PICTURE AN ORANGE. Just looking at the exterior, can you tell what’s on the inside? The rind gives you some clues, but to really experience the orange, you have to pull it apart. Because monologues appear to be clumps of text, actors tend to approach them that way. Many start at the beginning and merely read top to bottom, top to bottom without ever stopping to unpack the meaning.

A student performs his monologue at the International Thespian Festival.

A student performs his monologue at the International Thespian Festival. Photo by Susan Doremus.

I’m sure you’re heard this a million times: Read the entire play that your monologue comes from. After you have done this, you will need a pencil and a copy of the monologue typed or written out on a piece of paper to complete each of the 10 steps
below.

1. Read the entire monologue aloud, one time. Don’t rush.

2. Read each sentence, aloud, making sure you fully understand each one before moving on to the next. Look up words you don’t understand. Try to grasp what is happening in the piece. For example, does “stabbed me” mean stabbed with a knife? Or is it poetic and symbolic, meaning “hurt me”? If you can’t figure out something, then mark it — but don’t skip over it. Keep wrestling with it. Often, details we don’t understand are clues to the deeper meaning of the monologue.

3. Underline all the verbs. Read the monologue aloud again, giving the verbs an extra lift. Don’t rush.

4. Mark the beginning section, the middle section, and the end section. Once you have done this, you should be able to see your journey through the piece.

5. Define the event, moment, or situation that the monologue is about. Is a character apologizing? Trying to get a date? Taking a risk? A character shouldn’t be trying not to do something. Other examples might be “I’m a better daughter than you” or “Why do I keep falling for this guy?” or “It isn’t fair.” Then ask yourself, “How do I connect to this?” Ideally, the monologue should resonate with your heart and mind.

6. Find the golden moment, when the listener thinks, “Oh! Now I understand!” A golden moment is the reason the monologue exists. Just find it. You don’t need to do anything else.

7. Identify the discoveries. By this stage in your process, you’ll have gone through the piece line by line a couple of times. Your brain will be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got this.” Identify the moments when the character discovers something new about themselves or the person they are speaking to. Put a little star in the margin next to those. Be surprised every time you say them.

8. Think about this: Your character does not know that they will not be interrupted. You, the actor, know that you’ll say this monologue and no one will stop you. But your character feels that anything can happen.

9. Imagine the on-ramp or the moment before the monologue. Look at step 5. If you decided that “It’s not fair” is the human event happening in the monologue, then you need to create a prior moment that will bring you right up to the point where you yourself would say, “It’s not fair!” Don’t worry about creating a prior moment that is logical and reasonable. What you need is something that works for you, the actor.

10. Read the whole monologue aloud again.

This year, I saw more than 600 monologues in various college-audition settings. This process of unpacking each piece of a delicious monologue will help you craft a performance that stands out from the crowd.

This story is excerpted from the November 2016 print issue of DramaticsSubscribe today to our print magazine.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Fishing for monologues

    Fishing for monologues

    How to catch the perfect audition material

    Oct 01, 2018

    My favorite fishing holes

    My favorite fishing holes

    A beginner’s guide to audition material from new plays

    Oct 01, 2018

    The 	“R-Word”

    The “R-Word”

    Five steps to rejection recovery

    Feb 01, 2017