LOOKING FOR AN AUDITION MONOLOGUE can be tedious. How many times have you gone to the library or bookstore and scanned through every audition book? You read dozens of monologues; some are interesting, a few funny, others powerful — but which one is right for you? Which will get you the lead in next season’s school production or admission to your chosen college? Many young actors look for a monologue they can showcase, but the truth is your job is not to serve a monologue. You should look for a monologue that serves you.

What does this mean? When auditioning, you should find a monologue that showcases your best qualities. In other words, don’t try to find an overly complicated, emotionally intense monologue, the kind you find so challenging you think, “I can scream and cry all in one monologue. This will make me look like a great actor.”

No, it won’t. Keep Clytemnestra, Henry V, and their modern-day counterparts at home. Chances are that intense monologues like theirs will make you look like you’re overacting. Unless you are auditioning for the part of Hamlet or Medea, no one wants to see that level of anguish at a 10:00 a.m. audition. The casting director and director want you to succeed. They are looking for reasons to hire you, to discover all that is unique about you as an individual, expanded and extended into the given circumstances of the play.

You might wonder, “Does this mean the character has to be exactly like me?” No, they can have different life experiences from yours. But whether the character is a drug addict, king, or criminal, the monologue should feel accessible to you. For example, you may relate to both Laura from The Glass Menagerie and to Sophocles’ Antigone. From these works, you could select two contrasting monologues. When you play Laura, you may tap into your shyness, love of family, and internal world of imagination. Whereas, when playing Antigone, you demonstrate conviction, defiance, and stubborn loyalty. Though Laura and Antigone are very different characters, both display a determination to be themselves through personality traits that resonate with you. Each monologue should fit like a comfortable pair of jeans or a cozy sweater; it should feel comfortable to speak the words and perform the actions. The monologue you choose should be both fun and challenging because it demands you make active rather than emotional choices.

When looking for a monologue, be sure the genre and language are appropriate for your audition. Is the director casting a comedy or drama? Is it a contemporary or classical production? If the play is a classical comedy, such as a script by Molière or Shakespeare, bring a comedic monologue that features the complex language and sensibilities of that genre. In a classical production, you are also being cast for your ability to speak the play’s language with ease and understanding. When looking for a classical monologue, be sure the language falls “trippingly on the tongue,” as Shakespeare put it.

Regardless of the style or period of your monologue, compatibility and comfort are key. Does the speech feel overly poetic, complex, stylized, or crude to you? Look for a monologue with an event you understand and language you can speak without faltering. Make sure you know the meaning of every word because ultimately you are speaking ideas, needs, and desires; the speech is just a vehicle to support the character’s intention. Is the monologue age appropriate? Don’t choose a character more than 10 to 15 years older than you. They should have the same generational concerns you have or would have if you lived in a different time and place.

Is the monologue the right length? Most monologues should be no longer than a minute and half, or about 20 to 30 lines, unless you’ve been directed otherwise. Less is almost always more. Your goal is to get the casting director and director to call you back, which they will do only if they are interested in seeing more of you. Most casting directors know whether you are right for the part within 30 seconds of your audition. Many factors come into play, such as physical type, vocal range and fortitude, confidence, and presence. Often colleges and conservatories choose candidates with type and upcoming seasons in mind. They look for talent but also personality, so find material that showcases your skills through your individuality right away.

Photo of Thespian performing a monologue at the Photo from the 2016 International Thespian Festival.
The monologue you choose should be both fun and challenging. Photo from the 2016 International Thespian Festival by R. Bruhn.

The monologue may be right for the genre, but does it suit the part you are auditioning for? Does this monologue show a similar character situation or sensibility? For example, if you are auditioning for the role of Beneatha in A Raisin in the Sun, does your monologue reveal strength, passion, and an independent spirit? If you are auditioning to play Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, does your monologue demonstrate an assertive, strong-willed, self-assured character? Your monologue should showcase the character traits the part requires.

Does the monologue have an interesting point of view? Be sure your monologue demonstrates a compelling perspective on life. It shouldn’t be just clever writing; it has to say something about the character, the event, or the human condition. The playwright stopped the dialogue to include a monologue in the play. This means the monologue has something important to express at that moment. What is the character saying that is evocative, revealing, and urgent? What realizations do they make about the situation, other characters, or themselves? In her exit monologue, Nora of A Doll’s House, finds the conviction to leave her marriage and determine her identity, Starbuck inspires love and dreams in The Rainmaker, and Cory matures into his own man in Fences. Your monologue should have an interesting, poignant, or clear personal perspective from the character’s point of view.

Does the monologue involve conflict? Is that conflict external or internal? In Romeo and Juliet, families and society obstruct the wills of two young lovers, so the conflict is external. Hamlet concerns both internal and external conflict. The Danish prince struggles with internal questions, doubts, and inactions, as well as an external conflict with his uncle, Claudius. The monologue you choose must feature the character’s underlying goal and either internal or external conflict; otherwise the character’s need and actor’s action will be weak.

The conflict should be evident from the character’s choices. In Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding, Leonardo’s choice to run off with The Bride ignites social scandal and persecution that end with his and The Groom’s bloody deaths. In Antoinette Nwandu’s recent play Pass Over, Moses’ decision to leave the block perpetuates a continuous cycle of systemic oppression, racism, and police brutality.

Although many Shakespeare and other classical monologues involve characters talking to themselves, contemporary monologues are more often directed to a scene partner. This works to your benefit, so look for a monologue in which you address someone. While, unlike a dialogue, you won’t pause for the invisible scene partner’s lines, your monologue should still feel like part of a longer conversation, complete with reactions from both you and the other character. This will help you develop your action into different tactics, rather than focusing on reciting the words or playing the character.

A monologue, like a scene, is not about you but about the other person. How are you trying to affect them? How are you trying to get them to change in thought, emotion, or understanding? What are the consequences of the monologue, and how do those advance the plot? If you can answer these questions, you will understand the purpose of the monologue. If your action is to persuade, look to see if they are persuaded. If your action is to reveal something personal, do it because you want something from them, perhaps sympathy or solidarity. There may be a piece of the monologue that tells a story or reminisces, but that too should push your character’s point and need.

Photo from the 2015 International Thespian Festival college auditions.
When selecting monologues, look for pieces that serve you, your personality, and your talents. Photo from the 2015 International Thespian Festival college auditions by Susan Doremus.

Like all good plays and scenes, your monologue needs an arc; it starts at point A and ends at point B. This happens during the transition. A transition is a shift in the character’s perspective, attitude, feeling, or point of view. At the beginning of a good audition monologue, the character thinks or feels one way about a situation; by the end, they think or feel another way. A change of perspective has occurred. Without a character transition, your monologue will feel one-noted, boring, and one-dimensional. Note that a transition has nothing to do with action. Your action is playable; the transition is an emotional or psychological result of playing your action. In literary terms, the climax of your text occurs when the character achieves a new perspective.

The following monologue, spoken by the character Mabel Chiltern from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, illustrates character arc.

Well, Tommy has proposed to me again. Tommy really does nothing but propose to me. He proposed to me last night in the music room, when I was quite unprotected, as there was an elaborate trio going on. I didn’t dare to make the smallest repartee, I need hardly tell you. If I had, it would have stopped the music at once. Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely deaf. Then he proposed to me in broad daylight this morning, in front of that dreadful statue of Achilles. Really, the things that go on in front of that work of art are quite appalling. The police should interfere. At luncheon I saw by the glare in his eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately, I don’t know what bimetallism means. And I don’t believe anybody else does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for 10 minutes. He looked quite shocked. And then Tommy is so annoying in the way he proposes. If he proposed at the top of his voice, I should not mind so much. That might produce some effect on the public. But he does it in a horrid, confidential way. When Tommy wants to be romantic, he talks to one just like a doctor. I am very fond of Tommy, but his methods of proposing are quite out of date. I wish, Gertrude, you would speak to him, and tell him that once a week is quite often enough to propose to anyone, and that it should always be done in a manner that attracts some attention.

At the beginning of the monologue, Mabel’s attitude is one of annoyance at Tommy’s constant proposals. By the end of the monologue, she comes to the realization that if Tommy learns to propose in a more fashionable manner, it could offer the benefit of social attention. By the end of the text, she feels satisfied with her plan. This monologue also portrays a character with an interesting point of view, having a conversation with Gertrude, her friend. Mabel’s action is to coax or persuade Gertrude to instruct Tommy to propose in a manner more suitable to her needs.

There are countless monologues that address scene partners, illustrate character action, and fulfill a compelling transition. In the end, find a monologue you enjoy, one you feel taps into something authentic within you. Professional actors audition more often than they perform. So, remember to have fun, be present, and be yourself. The idea is to find a monologue that serves you, your personality, and your talents.

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