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Monologue Tips

In a group casting session last weekend I watched 120 monologues in two and a half days. A good local theatre was auditioning for a Festival of Independent Theatre. Short original plays by local writers affiliated with the theatre's writer's development program. I was asked to direct one of them. The actors were on many levels, quite a few had resume's a mile long and others just a cover letter , some awful mistakes were made by each level, and oddly enough, they were often making the same mistakes. Take this advice to heart, look over the mistakes I point out, and be absolutely sure that you never make any of them.

The monologue is a rare element in the actors life, an occasion when the actor has complete control over his/her destiny. Your career is completely in your hands for those two minutes. You have time to select it. This is probably the only time in your life when you will get the chance to cast yourself. The role of your dreams is yours to chose, and you have all the time in the world to find it. You have all the time in the world to put every ounce of training you've ever had, every piece of knowledge you've ever gathered on acting to work for you. You have time to get coaching on it. Time to gather props and costume for it. Your monologue is the only time in your career when you will ever have all the time in the world to get ready for a performance. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY, NOW OR EVER, ANY EXCUSE FOR BLOWING IT.

1] PLAY THE ROOM. I don't know what happens to actors, they walk into a small theatre, plant themselves three feet from an auditioner and then blow out the auditioner's ears and mess up their hair by performing as if they were playing the monologue to someone across the Grand Canyon. Sometimes you do audition in a giant theatre, sometimes in a small theatre, or an even smaller office. Nothing betrays artifice/looks more phony, quicker and lasts so long, than an actor overplaying a room. I did stop some actors or had them go again after explaining, "Hey, I'm right here, I'm just a few feet from you. I could hear you if you whispered it." In one case I left the table, walked around and stood in front of the actor and said now, do the monologue. With me standing in her face, she dropped to the proper conversational level and a credible performance ensued. I went back behind the table and said do it again and this time it was convincing. That doesn't mean you can't yell when it's time to yell, it just means you yell differently, proportionately to the distance you are from your listener. On that note, I say I can create anything out of energy, but I can't create energy. The energetic actor, the one I have to ask to pull it back a little is always more appreciated than the one I have to say, could you give me a little more energy. In fact I will not ask any actor for more energy, I'll just say, "Thank you for coming."

The primary reason many stage actors will never work in movies or TV is because they haven't learned the secret of the INTERNALIZATION OF ENERGY. "Pull it back" is not a term I will use unless the actor is really dense, such a phrase is too easily misinterpreted. I will tell the actor, I really love what you did, and I don't want to lose even the tiniest bit of energy you had while doing it, but I want you to take 30-40-50 (whatever) percent of it and put it inside you, keep it but INTERNALIZE IT.

2] DON'T BE A TALKING HEAD Many of the actors looked like their feet were really darts and someone had thrown them in an arc onto the stage. Where ever they hit is where they stayed as if they were frozen to the floor. It was impossible for me to believe that all that emotion was going through that person when they never moved an inch. It was talking heads time and it will kill any monologue audition. If you're feeling a wide range of emotions, or a very deep connection with an emotion, it should move you at least a little. Let yourself go, follow those urges to move. Another aspect of this is, some actors did their entire monologue sitting in a chair. Why would you do that to yourself? An important part of your charm/value is in how you move. Since we're talking about ways actors limit themselves, your body is also part of your charm/value. If you have a nice one, show it off. Don't come in a thong, don't overdue it, but don't hide it. There are tasteful ways to put your body forward.

3] THE WALL CAN'T HIRE YOU Surprisingly this happened with experienced and novice actors, many did the whole or 90% of the monologue in profile or a modified 3/4 profile. After one such presentation, I walked over to the actor and asked her if she thought that that side wall she just gave her monologue to was going to hire her. I pointed out to the various directors sitting around the room and said no, we are and we're out here. In a monologue, get your face out there, jeez there's only one actor on stage and you're UPSTAGING YOURSELF, hello.

4] SHARE/ATTACK MENTALITY Another thing that was totally incomprehensible to me, many actors took a position so far upstage it was hard to see what they were doing. Especially as the lights were set for working and they fell off as you went upstage. You may only have a minute and a half or two minutes but you own that time. CHALLENGE THEM - Take an aggressive position in physical relation to those auditioning you. Get as far downstage as you can without being in their laps. Give them as close to a Film Close Up of you as you can without breaking the fourth wall. Let them see, close up, all the fabulous feeling running through your character. Don't overwork the close up but don't miss the chance to take it.

5] THE AUDITIONER IS NOT YOUR SCENE PARTNER Don't use the auditioner as your scene partner. You trap them into acting with you and that means that their attention is not where it's supposed to be, on you. Most people who audition actors, were or are actors! Suck them into a scene with you and they, by default, go into an acting mode. You don't want them thinking about their performance, you want them thinking about YOUR PERFORMANCE.

I was at a table in the front with a few other directors, and many of the actors chose to use me. I felt like a life raft quite often, a place for their panic to land.

Don't use the auditioner unless you are specifically asked to do so. Having someone to use certainly does help, so create them. Usually in a monologue you are talking to someone who would be there in a performance. In a monologue situation you have to really see that person. You must see how what you are saying is affecting them. You have to know exactly how tall they are, what color their eyes are, what their hair looks like. You have to make them real! You must also know where they are in relation to you. Sometimes I think actors are talking to Speedy Gonzales the way that person seems to move. One second they are down left, then wham, their center right, now they are on the ceiling, now laying on the floor, no their sitting, no their standing. Be consistent with this invisible scene partner of yours. Don't let them steal the scene from you.

TIP: You can't use the auditioner but you can get so close that you can really affect them strongly. It's like in a camera close up, you want to be as close to looking in the lens as possible without ever looking directly into the lens. So look at their ear or their forehead or even their cheekbone very close to the eye, but never use them, never break the fourth wall.

6] NERVOUS PEOPLE MAKE PEOPLE NERVOUS I said this at the top of this article, but it can use this extra investigation. At lunch I commented on the nervousness of many of the actors. One of the other directors said that that was normal. Within a narrow range I'll buy it, but I really believe that it shouldn't be so, NOT WHEN IT's YOUR MONOLOGUE. Not when you've had plenty of time to work on it, polish your characterization and be 1000% sure of the lines. At that point, only an actor can get nervous. The Character can't be nervous unless they are nervous within the context of the scene. If the character is not nervous and the actor's nervousness is showing, the actor is breaking the cardinal rule of acting and that is, STAY IN CHARACTER.

If this is YOUR PIECE, you should approach the audition with Power, Purpose, and Confidence. The only reason an actor should be nervous approaching an audition with a prepared monologue is unprofessionalism. Either you haven't worked on it the way any self respecting actor would have, or you're hung over, or other wise physically unfit to perform.

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by Jeremy Whelan