It is easy to discern within the first ten seconds whether or not an actor knows what they are doing. By this, I mean, do they know what the monologue is about and are they aware of who the character is and how the monologue moves the story forward?
I also ask that my studio actors have a monologue prepared in the event that their scene partner for that week’s class is absent. Many of my actors like monologues. They like having all of the attention on only themselves. I would say just as many do not like performing monologues for the very same reason. If it doesn’t go well, they have no one else to blame.
The most important consideration is the actual choice of monologue. Actors are often asked to choose a drama or a comedy. Sometimes, they are asked that it be from a contemporary or a classical play. Once the genre and era are decided, actors need to be mindful of the difficulty level and whether or not they can consistently deliver. I’ve seen actors make the choice to perform monologues with a high level of difficulty, meaning, the character has to go to some very deep places emotionally, and they may be able to get to that place only half of the time. I would advise that they not make this their “go to” monologue. It is important to choose a piece that the actor knows they can give an undeniable performance a hundred percent of the time.
In addition, it is vital that the actor choose material that is actually a character they would be hired play. I often see actors select monologues that are not age or type appropriate. This is confusing and distracting and will only work against the actor. Actors need to know their age range and their type.
Once a monologue has been chosen, it must be memorized. An actor who forgets their lines, or treats the audition like a cold-reading cannot possibly commit to the all of the other considerations a great performance requires.
As the actor memorizes their monologue, I recommend that they break it down at the same time. By breaking it down, I mean making the same choices they would make if it were a scene; what is the scene objective, what are the obstacles, who are they talking to, what is the primary emotion, etc.
The question of where to look is also asked a lot. I would recommend that the actor asks whomever is conducting the audition where they would like for them to look. I like for actors to either look at me or another person. It just makes the performance more believable.
Another piece of advice, and I think the most crucial, is getting into the habit of treating the monologue like it is a dialogue. Most of the monologues I see performed are not great and they are not great for the same reason. The actor performs it like there isn’t anyone listening or responding. The actor needs to imagine how the person they are talking to is reacting to them. By having this in place, it will naturally allow for the actor’s truthful delivery of their next lines. If we image someone laughing at something we said, our response will be very different from a reaction that involves them looking at us with disdain or boredom or any other possible response.
All of this boils down to the difference between talking “to” someone or talking “at” them. I think there is a natural tendency for actors to talk “at” the other character rather than “to” them if they know the other character doesn’t have any lines, which they clearly do not because it is a monologue! This is very ineffective and a huge mistake.
Another consideration is to be aware of how prepared the character is to have the conversation at hand. For example, an actor playing a lawyer who is giving a closing or opening argument is very prepared, polished and very memorized compared to a wife who gets angry and goes off on her husband. The lawyer will be very poised and very aware of what they are going to say next, whereas the wife will be fumbling and stumbling a bit as they go along.
The last piece of advice I can give regarding the choice of a monologue is to stay away from monologues that were done as voice-overs. The reason for this is that they are often just information and a way for the writer to add information that the audience would not be able to glean otherwise. Being reduced to just facts, there is often not a lot to actually perform.
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