On Monologues

I “know” about 5 monologues. Most are Shakespeare. If you are an actor, you have probably been told to “know” at least 4 monologues – 2 classical (one comic one dramatic) and 2 contemporary (one comic and one dramatic). If you are a “film actor,” you may have also been told to learn a few monologues from film (film monologues are more uncommon).

Monologues for theater purposes are most used for general auditions. If you are called in to audition for a specific part, you will probably be preparing and auditioning with sides provided by the producers or casting director.

A monologue can also be used when auditioning for agents.

In some cases, during film auditions, you may be asked to perform a monologue as well as read from the script. In all of my auditions for union (SAG, AFTRA) jobs, which, mind you, have not been all that numbered, I have never been asked to perform a monologue. However, for indie films and student projects, I have been asked to perform monologues and improv some personal character history, so be prepared!

Here are a few monologue tips:

As an actor, especially if you are auditioning for theater, you should have at least 2 contrasting contemporary pieces and 2 contrasting classical pieces.

If you pick a piece from a play, you can combine a few speeches to make one speech.

If you are not auditioning for theatre and are working more in film, you can pick a monologue from a film.

Your monologue should be no longer than 2 minutes in length.

Your monologue should show off your strengths as an actor.

When searching for your monologue, do not pick from the “Best Monologues for Men or Women” type books.

Your monologue should be active – you should be in pursuit of something (internally or externally).

Your monologue should have transitions.

Your monologue should excite you and you should love performing it.

You should practice/rehearse your monologue at least 50 times before performing it for an auditor. After 50 times, you have “learned” the monologue.

Once your monologue is learned, you should “keep it fresh” by rehearsing with it at least once per week.

Don’t be afraid to use silence or stillness.

Look for opportunities to use contrast (quiet/loud, slow/fast, etc.).

Don’t be afraid of editing a monologue so you are not rushing to finish under 2 minutes (and, two minutes is probably too long!).

If you are using a monologue for a staged play audition, consider how you are going to use the space. Most people are going to set up center stage. Perhaps there is a more interesting choice for you?

10 thoughts on “On Monologues

  1. I’d love to see more on this topic. I despise monologues. I’ve seen them done well, and I’ve seen them done poorly, and I get why they’re an important tool. But there’s a little corner of my brain that thinks, I’ve just shown I can walk into a room with something memorized. w00t! \sarcasm Plus there are soooo many pitfalls. Overdone monologues, aging out of your favorite monologue, finding one with an actual objective, etc.

    I prefer a cold/warm read, creating a character with the actual words of the script.

    What do you think?

    • Thanks for commenting! I think I will expand on my monologue post with a new entry and address the “I hate monologues” theme. Also, lack of action/objective is usually an actor problem, not a monologue problem.

      Always good to hear from you!

  2. I despise them as well, and haven’t had to do one in….years. Not for film, anyway.

    But I am taking a class on how to do them because it seems like a good skill!

    But yeah. Hate them. 🙂

  3. This is GREAT advice!!! And even for film actors. I was asked to do a monologue for a film audition last year. Thank the Acting Gods (and myself) that I had one or two in my “back pocket”. I booked the job and the Director even talked to me during the shoot about how “blown away” he was by the piece. You never know what people will want to hear and see, better to be prepared than told “thank you, we will let you know”. How to FIND the perfect Monologue??? This takes time. I have been able to sit in and audit TPS auditions for the past several years. This is very helpful to see all the talent out there, if I have a project coming up and need actors. But it is also helpful to see which monologues are being used, over and over and over again. If you have relationships with casting directors or Theatre Directors, ASK THEM. Ask what Monologue to they see a lot and don’t you go using the ones they say. I have found, if you can access it, new material works great. Nobody else will be doing it, it’s fresh and Directors will be locked on you. If you are writing your own piece, do NOT say you wrote it. This can make the writer, if in the room, feel uneasy OR it has the Director thinking “Is she a writer or an actor?” For film, I have heard using a monologue from a movie is best. I really don’t think it matters. Have, like David said, a few SHORT monologues ready. No need to have a 3 minute piece, Directors will know in the first 30 seconds if you can act and if they want you. So whatever the piece, make the first moment count.

  4. Coming from the acting side, as much as you might hate them, they are good to kind of keep in your back pocket. Like having a standard flat-head screwdriver in your tool box.

    However, from the writer/director viewpoint, I always audition talent via sides or from the actual script.

    • First, thank you for taking the time to comment!

      I don’t dislike them as much as I used to, I just find them to be inaccurate if used to determine if the actor has the appropriate *thing* to fulfill a particular role.

      And, for film/tv, I have never used a monologue to book a *real* job.

  5. David, you have exposed my Bad Actor side with this: I haven’t had a monologue in my back, front, side or coin pocket in years. It devastates me to admit this in public, but also I feel a little better…

    In all seriousness, I think monologues CAN be useful in very specific and few instances (general auditions), but I feel they are too often used by directors who simply don’t know what else to ask for from an actor.
    I also think one’s skills as an audition-er do not necessarily reflect one’s traits as an actor (can you take direction and make adjustments in the moment? how do you treat a scene partner? are you playing THE scene or just YOUR scene?). Again, it’s the actor’s job to fight these pitfalls, but I also think monologues are an outdated tool to have in the mix when there are so many better ways to vet an actor these days. To jump off from TD’s comment above, standard flathead screwdrivers are great, but a Leatherman or power drill is even better.

    All that said, the theater Gods have rightly smote me for not having audition monologues at the ready by putting me in 2 plays in the past year where my character must deliver a 2-and-a-half page speech, largely without punctuation. So don’t listen to this Bad Actor…. until the “I Hate Monologues” post 🙂

  6. Reblogged this on Start Your Acting Career and commented:
    So we’re marching into summer quite rapidly here, but we’ve not come to this topic yet: The Monologue. Screams of terror erupt! Luckily for us, David S. Hogan sums it up quite nicely in his blog article “On Monologues.”

    I should mention that I am currently working on a monologue for an upcoming demo reel shoot. Like David mentioned, you aren’t necessarily asked to use this skill in every audition, so it’s been a while since I’ve needed to prepare a monologue myself. I really think that when you own it as a performance within itself, it completely alters your relationship to preparing. My first acting coach, Jeffrey Bihr, emphasized this, along with the joy needs to be present in every performance we give as actors. The joy, and the gift we offer is so often overlooked as we focus on our dread of this revealing showcase of talents.

    LEAVE A COMMENT. What has been your experience with monologues so far? Share your thoughts, and make sure to subscribe to the blog.

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