If you wanted to frighten a group of actors with something they’d find ghastly and dreadful, you could turn to vampires, zombies, or ghosts. Or you could just tell them to prepare a monologue audition. For actors, it seems, monologues and zombies have much in common: You hear a lot about them, but they are remarkably hard to find; it’s not exactly clear what to do with them if you do happen to stumble upon one; and they’re awful and scary, so it’s best to avoid them altogether if at all possible. That all sounds about right to me when it comes to the undead, but not so much when it comes to monologues. In fact, if you have any thoughts at all about 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, I promise you they can be managed, 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 no shortage of books and websites designed to deliver the perfect monologue right into your hands. DO NOT USE THEM! (Actually you can use them, but not as you might expect. We’ll get to that point last.)
You know those pills they advertise late at night that promise to help you lose 20 pounds in a day or two without making any changes to your diet? Monologue books are sort of the actor’s equivalent of that. They’re nice in theory, but they encourage passivity and promise a one-size-fits-all solution to a situation that can’t really be solved that quickly or easily, at least not well. It’s devilishly tempting to forgo reading an entire script when you can opt, instead, for the short monologue that is right on page 56. It’s diabolically seductive to abandon the seemingly endless search for a stellar monologue when a mediocre one is ready for the taking! But to audition well with a monologue demands that you engage in a process that most definitely takes some time. It is work to ferret out a monologue that speaks deeply, viscerally, and specifically to you, and will serve as an authentic conduit for your own humanity. And while engaging in a close reading of the entire script is time-consuming, it is the only way to unearth the character you are playing and the context of the words s/he speaks.
The other issue with those books and websites is how frequently the pieces you find there are used as audition material. If they are easy for you to find and use, they are easy for other people to find and use 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 something 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.
A good monologue is a story, but does not tell a story.
This might sound confusing, but it’s actually quite simple, although it will make more 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, read Verisimilitude: The Key to Good Acting.) So, a good monologue is a story, which means that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end; something happens during it; and there is a constant moving forward. But because you are acting, it must also have action and derive from a scene that is highly charged and in which the character speaking is utterly compelled to achieve a high-stakes goal. When a character tells a story, however, s/he is typically talking to someone about people and/or events that happened at another time or in another place. In fact, many of these monologues are written in the past tense. They certainly may have a beginning, middle, and end, but you will be hard pressed to find action in that story, and when you consider verbs to describe the character’s journey through the monologue, you will get stuck on words like “relating,” “expressing,” “remembering,” and other non-active verbs. Avoid these speeches! They do not work well as audition material. (By the way, another pitfall of monologue books and websites is that they tend to rely heavily on past tense, storytelling selections.)
Scan the text of the monologue for the word “you.”
This is a shrewd little trick that makes easy work of a challenging task, and, while not foolproof, it will prove a mostly reliable barometer as you search for audition material. The reason this works relates to the points just covered. If a good monologue is to be found in a scene where one character wants something very important from the other character(s) in the scene, 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. Below are a few examples from my own collection of monologues. Notice how quickly the lines reveal a character who is living a particular story, but not telling one, and that there is clear outwardly-directed action with very high stakes. That’s why these all work well as audition material:
You selfish boy! You stupid, selfish boy! How DARE you be reckless with your life!
– from Misadventure by Donald Margulies
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
You and me could team up and do it together. We’d clean up, Link. We could make money you and me.
-from Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks
Finding monologues takes time and work (sorry, but it’s true), but it’s more like finding a golf ball in a haystack, than a needle, so keep the faith. 😉
Here are some tips to make it 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.
And my best 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.
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, but you should be clear by now that you must start with the action. Plot out a journey, just like you would if you began a road trip. What is your character’s state when the story begins? Is s/he frustrated? Angered? Hurt? And where is s/he at the end? Has frustration turned to acceptance? Is anger replaced with disgust? Once you know where you begin and where you end, begin a consideration of wants and actions. Use the other acting articles I have posted on my LinkedIn page to help you, and keep an eye out for future articles that will help further clarify the crucial, and challenging, task of auditioning successfully with monologues.
If you’d like to schedule an online coaching session for one-on-one audition help, just give me a holler. In the meantime, break a leg!