Finding good audition material seems to be many actors’ Achilles heel. I began to fully appreciate how actors sabotage themselves after I started holding auditions for my own theater company. Many actors simply choose bad audition monologues for themselves. The reality is, if you are going to audition (especially for theater), monologues are going to be required of you fairly regularly. You can help yourself immensely if you follow some simple tips.
- Keep it short
A monologue that’s between 45 seconds and one minute is great. A minute and 15 seconds is beginning to push it. Two minutes is waaaaaay too much. A monologue audition should work to spark the auditor’s imagination, not be an attempt to cram everything you can do into one piece of text. Just plant a seed.
- Find material that is active
Simply put, your monologue should express something you should need to get right now. This doesn’t mean you have to be angry or panicked, just that you are pursuing something from your (imaginary) scene partner. In this way, every monologue is actually a dialogue, a give and take between you and a silent, invisible scene partner.
- Avoid monologues in which you just tell a story
This is related to #2. So often actors are drawn towards pieces in which they simply tell a story or reflect on a memory. These pieces become inactive 99% of the time and highlight the writing rather than you.
- Find pieces that you are personally invested in
Look, auditioning can be tough enough without having to say words that have no meaning to you. If you choose pieces you love and that matter to you in some way, you might actually start looking forward to stepping into the audition room. You’ll start seeing your audition as an opportunity to act and communicate this human thing that needs to be communicated. That kind of connection to your material draws us in.
- Great monologues often start out as dialogue
When you are looking for pieces, don’t just assume that a perfectly crafted minute-long monologue right there is going to jump out at you. Some of the best monologues I have are ones that I’ve pieced together from one character’s dialogue in a scene. Sometimes you have to be a writer/editor and craft your piece into a cohesive whole. It may be more work, but taking that time can pay off in a big way.
- Remember that the material you choose is a reflection of your taste
This is to say that choosing material for its shock value or for its edginess can backfire if you bring it into the wrong room. Context matters of course, but not everyone loves hearing 20 f-bombs in 60 seconds. Not everyone loves hearing pieces about being sexually abused. Not everyone loves watching an actor rage at the top of their lungs. If those auditioning you are worried about your safety or their own, they are not going to be inviting you back. Take the right risks, not the cheap ones.
- Your monologue should play to your inherent strengths
Just because it’s a chunk of text said by a character that is roughly your age doesn’t mean it’s right for you. We all have an energy and personality we need to play into or subvert intelligently. Knowing what vibe you bring into the room by default will help you pick material that shows you off in a useful way.
- Having a couple monologues is not enough
There is no such thing as your go-to piece. You need to tailor your material to the project. Seeing your Shakespeare soliloquy doesn’t help me much when I’m casting an Annie Baker play. But also don’t bring your most vulnerable piece when you’re auditioning for that tough-as-nails character. You will have to have dozens of pieces ready to go. Maybe more. You are not generic, the characters you are auditioning for are not generic, so your material can’t be either. Be specific.
- Don’t hide behind your material
Hands down the biggest mistake I see in the audition room is actors hiding behind the tricks and gimmicks of their pieces. Being performative and showy is the easiest choice and almost always the wrong one. Clever bits and practiced gestures are only going to get you so far. The reality is, I don’t really care about the piece itself. What I do care about is that the piece is a window into your own humanity. I could care less about the “character”. I want to see you. Be authentic.