If you wanted to frighten a group of actors, you could turn to zombies, or you could just tell them to prepare a monologue audition. For actors, it seems monologues and zombies have much in common: They are very hard to find, it’s not exactly clear what to do if you happen to stumble upon one, and most people agree that it’s best to avoid them if at all possible.
That all sounds about right when it comes to the undead, but not so much when it comes to monologues. In fact, if you have any intention of pursuing an acting career, you might as well decide right now to make friends with them – monologues, not the undead – because I assure you they exist, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they can’t be avoided.
So, to your question, “How and where do I find monologues and what do I do with them once I have them?” I offer the following answers…
There are a plethora of books and websites promising to deliver the perfect monologue right into your hands. DO NOT USE THEM! (Except as in the last point.)
Monologue books are the actor’s equivalent of pills that promise you’ll lose 20 pounds in a day. They’re nice in theory, but the shortcut they offer does not lead to longterm success. Yes, it is work to read play after play looking for monologues that speak deeply, viscerally, and specifically to you. But that’s the only way you can find characters that will serve as an authentic conduit for your own humanity, and that’s what we auditors want to see in an audition. As an actor, stretch. As a monologue auditioner, find what fits you to a T.
The other issue with those books and websites is how frequently their material is used. If they are easy for you to find, they are easy for other people to find as well, and that is not in your favor. Monologues that are done to death are not nearly as interesting to your auditors as those that are new. In addition, auditioning with material that is fresh and uncommon enhances your chances of being judged on your own merit, rather than relative to someone else who has done the same thing.
Still, many monologue collections contain excellent material and can be very useful as a resource, provided you use them as a starting point, rather than an end itself. If you happen to find a monologue you like in one of them, get a copy of the script or screenplay it came from, read the entire thing, and keep an eye out for other monologues that might not be as evident, and, will, therefore, be less done, which leads to…
A little tip… Some of the best monologues you can find do not appear to be monologues at first glance. That is because other characters interject their own lines. However, when you ignore the other lines you realize that the few sentences here, followed by the paragraph there is actually a single stream of thought, speech, and action, and all you need to do is eliminate the interruptions to assemble a monologue that few, if any, other actors are using.
A good monologue is a story, but does not tell a story.
This will make sense to you if you understand the primary rule of acting, which is that acting is always about doing. (If this idea is foreign to you, watch Verisimilitude: The Key to Good Acting.) So a good monologue is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but because you are acting, it must also have action that drives continually forward, and it must derive from a scene that is highly charged in which the character is utterly compelled to achieve a high-stakes goal.
On the other hand, when a character tells a story, s/he is typically talking about people and/or events that happened at another time or in another place, often in the past tense. The story may have a beginning, middle, and end, but you will be hard pressed to find action in it, and when you consider verbs to describe the character’s journey through the monologue, you will get stuck on non-active verbs like “relating,” “expressing,” and “remembering.” Avoid these speeches! They do not work well as audition material. (Another pitfall of monologue books/websites is that they tend to rely heavily on these type of past tense, storytelling selections.)
Scan the text of the monologue for the word “you.”
This is a shrewd little trick that, while not foolproof, will be most helpful as you search for audition material. The reason this works relates to the points just covered. If a good monologue is only to be found in a scene where one character wants something very important from another character, then the speaker is going to use the word “you” quite often. On the other hand, if the speaker is telling a story, s/he will use the words “I” and “we” quite often. Look at the example below, and notice how quickly the lines reveal a character with clear outwardly-directed action in a scene with high stakes:
I’m not going to let you hurt me, Nora. I’m not going to let you tell me that I don’t love you or that I haven’t tried to give you as much as I gave Laurie.
-from Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon
Some tips to make the process faster and easier:
- There is no question that the best way to find monologues is to read lots of scripts. If you come across a good monologue, copy it. Start your monologue collection today!
- Websites like simplyscripts.com have hundreds of screenplays from film and television. If you are drawn to a certain genre, scan those scripts for long passages. If you think you type out like a particular actor, look him or her up on imdb. Compile a list of titles, preferably of films you haven’t seen so you don’t fall into imitation, and then scan those scripts as well.
- Play publishers like Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service have play finder features on their websites. Use them to look for plays with characters that match your gender and age range. It’s a bit of a crapshoot, but sometimes you get lucky.
- Use those monologue books and websites to identify plays, movies, and shows whose characters “speak to you.” Then go get the full script, read it, and search for other, lesser-known monologues than the ones printed in the books.
- One-act plays are filled with great monologues that are wildly overlooked. They are short, quick reads, and there are many collections of the best one-act plays produced in a given year or from a particular festival. Commit to reading one per day on your lunch break or before you go to bed, and you may be surprised how quickly you amass more monologues than you need.
So there’s a pretty thorough discussion of how to find and select monologues that will work well as audition material. The question of what to do with them once you’ve got them is a much larger topic. If you’d like to schedule a coaching session for one-on-one audition help, just give me a holler. In the meantime, break a leg!