues that tell a story

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It’s tempting to perform a monologue that tells a story, probably because there’s so many. But the problem is, actors are story tellers and we tell stories by letting them unfold for people to witness, by letting the audience see us change, and go through something–in the moment. You may have heard the phrase “acting is reacting” and that’s true. A character telling a story has it’s time and place in a play, but we’re only seeing that person recant something in the past and hence, we’re not seeing a real change in the person. A good play takes us on a journey and it takes a good actor to make that happen. If you choose a monologue that goes on a journey, whether that’s discovering new feelings, growing as a person, or going through a huge change, it’ll hence show the director you’re capable of showing the play’s journey. A monologue that’s telling a story gives the audience new information in the play which is important. But in an audition, it doesn’t have an arc and it’s boring.

Beginning, middle and end.

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Directors wanna see actors who recognize beat changes and are good at performing them. And remember, don’t fall into the trap of playing the end at the beginning! One good example of a audition monologue is Karen’s speech to Joe at the end of The Children’s Hour. It starts with her saying “you believe me? I don’t know, maybe you do. But I’d never know whether you did and you’re saying it again won’t do it.”. At this point in the play both characters have been through a lot but they still posses a glimmer of hope for their future together. Deep down they both know that glimmer is small and it’ll soon be gone. In this speech Karen is finally facing that and she’s calling out the elephant in the room. In the beginning she’s showing hope but little by little she’s acknowledging her ship is sinking and it’s affecting her–in the moment, and we’re seeing it! By the end, we see her surrender. It’s compelling, and real and we see a beginning, middle and end. It’s speeches like this that’ll get a director’s attention in an audition.

Avoid things like crying, excessive shouting, or too much foul language

Hahaha. OK, so first of all, I curse like a fuckin’ sailor and I love it! And I’m also not afraid to pick plays that do that. Second of all, if you’re wondering if I’ve chosen audition monologues that told a story or had gut wrenching crying… well, I have. 😀 I’m human and even experienced actors like myself make mistakes. I was commented for how good I did but in hindsight I wouldn’t have gone with the first one in this video, and I’d change how I did in the second one. [In this video I’m doing a monologue that tells a story from A Feminine Ending and a speech from Our Town in which I start crying loudly.] I’ve also seen a monologue where a guy was using the word “cunt” several times and was shouting almost throughout. I’m not ruling out shouting, but if it’s done throughout it’s playing the end and there’s no arc. Hence, it’s annoying and boring. Actors tend to do stuff like this because they wanna show the director they can be moving, or intense or raw. And while I’m not against these things, they don’t belong in an audition monologue because it’ll look like showing off. These things belong in a play–in the right time–but if it’s done in audition it’s just gonna make the director and everyone else cringe and it’ll leave a bad taste in their mouth. The monologue I referenced in the last paragraph shows a director that you can be moving, and raw, and reactive, without all the showy stuff. There’s a time and a place for everything.

Appropriate length, or know how to edit

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Most auditions that require you to do monologues will have a time limit on them. I usually see audition notices say stuff like “perform a monologue that’s two minutes or less”, or “perform two contrasting monologues lasting no longer than three minutes”, etc. I very often see postings that ask you two perform two contrasting monologues with a time limit of two minutes! Squeezing monologues into that short amount of time can be daunting. Some auditions even have people there timing you with a stop watch and yell out “TIME!” if you go over the limit! But here’s the silver lining: even though you can’t cut or edit lines in copyrighted work for a production without permission (but you can with public domain work), you can totally do that in an audition! Most of the monologues I’ve done in an auditions have been edited for length. The key here is knowing what to cut and why. Make sure you’re still making the point the character is making and make sure you’re not changing any aspect of the story, and you’re fine. It’s also not uncommon to take lines from a dialogue and squeeze them together to make a monologue. I’ve done just that with Jessica’s conversation with Warren in This is our Youth, when she’s suggesting they’ll be really different in ten years. I’ve also done that with Calpurnia’s conversation with her husband in Julius Caesar when she’s begging him not to leave home.

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Of course, I’m not saying all this will for sure get you cast each time, but following these tips will likely take you far. It’ll make you a better actor in the long run, and you’ll stand out in auditions.

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