Answers for High School Seniors Determined to Pursue an Acting Degree but Totally Stressed Out by the Process!

Typically at this time of year I am knee-deep in conducting monologue workshops and privately coaching high school seniors who are knee-deep in the maddeningly stressful process of applying to and auditioning for college theater programs. While this year covid has changed all that, it has not changed how anxiety-producing and puzzling most students find this process to be. They need answers, knowledge, guidance, and a personal roadmap, but those things, especially this year, can be as hard to pin down as stellar audition material.

So, as someone who has gained deep insight and expertise over the many years I have been helping students navigate this daunting undertaking, below are some answers to the most often-asked questions posed by college-bound hopefuls. I hope they help minimize your stress and maximize your success, but if you need specific help with any part of the application/audition process give me a holler. I am available for monologue coaching and private study via Skype.

How do I find monologues?

Finding monologues is a tricky business, and while there are no shortage of monologue anthologies and websites, ideally you should avoid those at all costs. They are tempting, I know, but since the number of age-appropriate monologues from published plays is so small to start with — and nearly every school will demand those minimal parameters — relying on the same resources as all those other students vying for the same few spots means rehashing the same monologues the auditors have heard time and again…perhaps done superbly by someone else.

Instead, try mining one-act plays containing characters that are in your playing range. These can be a rich source of lesser-known monologues. Another trick is to knit together a monologue from interrupted speech. Here’s what I mean: Sometimes a character is on a tear, vigorously pursuing a want despite interjections from the other character(s) in the scene. S/he is speaking one truth, one monologue that comes fully to life once you remove the interrupting lines.

Most importantly, remember that the monologue itself should be a story, but not tell a story.

What do I do with the monologues once I find them?

Start by identifying the action of the piece (which is why I advised above that it should not be a story!) and plotting the character’s journey through it. In other words, why is your character driven to speak these words, what is s/he hoping to make happen, and how does s/he change as a result of fighting for that goal? Learn more by watching my free acting lesson on objectives.

Then, if possible, find someone knowledgeable to work with, such as a trained acting teacher, actor, or director. Having outside eyes is critical. Either way, there are two big things to keep in mind: (1) Schools are not looking to see how great an actor you are; they will teach you to be great. They are looking for myriad other things, many of which are out of your control. (2) Being prepared is in your control, so be prepared. It is also the best way to quell the anxiety of the audition process and gauge how ready you are to enter a career that is not for the feint of heart.

Speaking of “not for the feint of heart,” should I have a backup plan?

Sorry, nervous parents, but this is a hard no! First, show business is challenging enough without being all in. More importantly, a degree is a degree, so once you graduate your acting degree is as qualifiable for a job that requires a Bachelor’s degree as any other. In fact, in many ways your acting degree is even more meritorious because so much of what you will have learned is highly prized in today’s market: excellent communication skills, the ability to collaborate, and an outstanding work ethic, to name just a few. Among the most successful actors of our day are former students with no degrees at all, as well as degrees in areas of study that have nothing to do with acting. Take for example Brad Pitt, who majored in journalism and then left school two weeks shy of completion. He’s still managed to do pretty well for himself.

For more on this topic from me and other experts, read this article in U.S. News and World Report.

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